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The Astros were never serious about keeping Carlos Correa

From what happened in March of last year to what didn’t happen last week, it’s clear that keeping Correa in Houston beyond 2021 was never part of the Astros’ plan.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Houston Astros Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

In the fall of 2017, not long after Hurricane Harvey’s attempted drowning of the city of Houston, Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria. Puerto Rican natives and Astros teammates Carlos Correa and Carlos Beltrán went to Jim Crane and asked for his help in sending supplies to their home country, where members of their respective families still lived.

According to Correa and Beltrán, Crane did not hesitate in dispatching multiple cargo planes. Each player praised Crane for his contributions, which not only entailed getting supplies and some of his own money to the island nation, but flying roughly 85 people — including family members and cancer patients — to Houston.

It seemed a meaningful, lasting rapport had been forged between both players and the Astros owner. I remember thinking that whenever it would come time for Correa and Crane to hash out a long-term contract, their ostensibly close relationship would help keep the former No. 1 overall pick in Houston for many years, perhaps his entire career.

Fast forward to now, less than a week since Correa signed a 3-year, $105.3 million deal with the Twins, and I feel incredibly naive for ever believing that.

Dating back to March 2021, when the Astros engaged Correa in extension negotiations, it became clear that Crane and his front office did not have any intention of keeping their supremely talented star shortstop beyond the forthcoming season.

In a vacuum, a 5-year, $125 million contract — the Astros’ best offer at the time — is a considerable amount of money for most players. But accounting for recent deals that other upper-echelon shortstops had received — 14 years, $340 million for Fernando Tatis Jr. and 10 years, $300 million for Manny Machado, both via the Padres — $125 million across 5 years was not a remotely competitive offer.

Though Correa lacked Tatis’ youth and Machado’s consistent track record, there was zero reason for him to sign a deal that wasn’t even half as good as his peers’, especially with free agency just eight months away.

The 26-year-old Correa proceeded to have a career year in 2021. Before it was over, everyone knew it would be his last in Houston. A spectacular season had him lined up for a massive payday. ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel projected a contract of 9 years, $297 million while MLB Trade Rumors predicted 10 years, $320 million.

The Astros offered a 5-year deal worth $160 million.

It wasn’t a legitimate offer so much as it was a PR ploy, as there was no chance of it being accepted or even considered. It was the final nail in the coffin, a clear sign that a split between the two parties was all but guaranteed.

Three-plus weeks later, MLB implemented its lockout on Dec. 2, with Correa and several other available All-Stars still unsigned. The subsequent 99-day standstill gave free agents less than a month to work with before the new season, which ostensibly forced Correa to lower his asking price.

This was a prime opportunity for the no-more-than-five-years-Astros to swoop in with a sizable short-term contract. Not only was Correa open to a deal of that structure, but thanks to the CBT threshold rising to $230 million in the new CBA, the Astros had upward of $30 million in ‘cap space’ to spend. Shortstop remained far and away the biggest hole on the roster, so spending it all on that one position wouldn’t have been illogical.

By all accounts, it seemed Crane and Co. were genuinely interested in a reunion, and were even considered to be the front-runner at one point.

In hindsight, either reporters were blatantly misled, or Crane pulled a 180 not long after negotiations recommenced, because days after it was widely reported that he was to extend a new offer, it never ended up happening.

The Astros’ inaction resulted in the Twins reaching an agreement with Correa in the early hours of March 19 on a short-term contract, albeit one that included multiple opt-outs.

Seemingly prioritizing short-term payroll flexibility above adding an elite player to a contending team remains a highly questionable decision at best, but what’s more bizarre is the Astros’ absent offer.

Either Crane did not care to make one purely for PR purposes as he did in November, or he did not care to retain Correa at all, even at a substantially reduced price. Based on prior negotiations — specifically, making exclusively non-competitive offers — it seems the latter is more likely.

The post-lockout developments benefited the Astros and should’ve enabled them to be more aggressive, and yet in the end, they apathetically stood by and watched Correa sign elsewhere. It’s a baffling end to what looked like a hopeful situation.

It’s not definitively known why such indifference was employed by Crane and his staff at a time when an advantageous opportunity was right in front of them, ripe for exploitation. The explanation that might make the most sense is the one that in and of itself is nonsensical: the Astros never planned to keep Correa, or perhaps even wanted to.