As free agency resumes, one major question remains unchanged from the initial market opening four months ago.
Where will Carlos Correa sign?
Aside from a couple notable developments -- we know the Texas Rangers aren’t involved any longer -- Correa can pursue many of the options that existed for him last fall.
Perhaps most intriguingly, the Chicago Cubs are poised to play a major role in the courtship of Correa as the baseball industry bursts back to life.
The Cubs were among the teams that had the heaviest dialogue with Correa’s camp in the hours before the lockout began in early December, and there is every reason to believe those conversations will resume.
While the Cubs weren’t a popular pick to land the superstar shortstop last fall, there’s a logical fit between the parties.
The Cubs have the payroll flexibility to add a significant multiyear contract. Jason Heyward’s contract expires after the 2023 season, and newly signed starter Marcus Stroman is the team’s only player under contract beyond ’23. The Cubs’ bandwidth to add a superstar is further enhanced by the fact that Kris Bryant, Javier Báez and Anthony Rizzo were traded away last summer rather than extended.
Stroman, Kyle Hendricks, and Wade Miley rely on strong infield defense to a greater extent than many modern starting pitchers. Correa, the reigning American League Platinum Glove Award winner, could impact the Cubs’ run prevention as much as their lineup. Nico Hoerner, the top internal candidate to be the Cubs’ primary shortstop in 2022, started only 12 games at the position last season and might be best suited for a multi-position role.
Even after a fourth-place finish, the Cubs don’t appear to be starting a rebuild similar to the one they initiated under Theo Epstein a decade ago. If anything, they expect to compete for postseason berths in most of the next 10 seasons -- the time horizon equating to the length of Correa’s hypothetical contract.
In terms of personal appeal, Correa is a careful student of the game’s history and would embrace the opportunity to play at Wrigley Field -- the site of his best individual workout prior to the 2012 MLB Draft.
“I was like, wow, I would love to play here every single day in the big leagues,” Correa told Gordon Wittenmyer of NBC Sports Chicago last year, reflecting on that ’12 workout.
Of course, the Cubs aren’t alone in pursuing Correa. The Astros, whom Correa led to the World Series last year, can’t be dismissed as a possibility and likely will remain part of negotiations until the very end.
Correa is aiming for a larger guarantee than Corey Seager’s 10-year, $325 million deal with the Texas Rangers. Both shortstops are 27 years old, and Correa is coming off a healthier and statistically superior season.
Another key reference point is the proposal Correa rejected from the Tigers late last year. As first reported by ESPN’s Buster Olney, Detroit offered Correa a 10-year contract worth $275 million. Had Correa accepted the deal, it would have become one of the five largest free-agent contracts in MLB history.
One source said the Tigers included at least three opt-out clauses in their 10-year offer; half of the contract was covered by a provision in which Correa would’ve received a $10 million bonus every time he finished among the top five in Most Valuable Player voting.
Correa turned down the Tigers’ offer, in part because he and his representatives at WME were confident he’d receive a larger contract than Seager. Correa preferred to sign after Seager, who agreed to his contract several days after Correa rejected the Tigers’ proposal.
Correa, who played in Houston for Tigers manager A.J. Hinch, was Detroit’s first choice among free agents. After Correa rejected their offer, the Tigers pivoted and reached an agreement with Báez on a six-year contract worth $140 million.
Even though many in the industry believe Correa will land the largest guarantee of any remaining free agent, his market could be impacted by the destination of first baseman Freddie Freeman. The Yankees are a top suitor for Freeman -- in the event that he doesn’t return to Atlanta. The Yankees also have shown interest in Correa; it’s unlikely they would sign both.
The Braves have assessed the markets for numerous top free agents but seem unlikely to sign Correa and displace Dansby Swanson after winning the World Series. The Braves are known to have had detailed conversations with Justin Verlander in free agency before he opted to re-sign with the Astros.