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Starting Nine: How Do You Sign a Player Like Correa?

A roundtable discussion by the Crawfish Boxes staff on Correa’s free agency and the Astros.

Houston Astros Vs. Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park in ALCS Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Cody Poage: Sportsradio 610 reported that Correa is asking for at least $341 million.

Report: Carlos Correa not settling ‘for anything less than’ Francisco Lindor’s $341 million figure

Clack: He can ask for whatever he wants. As for what he can get from the market, I’ll believe it when I see it. Maybe he is right. But it just seems to me that it’s not the best time to cash in when there are three other high level shortstops on the market. I think what the Yankees decide to do is the key for Correa.

Cody: Yeah, Correa’s and Seager’s market likely hinges on the Yankees. If they’re not involved, I don’t see either eclipsing $325M.

CKuno: I’m not surprised Correa wants more than Lindor, but goddamn that’s such a bad contract, and it’s poor timing that he’s asking for it after a year by Lindor that made it look even worse. I feel like he’s not being realistic about the fact that that contract was made by an owner looking to ingratiate himself with fans.

Brian Cohn: Does Correa’s “hard line” of $341 million change your opinion of Crane being cheap?

Cody: He isn’t cheap, I just wish he didn’t treat the threshold as a hard cap.

Dan Martin: It seems every owner does.

Cody: I’m sure the owners have an unspoken agreement about certain franchises not blowing past the thresholds, or at least consistently. LA and NY, for example, will go past it a for a while before resetting.

Dan M: I don’t view the Yankees as the massive spenders they used to be. I think dumping Adam Ottavino’s contract to stay under the threshold signaled the change. Going to be very interesting to see what the new CBA looks like. Where the CBT threshold is, whether free agents given qualifying offers still cost the signing teams picks, etc.

Brian: I think we’re spoiled. Other than the Dodgers, basically every team has stayed below the cap with occasional blips over it. The Astros have strategically played to that number and at least publicly stated they’d be willing to blow past it.

I’ve been disappointed in Crane’s handling of the scandal and PR etc. But the dude laid out a plan and has backed it every step of the way.

I felt like all the calls for him not making Correa a fair offer were ridiculous. We don’t know the behind the scenes, and he has continually shown that he is willing to go well above where they “should be” based on revenue. He stuck to the Luhnow plan through the 100+ loss seasons, scandals of Cardinals hacking, Aiken, etc., etc.

Dan M: I’m not blind to how fortunate Astros fans are to have Crane as the team’s owner — this is the city that also features Cal McNair and Tilman Fertitta — but he did needlessly lowball Correa in March and I think he did it again a few weeks ago. He has the money to spend, yet he’s going to let Cole, Springer and Correa all walk in consecutive offseasons. I’m not okay with that. (Whether or not Cole wanted to go before the 2019 season began, I don’t think Crane even tried to extend him that winter)

Brian: It always hurts to lose top talent. And I’m not arguing they haven’t made mistakes. I mean I just think of how different things would have been if they had just re-signed Morton. Probably no Greinke trade or at least the Odorizzi signing, etc.

It’s interesting because I’m betting when you play GM mode, you always trade Correa and farm up the next generation. Often the decisions are logical ones, if you don’t take fans and the emotion into the equation

Dan M: If they’re okay with offering Correa 5/160, then I don’t know why something that’s remotely competitive like 7/210 or 8/240 can’t be offered. At least give yourself some kind of chance. The 5-year rule is silly, in my opinion.

Hatter: They reportedly did offer 6/210, which is even better than 7/210. But if Correa is looking for 350, then he has a different definition of what is a competitive offer.

Dan M: I understand that. The 6/210 offer might not be real though. It seems mostly unconfirmed.

Cody: It was Randy McIlvoy of Channel 2 who originally had the 6/210 offer. Usually a good source on other fronts. But, yeah, I haven’t really seen that confirmed anywhere else.

Brian: I think Correa’s injury history scares the shit out of them for this type of a contract. Like JV is a huge risk, but over minimal years.

Bilbos: It could be that building a team on free agents isn’t the way to build long term success. That when a player costs more than say 15 million a year, there is a diminishing marginal return at the top end of the pay scale . Crane is following the Rays model. That’s why he went to Tampa to get a GM. Look how much good Cole brought the Yankees. And now he enters the declining period of his career.

CKuno: I agree that there are diminishing returns, but Correa is also trying to sell a brand, part of which is leadership and dugout presence. It feels like he’s been more visible on that front than a good chunk of free agents and I’m sure part of the value he’s looking for is wrapped up in that. It’s also why I think he’s using Lindor as a baseline, because he’s been better than him on those fronts and in stats.

I also don’t think the Astros are exactly short of guys like that at this point, so I can see why they wouldn’t be eager to pay for that long term while some other teams more in need might see value.

Clack: I agree that it’s not cost-effective to build a team with long term free agent contracts. But I also can see Correa as an exception to that rule. He is a generational talent and, if he stays healthy, can end up in the Hall of Fame. He is a core player for the Astros. As tight-fisted as Drayton was, he still found a way to keep Biggio in an Astros uniform over his career. As much as I liked Springer and Cole, I could understand letting them go in free agency. And I’m okay if Crane and Click say they can’t afford 10/360. But if the rumored $210m offer was made by the Astros, it seems like there could be room to negotiate something in the $250m range. I would like to see them give it a try. Maybe it won’t work, but also maybe it ‘s not out of line with the contract offers that Correa will receive from other teams.

Theo Gerome: I don’t know that I have a ton of thought on the specifics. I haven’t tried to measure out what the expected return on Correa is, and the existence of other SS like Corey Seager and Marcus Semien complicates it even more. But, what I do know is that, as a fan, the main baseball argument for not doing a big contract is more or less “we might need that money and financial flexibility later”. And that most models I’ve seen around roster building indicate that it’s better to have 1 5-win player than 2 2.5-win players or 5 1-win guys.

L4Blitzer: It feels like the best chance the Astros will have to re-sign Correa is to try to get an offer that is great for per year salary, but not the Lindor 10/341. I can’t see the Astros giving him a 8-10 year deal. 6-7, yes. More than that. . . probably the high end for team management.

Theo: So if they aren’t getting Correa to be that guy, where will it be going instead? Shortstops entering their age 27 season and coming off MVP-type years don’t grow on trees, and it’s not like Corey Seager is without injury concerns of his own.

L4Blitzer: Correa is betting the market remains similar to last off-season. However, the specter of the new collective bargaining agreement may disrupt those plans. Will the owners get a lower CBT, thus a lower soft cap? If they do, then Correa is caught. Is he better than Lindor? Yes, especially after this season. But not every team is the Mets. Maybe Detroit goes all in with a Lindor type deal, but I am not so sure that will pan out.

Spencer Morris: There are very few players I would give a 10 year contract and none of them have as long of an injury history as Correa. I’d be willing to run the AAV up quite high on a shorter deal, but if a very long contract is imperative for Carlos, I’d probably have to tap out.

The free agent SS market is very deep this year with options available at a wide range of projected salaries. Corey Seager is likely looking to sign for most of what Correa ends up getting, which might price the Astros out. But there are also veterans available who should be amenable to shorter deals with higher AAV, such as Marcus Semien and Trevor Story. Any of these 3 could reasonably be projected to replace most of Correa’s production, and could also leave more maneuverability in the budget with which to bolster the pen.

Theo: Semien is also 4 years older than Correa, though. If you get a shorter and cheaper deal for him, it’s largely because it will be missing those ages 27 through 30 seasons.

Spencer: Past that tier two group, Chris Taylor is another option with a lot of appeal, and offers more flexibility than some of the other possibilities thanks to his outfield chops. He should be cheaper than Seager or Semien, but his market does seem to be pretty hot so he won’t come cheaply, and he’s on the older side for this group.

There’s also a tier further down with names like Andrelton Simmons, who could likely be had for minimal commitment. If the team has a lot of faith in Jeremy Pena and wants to be sure to leave the door open for him at shortstop, one of these options (or Taylor) might make the most sense.

Theo: It’s also hard to do because we’re talking in hypotheticals, even with a potential anchor for Correa’s deal. Like, has there been any rumor of what Story is looking for? What if the market for him is still 8 years and $200 million? Would we still feel comfortable with that?

Spencer: My thinking is that after a down 2021, Story is likely willing to entertain shorter term deals with an eye on rebuilding his stock a bit before signing a longer deal.

Dan M: My biggest gripe in all of this is the huge missed opportunity in March to extend Correa. Crane never made a serious attempt. That was the time to get a deal done, when no other teams were bidding, and I highly doubt Correa wanted Lindor money then.

Spencer: I wish the Astros made a better offer in March, but I also don’t think Carlos would’ve signed it.

Dan M: There’s no way to know for sure, but I think it’s feasible that something like 8/200 or 8/240 would’ve gotten it done. Or, if he wanted Machado money, that should’ve been doable as well in my opinon. The reward would’ve outweighed the risk in my view.

Theo: Okay, having looked at the next few free agency cycles, the closest thing it looks like to Correa and Seager in youth and peak look like Trea Turner and Aaron Judge in 2023, and Jose Ramirez and Matt Chapman in 2024? I might have my dates wrong, but all of them are still going to be 30 when they hit free agency

Dan M: Yeah the next few classes aren’t exactly star-studded.

Theo: Your answers for the next 3 years or so are either: develop a star internally, or sign one now. If you want to take the optimistic approach, it means there’s no one else you worry about missing on if you break the bank here, because anyone you develop at this point isn’t going to be a big cost until 2026 or so.

I guess if they’re prepared to offer Correa $30m because they can get 2 players per year for that, my question is what do they do with it instead? If it’s just “Trevor Story for $10m less per year”, that still worse. There needs to be something else you do with that

And I don’t know that I’m high enough on Starling Marte to make “Marte + Story” feel as good as Correa. Of course that’s also going to come into the issue of total contract cost eventually But again, since the next 3 years’ markets already look rough, the real difference is going to come in what it means/prevents for the 2026 to 2031 free agent markets, and hell if I know what to make of those right this moment.

Dan M: I think Verlander’s deal prevents the Astros from signing both Marte and Story. Would go way above the current CBT threshold if they did. Sounds like it’ll only go down in the new CBA if it is adjusted.

Theo: Even with Greinke coming off the books? and Verlander’s last deal being a higher AAV?

Dan M: Accounting for Verlander’s 25, I believe the team has somewhere around $30 million left before hitting the threshold.

Or Crane could just simply pay the tax. Definitely not a question of affordability.

L4Blitzer: The Astros did stay under the threshold this year, so they aren’t repeat offenders…if that helps Crane and the team make salary calls.

(Join in the discussion in the comments section below.)