FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Astros gave Carlos Correa a home and a consistent championship environment for the first seven seasons of his career. This offseason, the Yankees needed a shortstop. Other deep-pocketed teams were reportedly in the mix for top-tier middle infield help, too.
But somehow, it was the Twins who came out of nowhere to emerge as the stunning winner in the Correa sweepstakes, officially introducing their new superstar starting shortstop in a press conference on Wednesday morning.
"We had no fewer than four to five plans [for the offseason] that were running kind of concurrently," general manager Thad Levine said. "We were trying to do some revisionist history and trying to figure out, 'Where was Carlos Correa on the plans?' And I think he was somewhere above Plan A, whatever that represents, if it's Plan A-plus or something that transcended even Plan A."
How did the Twins, of all teams, stand out from that pack to make Correa the highest-paid infielder by average annual salary ($35.1 million) in MLB history? It took a combination of an agent familiar with the organization, a player feeling intensely comfortable in a ballpark, the chaos caused by a months-long lockout and a family atmosphere that made Correa feel totally at ease.
Oh, and specialty burgers, too.
"When I go to Minnesota, I diet for a week before going there so I can just crush Juicy Lucys every day," Correa said.
The path for the unlikely marriage between Correa and Minnesota began with considerations due to the lockout, agent Scott Boras said on Wednesday. The Rangers inked stars Corey Seager (10 years, $325 million) and Marcus Semien (seven years, $175 million) to deals before Dec. 1. Javier Báez also beat the buzzer with a six-year, $140 million deal to play for Detroit. That left Correa and Trevor Story unsigned among the top-tier shortstops through the lockout.
Correa would ostensibly have been in line for one of the biggest long-term deals of all in a normal offseason. But when the lockout ended and teams were scrambling to set their rosters ahead of the season, the time and diligence usually necessary for those sorts of deals likely wouldn't be present, Boras told his new client (Correa switched over in January).
"After the long lockout, finding place-holders for a thought process where you’re looking at a long, long relationship is very difficult for ownership and teams, roster management, [and] construction," Boras said. "It was very apparent that, particularly with all the thought that went into the operation of the game and the ownership, to get the game moving again, that the focus was not there for that type of consideration."
That opened the door for more creative short-term agreements -- something much more amenable to teams like the Twins. So, then, what became the priority within those parameters?
"What could we do to get him to a place that would allow him to perform well, have an opportunity to win, and frankly, a place that he’s very comfortable with?" Boras said.
On the performance side, Correa shared with Boras a list of ballparks where he sees the ball particularly well -- and the agent's ears perked up when Correa mentioned Minnesota.
Correa owns a career 1.205 OPS at Target Field, his highest at any ballpark in which he's taken at least 20 plate appearances. He loves the condition of the infield; it's one of his favorite ballparks for taking ground balls.
"I love the batter's eye," Correa said. "It's nice. You can see the ball real well. The stats speak for themselves in that ballpark. But I feel really comfortable in the box."
Though the Twins finished in fifth place in the American League Central last season, Boras knows better than most exactly how much talent is getting ready to impact the Majors for the Twins in the immediate future. The superagent represents Royce Lewis, Alex Kirilloff, Austin Martin and Ryan Jeffers -- four cornerstone pieces of the coming years who will likely all be in the Majors by 2023.
And, of course, Minnesota just affirmed its commitment to Byron Buxton with a seven-year, $100 million extension, and traded for Sonny Gray.
"It was very easy to explain to Carlos, ‘There’s a lot of things about the Twins that a lot of people don’t know,'" Boras said. "They have an organizational skill level that is really, really hidden. There’s a lot of Twins and Twins that are coming up. Let me tell you, they’re really morphing into something."
Furthermore, after the Twins traded Josh Donaldson, Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Ben Rortvedt to the Yankees for Gio Urshela and Gary Sánchez, Boras knew that the Twins had money to spend and still needed a starting shortstop.
Considering all of those factors that could lead to Correa's success and potential to win in Minnesota, Boras reached out to Twins leadership on Friday with a more creative proposal that wouldn't involve the extreme long-term commitments that would take the Twins out of the picture. Instead of the more anticipated megadeal over a decade or so, the sides ultimately ended up with this current structure -- a three-year, $105.3 million agreement with opt-outs after each of the first two seasons.
It offered Correa the leverage to seek a long-term deal next offseason, at age 28, if he so desired. There will be fewer elite middle infielders on that market and no labor strife. Though the Twins assume the risk that comes with an underperforming or injured Correa at such a salary, it's also likely one of very few ways in which a team like Minnesota could end up with that level of star in free agency.
"I think we understood there was an opportunity that was not there before, and we certainly didn't want to risk it not being there in the future," Levine said. "So we started working at a pace that probably is a little bit atypical for our group to try and see if we could come to a resolution."
The final piece of the puzzle was in ensuring that Correa would find as good of a fit at the personal level as it seemed on paper. He wasn't worried about a potential move, as he reminded his wife, Daniella, that all they ever do is watch movies, eat at restaurants and take care of the baby, anyway. He wanted a family-oriented environment and atmosphere.
When he checked in with former teammate Marwin González, who spent 2019 and '20 in Minnesota, he heard nothing but good things about the organization, front office and clubhouse. When he and Daniella hopped on a Zoom call with Twins leadership, he immediately felt at home with Falvey, Levine and manager Rocco Baldelli, a skipper he felt would always have his back.
When Correa got off that call, all the factors had totally sold him on Minnesota -- something that would have seemed unfathomable to the baseball world even a few weeks ago.
"Let’s make it happen," he told Boras.