End of an era? Correa enters free agency

Greinke, Verlander also on the FA list; Baker's future with Astros unclear

November 3rd, 2021

HOUSTON -- A memorable season in which the Astros regained their status as the bully of the American League by advancing to the World Series for the third time in five seasons ended in disappointment Tuesday night at Minute Maid Park when they were blanked by the Braves, 7-0, in Game 6.

The loss could mark the end of an era for the Astros, who could see yet another marquee player leave in free agency this winter. The Astros lost Gerrit Cole after the 2019 season, George Springer after the 2020 season and now have star shortstop and 2019 AL Cy Young Award winner facing free agency.

It will almost certainly be the end of the line in Houston for pitcher , who was acquired at the Trade Deadline in 2019. Relievers and , both of whom were acquired at the Trade Deadline this year, are free agents. The Astros already have said they will pick up the '22 option for AL batting champion .

And there are no guarantees manager Dusty Baker will return next year, either. Baker doesn't have a contract for 2022 but has said repeatedly he wants to come back and manage the Astros.

Here’s a closer look at what’s next for the team:

Will Correa return next year?
That question figures to dominate this offseason for the Astros. Correa, 27, is arguably the highest-profile free agent on the market and could be seeking a deal in line with Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor, who signed a 10-year, $341 million contract last March.

When Correa came to the plate in the ninth inning of Game 6 and flied out to right field in perhaps his final Houston at-bat, his future was front and center in his mind.

“A lot of feelings, mixed emotions,” he said. “I spent seven years with this club. Yeah, it was going through my mind for sure.”

Correa broke off negotiations with the Astros prior to the start of the regular season after turning down offers of six years and $120 million and five years and $125 million in the spring. The Astros figure to be in the mix to sign Correa, but it will take a record contract in terms of years and money that owner Jim Crane has yet to execute.

“Well, I want to say thank you to Jim and [GM] James [Click] and the whole organization for respecting what I said at Spring Training,” Correa said. “Once the season started, I wanted no part of talks or negotiations, and they respected that. Now that I'm a free agent, we'll have a conversation and see how that goes. I'm thankful that they respected what I told them in Spring Training.”

Correa, the No. 1 overall Draft pick in 2012, was a cornerstone player on an Astros team that made the playoffs every year but one since he made his Major League debut in 2015. Along the way, he made two All-Star teams, won the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year Award and has been one of the most clutch playoff performers of his generation.

“He's one of the smartest baseball players in the world, and he's one of the hardest working,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “He eats, sleeps and breathes the game. It's been, honestly, amazing to play with him. I really hope we can sign him back because I think we've got a good shot at continuing to do this for a long time if we do.”

The future of Baker
Baker, 72, just completed his 24th season as a Major League manager by becoming the ninth manager in history to win a pennant in both leagues (2002 Giants). He’s said he would like to return to the Astros in 2022 – he’s 13 wins shy of 2,000 for his career – and Crane gave him a vote of confidence after Houston clinched the pennant.

“I've still got some unfinished business,” Baker said. “I mean, I love these guys over here. I love the town of Houston.”

Still, Baker was hired before Click, a progressive GM who hasn’t always seen eye to eye with the manager. Click may prefer a more analytical manager, but ultimately the decision will be made by Crane, who appears to be in Baker’s corner.

“Listen, Dusty deserves another shot for next year,” Crane said following the ALCS. “We’ll see where it goes.”

So long, Greinke
When the Astros swung a blockbuster deal to land Greinke in 2019, they were the favorites to win the World Series. He joined a rotation anchored by Verlander and Cole -- the 1-2 finishers in the AL Cy Young Award voting that year – and Houston looked unstoppable. Greinke started Game 7 of the World Series and carried a shutout into the seventh inning before the Nationals rallied to win.

Greinke, 38, went 22-10 with a 3.89 ERA in 52 regular-season games (51 starts) with the Astros but wasn’t anything close to the pitcher who made six All-Star teams and won the 2009 AL Cy Young Award. The Astros moved him to the bullpen in September after he had a couple of stints on the injured list and wasn’t stretched out to pitch deep into a game.

Greinke played only a bit part in the postseason, appearing in three games (two starts) and throwing only 6 1/3 innings. He was non-committal about his future after throwing four scoreless innings in Game 4.

“I don't think I want to answer that at this time,” he said.