Since the moment Carlos Correa signed a surprising, short-term and opt-out laden deal with the Twins, it’s appeared all but inevitable that he’d trigger the first opt-out in his contract and return to free agency this winter. A huge finish at the plate likely only made Correa’s decision easier, and while the 28-year-old former All-Star hinted that he will indeed opt out when speaking to the Twins beat yesterday, he also voiced a strong desire to return to the Twins and continue playing under manager Rocco Baldelli (Twitter thread via Do-Hyoung Park of MLB.com).
“…I talked about marriage in terms of building a long-term relationship [with the team], and then we go from there,” Correa said. “But we all know, you know the game enough to know what my decision is going to be like.”
Correa said early in the season that he and his wife immediately felt at home in the Twin Cities. He doubled down on the comments yesterday, stating his love for the organization and the team, adding that his family’s happiness is something he will “take dearly into consideration” as he charts his course. He added that he plans to meet with the team soon and repeated a desire to “get into serious conversations” with the Twins regarding a longer-term deal than the one to which he’s currently signed. If he made the surprising decision to forgo his opt-out, he’d still be signed for another two years and $70.2MM — with the ability to opt out again next winter.
While Baldelli has become a lightning rod for criticism among Twins fans on the heels of a second straight disappointing season, Correa indicated that the relationship he’s forged with his manager has been a key factor in his happiness this season.
“He’s been an open book with me since day one,” Correa said of Baldelli. “He’s been honest. He’s been trustworthy. He’s been a friend. There’s nothing more you want from a manager than what Rocco is to us here.”
Obviously, it’s in Correa’s best interest to say all the right things and to express interest in a long-term deal. There’s no sense in any pending free agent burning any type of bridge or casting doubt about his willingness to return to his current setting; the greater the number of potential landing spots, the greater the competition in free agency, after all. Still, Correa could also have simply declined to comment on the opt-out or on his relationship with the club, so it’s of at least mild note that he perhaps foreshadowed his decision and expressed ostensibly earnest desire to stay put in Minnesota.
Correa stumbled out of the gates early in the season, hitting just .167/.254/.250 through his first 16 games and 67 plate appearances. From that point forth, he found his stroke at the plate and looked every bit like the star the Twins hoped to be acquiring, batting .307/.380/.496 (152 wRC+) with a 10.3% walk rate and 18.9% strikeout rate through his final 523 plate appearances.
Defensive metrics soured on Correa’s work at shortstop following last year’s Platinum Glove showing, but both Defensive Runs Saved (3) and Ultimate Zone Rating (2.2) still pegged him as an above-average shortstop. Statcast did grade him negatively (two runs below average) for the first time since his rookie season. Correa made just eight errors this year (six of the throwing variety).
The end result was a strong all-around campaign: a .291/.366/.467 batting line (140 wRC+), 22 home runs, 24 doubles and anywhere from passable to above-average defense at shortstop. Baseball-Reference pegged Correa’s first and perhaps only Twins season at 5.4 wins above replacement; FanGraphs valued him at 4.4 WAR.
The question for both the Twins and for Correa now becomes one of finding a middle ground. Correa hit the market a year ago fresh off an even stronger season than his 2022 effort and still struggled to find the $330MM+ deal he was rumored to be seeking. Now a year older and coming off a strong but still lesser season, it’s hard to imagine that type of contract materializing — particularly with another excellent set of fellow shortstops on the market. A year ago, Correa was joined by Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Trevor Story and Javier Baez in free agency. This time around, it’s Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts and Dansby Swanson all serving as competition.
From a payroll vantage point, the Twins can very clearly handle a long-term commitment to Correa. Assuming he opts out and Sonny Gray’s 2023 option is exercised — both of which are virtual locks — Minnesota will have about $53.25MM on the 2023 books. By 2024, the only notable long-term guarantee on the ledger is Byron Buxton’s seven-year contract, and his annual base salary clocks in just north of $15MM. If the team wants to build around the Nos. 1 and 2 picks from the 2012 draft, the resources are certainly there. The Twins carried a payroll of more than $142MM this season.
Whether that’s a risk worth taking will be a question for the front office and for ownership, of course. The Twins have more money coming off the books than all but a handful of MLB clubs this winter, but they also have needs in the rotation, the bullpen and at several spots in the lineup. They also have another former No. 1 overall pick, Royce Lewis, as a potential heir to Correa at shortstop, although Lewis tore his right ACL (while playing the outfield) in just the 12th game of an impressive MLB debut. It’s the second straight season with a season-ending right ACL tear for the now 23-year-old Lewis, and it remains unclear whether that pair of surgeries to repair the same ligament impact the team’s thoughts on him as a potential shortstop. His outlook is but one of many layers to a complex and franchise-altering decision the Twins will face with Correa’s opt-out looming.