As the baseball world has descended upon San Diego to begin the sport’s annual Winter Meetings, huge deals for Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander and Trea Turner highlighted the start of the anticipated run on the top talent on the free-agent market, centered around the high-end starting pitchers and shortstops.
Until shortstop Carlos Correa came along, the Twins had never dipped into that elite echelon of free agent at the very, very top of the market -- but this is a different offseason. Minnesota is almost forced to be open to it now, after seeing what Correa did for the club last season and noting his interest in returning to the Twin Cities.
Manager Rocco Baldelli said he had dinner with Correa to continue the Twins’ ongoing dialogue, but president of baseball operations Derek Falvey noted that there’s “nothing new” at the moment to report in terms of movement regarding Correa.
“I don’t have specific thoughts on timeline,” Falvey said. “I think the market dictates that to some degree and as long as we just remain open with our lines of communication, I don’t think it changes.”
“He's a guy that we obviously want and care a lot about, and think can be an enormous factor for us for a long time, playing at shortstop and leading,” Baldelli said. “We think we've positioned ourselves well to be one of the highest priority options for him. So, we feel good about that. We just have to let things play out and become comfortable doing that, which we're doing right now.”
Needless to say, the circumstances and conversations are much different this time around.
It’s not a hastily scraped-together afternoon of Zoom calls to negotiate a rapid-fire, short-term agreement, as it was last March when Correa first arrived to the Twins. Now, Correa already has the baseline knowledge and comfort; it’s more about the club selling Correa on how they can win, with Baldelli noting that the shortstop continues to dig deeper and give feedback on various topics and situations with regard to the franchise, because Correa’s focus remains on winning.
“He is so aware of what's going on around him that he understands our situation well. He understands our young Minor League players that are coming now and where each of them are at in their careers, and probably has his own way of thinking about those guys and valuing them in his mind and how they're going to help the team in the future,” Baldelli said.
But given the pace of the market, the Twins aren’t letting the Correa uncertainty hold up their other pursuits. Falvey characterized the catching market as a “much more active” area for the Twins at the moment as they seek a companion behind the plate for 25-year-old Ryan Jeffers.
So, if Correa ends up elsewhere, will the Twins be in position to pivot quickly? And do they feel the pressure to make another splash with their payroll flexibility in that case, whether with another star shortstop or otherwise?
“I would say I don't feel a specific pressure -- if there's no Carlos, then there's one other player we have to get,” Falvey said. “We have to just be thoughtful and in the market, and make sure we know what is moving. If we find there's another good way to make our team better, we're going to have that conversation. Quite frankly, we're having them now, because we need to be prepared.”
With few glaring needs to shore up on the current roster and payroll flexibility to spare, it does seem to be the case as the Twins establish their interest in elite free agents like Correa and left-hander Carlos Rodón that they’re more willing to make those splashier, bigger commitments at this point in their competitive cycle. And it’s just a matter of finding a match, as they did with Josh Donaldson (four years, $92 million) two offseasons ago and Correa (three years, $105.3 million) less than a year ago.
“I think we've opened ourselves up over the last couple of seasons to having those conversations, and maybe agents look at us differently than they did a few years ago prior to having some of those types of players on the roster,” Falvey said. “So, I guess the answer is, yeah, we're spending time looking at those types of players across the board. Will it match up? Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't.”