The lockout continues, and there is little evidence that this stalemate will end any time soon. As such, we’re stuck in this rehashing topics of old while waiting for the proverbial ice to thaw. In other words, the lockout sucks, and the past month of quiet has made that free-agency frenzy at the end of November feels like a distant dream.
Talking about dreams, the main offseason goal this year for Astros fans has always centered around retaining the services of Carlos Correa. But, as it currently stands, there is little reason to believe that a reunion between the former first overall pick and Houston is in the works. It isn’t exactly a zero percent chance, but I’d venture to say that the odds of Correa returning to the organization are in the single digits. Not only is he looking to maximize his long-term prospects at winning, but Correa is also looking to secure himself financially in his best interests. Houston will likely provide only the former, not the latter. As such, his return is very much in doubt.
Below is a list of three teams that, in my opinion, could be the main players for Correa’s services beyond the Astros when the lockout is lifted. Two of those clubs might represent a nightmare scenario for us in Houston, if you will. The third will invoke mainly indifference, but it’ll still sting.
New York Yankees
It pains me to write that a match between Correa and the Yankees makes a ton of sense for both sides. Not only would the start shortstop join an AL contender with arguably the biggest market, but the Bronx Bombers also have a need at the same position. In other words, the on-field fit is rather obvious. Of course, there is the elephant in the room about Correa’s role in Houston’s sign-stealing scandal, in addition to his defense of teammate and 2017 AL MVP Jose Altuve. But for an all-around talent like Correa, who had a 134 wRC+ in 2021, I don’t think the players in New York would protest too much. The addition of Correa would likely place the Yankees as the team to beat in the AL.
That said, the largest obstacle in the way of this pairing lies within the Yankees’ reluctance to exceed the tax threshold in the same manner as the Dodgers have recently done. Hal Steinbrenner thus far hasn’t shown the same flair to throw around the organization’s full financial might, unlike his late father George. It is possible that this financial stance doesn’t change as New York currently exceeds the previous threshold of $210 million by $11.1 million. State taxes are also an issue, which could hamper any offer. Unless the thresholds take a notable jump, the Yankees have a clear choice in front of them: Forget the taxes (MLB and 10.3 percent in the state of New York), or let one of the best shortstops to hit the open market look elsewhere.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Another one that pains me to write. While the fit isn’t as seamless as the Yankees, the Dodgers have recently lost some firepower with Corey Seager signing with the Rangers and Max Scherzer heading to the Mets. While Trea Turner is the incumbent at shortstop, Max Muncy’s elbow injury lends doubt to his status to open next season. Los Angeles, in turn, could look to add another hitter to help fill a short-term need while creating some long-term flexibility lost with Seager’s departure. Plus, Turner is a free agent following the 2022 season, so a potential Correa signing wouldn’t necessarily create any lasting logjam issues at shortstop. It would make perhaps the best and deepest team in baseball, only that much better.
Much like the Yankees, however, there is also the elephant in the room about the sign-stealing scandal. Multiple Dodgers, in fact, have made their less than glowing opinions about the 2017 Astros well known. It is strange, but I’ve felt like the locker room at Yankee Stadium would be more receptive to Correa than the one at Dodger Stadium. So, yes, there is some animosity there. There are also the same financial considerations regarding the Dodgers being $25 million over the previous $210 million threshold in addition to the state of California’s income tax rate of 12.3 percent on any earnings over roughly $1.250 million for married couples in 2021. While Los Angeles did exceed the threshold by $75.6 million in 2021, it remains uncertain with Trevor Bauer’s long-term status in limbo whether club ownership wants to absorb another hefty tax bill.
Of the three clubs listed in this article, the Cubs feel like the best remaining fit when you consider all of the circumstances: $81.8 million in tax space before threshold increases, one of the top markets in MLB, a flat 4.95 percent state income tax, and likely not far from threatening in the weaker NL Central. Plus, Correa would automatically become the face of a franchise that has fallen following its 2016 World Series title.
With Chicago signing Marcus Stroman this offseason following their sell-off in July, it feels as if the Cubs are aiming more for a soft reset rather than an all-out teardown. Correa would help them in that goal, and they would still retain enough budget to sign a couple more players if they so desired. They’ll also retain long-term payroll flexibility as the only contracts that extend beyond 2023 are Stroman’s and David Bote’s. Throw in the collective state of the NL Central, and it isn’t difficult to see how the Cubs would contend if they decide to flex their financial might. On paper, Chicago may represent the best landing spot for Correa with all factors considered.