There are many adjectives appropriate enough to describe Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa: cheating, thieving, unapologetic. All of these being warranted following the Astros’ well-publicized sign-stealing scandal of 2017.
But camera or no camera, receptacle or lack thereof, Correa, too, is a superstar.
Since debuting in 2015, the former number one overall pick owns an adjusted OPS+ of 127 (league average being 100) over 725 career games played.
With a 2021 season that’s seen the native Puerto Rican post a slash line of .277/.377/.479 (132 OPS+) at a premium defensive position, a track record of sustained success in the postseason to the tune of 17 home runs in 63 playoff games, talk of this possibly being his last hurrah in Houston, and with free agency a mere two months away, Correa has positioned himself for a big pay-day come the fall.
111.6 mph off the bat.— Sam Dykstra (@SamDykstraMiLB) October 8, 2020
That's the hardest-hit ball of Carlos Correa's 2020, either in the regular season or playoffs.
And he knew it. pic.twitter.com/8xP1HijaWZ
If George Springer, a teammate of Correa’s from 2015-2020, can walk away from the sign-stealing era with a 6-year/$150M commitment from the Blue Jays, Correa is a safe bet to garner a deal at or in excess of $200M.
The best comp for Correa here is Manny Machado, who, like the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year, entered free agency at the age of 26—Correa will turn 27 on September 22—and, like Correa, is a figure held in less-than-flattering regarding by many around the sport.
In his walk year of 2018, split between the Baltimore Orioles and pennant-winning Los Angeles Dodgers, Machado slashed .297/.367/.538, accruing 6.1 Baseball-Reference WAR. That offseason, Machado signed a 10-year/$300M pact with the San Diego Padres. At the start of play on September 1, Correa has been worth 5.9 rWAR (the highest in MLB).
That being said, should Correa decide to take his talents elsewhere for 2022 and the distant future, the team that acquires his services will undoubtedly merit recognition, good or bad, for the acquisition.
And as someone who has keenly observed the Jeter-Sherman-era in Miami, Correa is what Gerrit Cole was to the Yankees following the 2019 season. At least on paper, he put them over the top (the Yanks are reaping the full reward of his greatness in year two of that megadeal).
Now, as we know, one player will not account for the other internal and external factors that make for a competitive ballclub. However, Carlos Correa’s presence alone would serve as a motivator for the burgeoning core of players currently there and those who will soon join the ranks of the big league club.
The idea may not make sense in principle as many around baseball view the Marlins’ window as not having yet opened, and with good reason in most respects.
Stability is everything in attaining continued success. It is important to note that the Marlins’ current shortstop, Miguel Rojas, has a 2022 team option for $5.5 million, at least five times less than what Correa is projected earn in average annual salary moving forward. And while Rojas has been a productive big leaguer in 2021, posting 2.6 rWAR while playing above-average defense (+4 DRS, 0.9 dWAR) at the position, Rojas owns a career OPS of .686 (88 OPS+) and will be entering his age 33-season in 2022.
In this regard, Correa’s career .836 OPS represents an obvious upgrade, one much needed for a team with a team OPS+ of 85, 14th of 15 NL teams (Pittsburgh, 80).
Circling back to Machado, who signed a year before the team vaulted into contention in the pandemic-shortened 2020, Correa makes sense in Miami to serve as a cornerstone with incoming the youth movement in Miami.
Griffin Conine is 24 and leading all of Minor League Baseball in home runs, hopes are still high for JJ Bleday despite taking some lumps this season at AA, and Bryan De La Cruz, a former Astros farmhand, has made good to the tune of a 135 OPS+ in his first taste of big-league ball.
More importantly, though, Correa provides validation to an organization so long devoid of it by the rest of baseball. Whether he signs with the club or not is only something he’ll decide on, but should the Marlins’ have a chance, better hope they get the checkbook out.