The Minnesota Twins tried not to make the news conference announcing the biggest free-agent signing in franchise history about how the player at the center of it all had already agreed to play for two other teams this offseason. But it came up.
Carlos Correa had been a Twin (after seven years with the Houston Astros) for a minute, and then he was a free agent whom the Twins desperately wanted to bring back. Over the course of a single season, they’d fallen in love with the player and person and spoke openly of that adoration. When Correa was in Minnesota, that feeling certainly seemed mutual; but money, of course, can make a lot of places seem appealing.
Which is how Correa ended up agreeing to terms with the San Francisco Giants, who planned to pay him $350 million over 10 years. But to the Twins — and to the story that would be told when all was said and done — the team and even the terms weren’t the important part.
“I remember calling him late that night and wishing him well,” Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said Wednesday at the news conference. “It was an emotional conversation. It was a heartfelt conversation on both sides. And the thing that I took away from that conversation was how much of his heart was here, how much of him he invested in this organization, how much he cared about us as a group.”
To a cynic, that might reek of revisionist history and bad bologna, but here’s the cold, hard truth: After failing physicals with the Giants and the New York Mets, Correa — whose leg has not yet turned to dust and, indeed, seems plenty stable, at least for the time being — was going to play for one of the other 28 teams at the end of a very strange, public and potentially ignominious saga. In Minnesota, at least, both sides can celebrate it like a homecoming.
When he entered free agency last winter with a 127 career OPS+, a Rookie of the Year award, a couple of All-Star appearances, a gold glove and a platinum glove (to say nothing of his World Series ring, which is perhaps for the best), Correa was presumed to be seeking the sort of $300-plus million deal that effectively anoints a superstar. That would’ve seemed to preclude his going to the Twins.
And yet, as Correa’s agent, Scott Boras, pointed out Wednesday, if you add 2022 to the maxed-out version of the new contract, Correa will earn roughly $305 million over 11 years in Minnesota.
“Hopefully longer,” Falvey said. “We want him to finish his career as part of this organization.”
Everyone involved understands that this reunion was made possible – and even then, the total is less than the two deals that fell through – only because two other teams balked at such an expensive commitment to a player with a surgically repaired right ankle. So what was different in Minnesota?
If Boras is to be believed: familiarity. And it fits the narrative perfectly — which doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Those teams that don’t really know Carlos – his pain tolerance and all he brings in terms of intangibles – were making their evaluations based on impersonal MRIs. The Twins, however, had a season of daily contact and close observation of Correa’s durability to fall back on.
Correa said this process taught him that doctors have differences of opinion. Boras is no doctor. “But I will say,” he offered, “that in medicine, and particularly in sports medicine, orthopedic functionality and clinical examination on a day-to-day basis is far more important than an MRI.”
Still, the deal ultimately signed after the Twins conducted their own physical this week was for less total money and included many more convolutions than the 10-year, $285 million offer they originally made this offseason. So even for the team that watched Correa take the field 136 times last season, there was some cause for concern.
It was in deciding what to do about that concern that the other two deals fell apart — the Giants one quickly because an over-eager Steve Cohen was essentially on the other line. The Mets one fell apart much more slowly, with the red flag seeming far more ominous after a second opinion. And here, credit goes to the Twins front office’s creativity and what could be interpreted as Correa’s genuine interest in ending up with the club.
After six guaranteed seasons at a total of $200 million, the contract switches to year-to-year team options for four years, which become guaranteed if Correa reaches a certain number of plate appearances the previous season. Even if they’re assuming a risk other teams were uncomfortable with by signing Correa, it’s a savvy setup for the Twins.
As Aaron Gleeman of the Athletic wrote, “For most $100 million-plus contracts, the signing team goes into it knowing they’ll be taking on increasingly more risk with each season, often to the point of the player becoming a negative value by the tail end of the deal. In this case, the Twins’ risk is front-loaded, with Correa getting the most money when he’s likely to provide the most value.”
The Twins got here by being lucky, patient and persistent — and, apparently, pining a little.
“We never stayed in touch,” Falvey said.
Correa, for his part, kept the lines of communication with his former and future team open as well. He said he talks to Byron Buxton daily and José Miranda on a regular basis and also stays in touch with Twins hitting coach David Popkins and manager Rocco Baldelli.
“I was always involved with everything and how we can make each other better,” he said. “Even though I was not formally part of the Twins at the time.”
It’s just like the Correa the Twins first fell in love with to do that.
Over the course of Wednesday’s news conference, there was a running bit about Correa serving as the Twins’ assistant general manager as well as their shortstop. It’s a knowing joke, one based on comfort and familiarity, a reference to how thoroughly he committed himself to improving the organization for what cynics would have said was only ever going to be a single season.
“I guess that’s just more of a feeling thing,” Falvey said about why the team stayed so intent on Correa this offseason, even through seemingly done deals. “It felt like he wanted to be a part of this.”
Maybe Correa settled. But if you’re inclined to believe players’ professed feelings, the story of how Carlos Correa went on the most circuitous free-agent journey ever, literally crisscrossing the country only to end up back where he started, is a pretty good one.