There’s no more impactful player remaining on the open market than Carlos Correa. MLBTR’s top free agent entering the offseason, Correa was content to sit out the pre-lockout frenzy. The star shortstop is in position to land easily the biggest deal of the post-lockout period whenever the transactions freeze comes to an end. It stands to reason he and his representatives will try to top the ten-year, $325MM deal Corey Seager landed with the Rangers last month.
Reports have linked Correa to a few teams this winter, with some perhaps unexpected suitors hopping into the mix. The incumbent Astros, Cubs, Braves, Tigers, Red Sox, Dodgers and Yankees were all linked to the two-time All-Star in some capacity. To what extent those clubs will reengage with Correa coming out of the lockout remains to be seen. The Tigers have already landed Javier Báez on a nine-figure deal. The Astros might be reluctant to go beyond six guaranteed years, and multiple reports have indicated the Yankees are content to rely on a stopgap pick-up at shortstop with a pair of well-regarded prospects (Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe) not far away from MLB readiness.
The Cubs’ reported entrance into the Correa bidding also registered as something of a surprise, given their recent spending habits. Chicago has kicked off an organizational reboot over the past few months, dropping player payroll from 2019’s franchise-record $203MM outlay (estimate via Cot’s Baseball Contracts). Early in the offseason, president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer cautioned against the possibility of “winning” the offseason and expressed a desire to spend opportunistically. None of that portended an earnest pursuit of the market’s top free agent.
To their credit, the Cubs’ early offseason approach has already been fairly active. Chicago claimed Wade Miley off waivers from the Reds, taking on a $10MM salary in the process. They signed Yan Gomes to a two-year, $13MM guarantee. And in their biggest splash of the offseason to date, Chicago landed Marcus Stroman on a three-year, $71MM deal that contains an opt-out possibility after the 2023 campaign.
The Cubs’ first couple months of activity at least suggests it’s not a full rebuild, a sentiment Hoyer has expressed on a few occasions. The major league roster still looks short of immediate contention, but it also doesn’t seem the Cubs are hoping to idle near the bottom of the National League for the next few years in hopes of collecting high draft choices. Even if 2022 proves to be a down year, the front office could have their sights set on being competitive within the season or two thereafter.
There’s a case to be made for the Cubs to make a strong run at Correa, who just turned 27 in September. He’ll still be in his prime whenever the team is better prepared to contend, and one need look no further than the Rangers’ signing of Seager as an example of a current non-contender jumping early to sign an impact player to a long-term deal. A Correa mega-deal would be in a different financial stratosphere than any of the Cubs’ moves this winter, though, and it remains to be seen if the organization’s willing to make that level of commitment.
The Cubs apparently continue to have some amount of interest in that possibility. Bruce Levine of 670 The Score hears the organization may be willing to meet the $30MM+ in annual salary that Correa’s likely to command. However, he hears that the Cubs could balk at an especially long-term commitment, writing that “they’d rather not go 10 years in length.” Whether the reluctance to offer a decade’s worth of guarantees is a matter of preference or a firm organizational mandate isn’t clear, nor is the length of a proposal the front office would be more comfortable putting forth.
If the Cubs prove completely unwilling to go to ten years, it’d be difficult for Correa to top Seager’s $325MM guarantee in Chicago. Even over a nine-year term, getting to $325MM would require a $36.11MM average annual salary that’d be a record for a position player. It’s not clear whether Correa would be willing to sacrifice a year or two at the back of a deal in order to land a record-breaking AAV, although he’s reportedly already passed on offers of $160MM over five years (from the Astros) and $275MM over ten years (from the Tigers).
There’s no question he’ll have myriad options from which to choose once the sport’s business resumes. Correa is coming off a fifth-place finish in AL MVP balloting on the heels of a .279/.366/.485 line (134 wRC+) paired with Gold Glove defense. Of equal importance, he avoided the injured list (aside from a brief stay related to COVID-19) en route to 640 plate appearances over 148 games. That marked Correa’s heaviest workload since 2016, helping to assuage concerns clubs may have had after he was limited to 294 games between 2017-19 (98 per season) by thumb, back and rib issues.