The Astros seemed to make a calculated decision three months ago when the club did not make a serious attempt to extend Carlos Correa. Whatever the top brass’s reasoning was at the time, they were ostensibly content with letting their All-Star shortstop walk next winter if he did not sign an extremely team-friendly contract.
Now, owner Jim Crane and general manager James Click are at risk of having made a franchise-altering mistake.
Correa is playing perhaps the best baseball of his career this season. Last week, our own Cody Poage detailed the former No. 1 overall pick’s improvements in 2021. In short, the Puerto Rican native is firing on all cylinders at the plate and is still playing his usual stellar defense in the field.
The main driving force is what could have deterred Crane and Click from making a serious contract offer: health. Correa’s long been plagued by injuries that have prevented him from putting everything together over the course of a full season. With July approaching, he’s missed only four games all season, and none of them were due to injury.
Much of the criticism that Crane and Click received for the failed Correa negotiations stemmed from the fact that they’ll be clearing a substantial amount of money next offseason when Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke’s contracts expire. According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the Astros’ projected luxury tax payroll in 2022 is $112 million. Depending on how collective bargaining negotiations play out this year with the current agreement set to run out, there could be as much as $100 million for Crane and Click to work with in free agency before breaching the tax threshold.
This is where Correa’s impending departure especially hurts, as the Astros had every opportunity to lock him up coming into this season, and could’ve done so at a relative discount while still maintaining financial flexibility. If he continues to perform at his current level or even close to it in the latter half of the season, his price tag in free agency will increase significantly, likely nullifying a potential return to Houston.
At this point, a Correa extension probably would have been the most optimal outcome for the Astros in terms of getting the most bang for their buck. Aside from Dodgers superstar Corey Seager, Correa looks to clearly be the next-best option in the renowned free-agent shortstop class of 2021.
Regardless of the organization’s plans next winter, it’s apparent that they missed out on a huge opportunity earlier this year. What makes the optics worse is the context of recent events, particularly regarding what happened when the Astros were at the lowest point in their history a year and a half ago. Correa voluntarily stepped into the spotlight to take the brunt of criticism heaped upon the club and has unquestionably been the vocal leader since. The impact of his exit would be enormous, both on the field and off it.