The Astros offered Carlos Correa a 5-year contract worth $160 million on Saturday. It was the same kind of offer the club extended to the now-free agent shortstop in March: one without a prayer of being accepted.
After swiftly rejecting the Astros’ 5-year, $125 million extension prior to the 2021 season, the former No. 1 overall pick is now perhaps the top player on the free-agent market following a career season that saw him lead all position players in bWAR. Considering everything that Correa has going for him — from his age to his remarkable postseason track record — he’s due to get far more than $160 million this winter.
Market precedents and comparisons
2022 will be Correa’s age-27 season as 2019 was Manny Machado’s when he signed a 10-year, $300 million deal with the Padres. Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor also inked a mega-contract entering his age-27 season, netting $341 million over 10 years.
Career numbers before age-27 season
|Manny Machado||4,074||34.4||10 years, $300MM|
|Francisco Lindor||3,510||28.1||10 years, $341MM|
|Carlos Correa||3,223||34.2||5 years, $160MM?|
Though he’s provided as much value as Machado and Lindor, the Astros still took the time to offer Correa a contract that only halved those of his peers. Even if it was merely preliminary, it remains a non-starter.
While Lindor’s 2021 could be viewed as a reason why it’s unwise for teams to invest so substantially in one player, the four-time All-Star still managed to turn in a three-win campaign this season despite it being a significant down-year for him. Plus, it’s not as if the Mets won’t get prime Lindor going forward. Just look at Machado’s turnaround — after his disappointing San Diego debut two years ago, he was terrific in both 2020 and 2021, posting his two highest Expected wOBAs (xwOBA) since 2015, as well as earning All-Star honors this past season for the fifth time in his career.
The (inane) five-year rule
It’s possible that Correa’s injury history played a role in this scenario, but what may have ultimately deterred Jim Crane from authorizing a competitive offer is the Astros’ — or perhaps more accurately — his philosophy that the organization not hand out contracts that exceed five years. José Altuve’s seven-year deal is technically the longest in the team’s history, but since he signed it before the 2018 season — when he was already under contract for 2018 and 2019 — it was effectively a five-year extension. The dollar amount added up to $163.5 million in total.
There will be no hometown discount in this case. Crane would have to spend the most he ever has to retain Correa, an idea he seemed open to a month ago:
Jim Crane on Carlos Correa’s comments that the Astros don’t do big or long deals: “I never count anything out. We haven’t done it in the past. We have a history of something in the neighborhood of five (years) is the most we’ve ever done since I’ve been here. Things can change.”— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) October 7, 2021
It appears things have not changed for Crane, as evidenced by his continued low-balling of Correa. He could be waiting for the new collective bargaining agreement to get hashed out, but at the same time, MLB’s opening offer to the MLBPA included the luxury tax set at $180 million, which would be $30 million below the current threshold. Suffice it to say, there’s a decent chance the new threshold will either remain the same or decrease, which could limit owners’ spending since the tax is essentially an unofficial salary cap to them.
The long and the short of it is that Correa should be an exception to Crane’s rule. The Ringer’s Michael Baumann noted why:
What I don't get about this offer is it's still a pretty big AAV but Correa is so young a long contract really shouldn't be that scary to the team. He'd be the same age after a nine-year contract that Semien would be after five.— Michael Baumann (@MichaelBaumann) November 6, 2021
This isn’t Whac-A-Mole
Considering shortstop is by far the biggest area of need for the Astros as the offseason gets underway, the supposed risk of giving Correa a lengthy contract is outweighed by the reward of having him in his prime for several more years — when the Astros’ contention window is open.
Additionally, ponying up to meet his price would not prevent James Click from addressing other holes on the roster, because there aren’t many, and the ones that do exist aside from shortstop are not significant and could be filled relatively inexpensively. Moreover, under the current luxury tax rules, the Astros will have just north of $55 million available to spend before breaching the threshold, per Spotrac.
Lance McCullers Jr., who suffered an arm injury during the postseason but expects to be ready for spring training next year, projects to spearhead a solid starting rotation that will also feature Framber Valdez, Luis García, José Urquidy and, at this point, Jake Odorizzi.
It’s feasible the club will look to sign a quality starter as well as a few relievers, given the losses of Kendall Graveman and Yimi García, but even after accounting for Correa’s new AAV, which could be around $30 million, it would still leave a nice chunk of change for pitching.
Had Correa accepted the $160 million offer, his AAV would have been $32 million, so if nothing else, the Astros were prepared to spend a large portion of their “cap space” on him. But only if he sacrificed what’s likely to be upward of $100 million.
Hard to replace in more ways than one
Correa has long had the talent of an elite two-way player and this year’s results reflected that prodigious ability: a .279/.366/.485 slash line with a career-high 26 home runs, as well as a MLB-best 21 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) that helped him win a Gold Glove.
The Puerto Rican native is a tremendous overall player, but what might be equally as exceptional are his intangibles. Amid the fallout of the sign-stealing scandal, Correa willingly became the face of the Astros as he responded to a tidal wave of vitriol with candor. Regardless of how Correa’s blunt manner was perceived, it was an impressive display of leadership, as he volunteered himself to be the primary target of nationwide hate so that his teammates wouldn’t be.
All signs point to Correa signing elsewhere this winter. It’s been the case since spring, when the organization made a meager attempt to extend his tenure in Houston beyond 2021. Its sole purpose seemed to be just a technicality for the Astros brass, an effort made so they can simply say they made one. Saturday’s offer reeks of the same sentiment.
Though there are plenty of reasons why Crane and the Astros should ante up, they appear to be as content as they were in March with letting their franchise player walk.