Twins

Should the Twins Go "Shopping" For Carlos Correa?

Photo Credit: Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

A disappointing 2022 season is drawing closer to a merciful end for the Minnesota Twins. Therefore, it’s hard to forget that there was no shortage of positive vibes around Twins Territory on Opening Day this year.

Most of that came from the biggest free agent signing in team history. The Twins signed the best free agent available last year, shortstop Carlos Correa. Not only did the team land a high-profile free agent, but the Twins also were willing to write Correa a $30-plus million check for 2022. It was basically a one-year deal with player opt-outs for the next two seasons. Still, one of the league’s best players chose to play in Minnesota. That scenario never happened before.

Correa’s one-year deal made it unlikely that he was going to stay in Minnesota long-term. Immediately, fans debated whether there was any chance he’d stay in the Twin Cities for more than a year. Last week was probably Correa’s last game at Target Field with the Twins. After a loss to the Chicago White Sox in a season gone awry, Correa said this when asked about his future in Minnesota.

Correa sent a clear message here. I’ll stay, but you’ll have to pay. It’s what everyone thought anyways, although this was his most vocal hint that he’s going right to free agency. Naturally, most Twins fans saw this comment as confirmation that Correa will not be back with the team in 2023.

So should the Twins go shopping and lock themselves into a long-term, big-money extension for the 27-year-old’s services?

That was an easy answer in April when nearly the whole fan base would have wanted to re-sign him. The Twins never do something like this. It was a situation that fell into Derek Falvey and Thad Levine’s laps. Correa was a superstar free agent willing to be a mercenary for one season when they had the financial flexibility to pay him whatever he wanted.

It’s like they went shopping at a Dior store for the first time and stumbled into a sale where inventory just needed to be sold. Sure, they never go to a store that fancy, but the circumstances couldn’t be better to splurge.

But things are a little more uncertain now. Correa’s .289/.365/.467 slash line, 64 RBIs, and 4.3 fWAR are all fine at face value. His likely lone season in Minnesota has been a disappointment by his pedigree because the Twins weren’t paying for above-average. Whether or not it’s an unfair standard, the Twins were paying for a superstar.

The most surprising part of the Correa saga has been the development of a vocal set of the fanbase that’s perfectly fine with him leaving. The biggest signing in franchise history has come in a season where the Twins ranked 20th in attendance.

Compared to his previous success, Correa lacked big moments and clutch hitting in Minnesota. With runners in scoring position, he owns a .277 average, 30 RBIs, and just one home run while grounding into six double plays. Correa has recorded a 109 wRC+ with RISP, which is just above league average. That puts him behind Nick Gordon, a platoon player with a 134 wRC+ mark with RISP.

Correa has been uncharacteristically bad with runners in scoring position this season. But given his track record, he should bounce back with RISP next year. Last season, he had a .269 average, seven home runs, 66 RBI, and a 127 wRC+ with RISP in 127 games. That’s better, and it wasn’t even his best season in that department. In 2017, Correa hit .331 with seven home runs and 60 RBI with a 151 wRC+ mark in just 92 games. However, the Twins might opt to go with a shortstop who provided a spark for them this season, Royce Lewis.

Before injuring his knee in late May, Lewis slashed .300/.317/.550 with two home runs in 12 games. The brief stint showed that Lewis brought an energy that the Twins fed off of when he was on the field. If Lewis comes back healthy, Correa functionally becomes a luxury. Not only would they have shortstop occupied, but Jose Miranda or even prospect Brooks Lee will be manning third base.

Correa is expensive, hasn’t drawn more fans into the ballpark, and the Twins have internal options. Signing Correa seems more like a one-off situation rather than a new direction for the team. Even with the Correa signing, the team still ranked 16th in total payroll.

Why bring back Correa? One answer is that the Twins have money to throw around without many options to spend it.

Some have said that not paying Correa will give the Twins more financial flexibility to improve the pitching staff. That plan sounds good in theory but is more difficult in practice. Outside of potential free agents in Justin Verlander and Jacob deGrom, it’s not a deep free agent class for pitchers this offseason. Additionally, the Twins likely won’t land any top pitching options if they are hesitant to extend Correa.

Maybe the Twins will shake things up next season. Perhaps they do add some players that bring the payroll up besides Correa. If he opts out, Minnesota’s payroll drops to $83.7 million next season, 26th in baseball. If the Twins slash payroll and roll into a pivotal 2023 season without any significant additions, it isn’t going to help their attendance issues.

Consider that Lewis will miss the beginning of next season, and Lee will likely not open the season with the big league club. Keeping a bona fide major league shortstop in Correa allows Minnesota to let Lewis recover at his own pace. It would also enable Lee to develop properly and earn his spot on the big-league roster.

Correa might not have been able to move the needle for the Twins this season. His departure likely isn’t going to bring Minnesota closer to the postseason, either. Even if he replicates some of his best numbers next year, he alone can’t drag the Twins to the playoffs. Still, he might as well do it for the Twins and not for the San Francisco Giants or the Chicago Cubs. Because even if one of those big-market teams goes shopping for Correa, he probably won’t push them over the needle either to truly compete. Money talks, but Correa and Minnesota’s brain trust can come together over one thing. Trying to win.

The 2023 season may become a make-or-break season for the Falvey-Levine front office. The Twins have had high expectations for two seasons in a row, and they’ve fallen flat both times. A third straight disappointing season heats up their seats dramatically. Cutting payroll combined with less high-end talent leaves the team in a tough spot to try and compete for a division crown. Plus, the AL Central will likely be tougher to win next season. Cleveland’s young core will be another year more experienced. There is a good chance Chicago will be tough again next year with a new manager in tow. It will likely take more than 90 wins to take the Central, unlike this season.

Whether the Twins want to go both feet in on a Correa extension might not matter. They might have to break their mold of conservative free agency spending again with a bigger deal if there’s enough pressure on the front office to win in 2023.

Correa’s stint in Minnesota looks short-lived. There’s no buyer’s remorse here, but it doesn’t seem like the Twins are returning to the big spending well for the shortstop. If there is a plan for the payroll this offseason, then let Correa go and use the money elsewhere. If there isn’t a plan, though, the Twins should use that financial flexibility to keep one of the league’s top shortstops in Minnesota for the foreseeable future.

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