Mets, Yankees take different paths as the Carlos Correa saga drags on

Carlos Correa is the tether that connects my two biggest stories in New York baseball as 2023 begins:

1. Just how far will Steve Cohen go financially and temperamentally in trying to win a title in 2023?

2. Just how good are Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe?

Cohen did not feel a $360 million payroll differentiated the 2023 Mets from the 2022 version, since he was just retaining Edwin Diaz and Brandon Nimmo, and replacing Jacob deGrom, Chris Bassit and Taijuan Walker with Justin Verlander, Kodai Senga and Jose Quintana. So, he came to an agreement on a 12-year, $315 pact with Correa – although it remains uncertain if that will ever be converted into an actual signed contract.

Correa is the lone figure who was part of arguably the two best free-agent shortstop classes in history the past two offseasons. The Yankees shunned both of those groups, proclaiming they had not one, but two high-end shortstops just about to break through.

So the Mets trying to finalize a deal with Correa after the Yankees ignored him in two different offseasons provides the backdrop to what fascinates me most about the New York clubs in the new year.

Cohen has shown a willingness to blow beyond any previous barriers for payroll and paying the luxury tax. If the Mets complete a deal with Correa, their salary outlay for luxury-tax purposes will be roughly $385 million, and the tax on that will take the total expenditure toward half a billion dollars — although trades that involve Carlos Carrasco and Eduardo Escobar are likely to follow and lower that to what would still be record numbers, by far.

The Mets and Carlos Correa still have yet to finalize a 12-year, $315 contract.

What we do not know is how Cohen would handle failure now. His image from his day job — the hedge-fund life that produced the money to both buy the Mets and support this kind of salary spending — does not reveal a patient leader with underperformance.

Cohen has demonstrated in his short time as Mets owner a capacity to take in new information and learn – perhaps notably that his responsibilities to the Mets demand a different patience and diplomacy than those to his fund. In his nascent days as a baseball owner, for example, Cohen was a regular presence on Twitter, and on Aug. 18, 2021, with the Mets in an offensive funk and in the midst of losing eight of nine to fall from contention, Cohen tweeted: “It’s hard to understand how professional hitters can be this unproductive. The best teams have a more disciplined approach. The slugging and OPS numbers don’t lie.”

Mets owner Steve Cohen has spent big this offseason.
Mets owner Steve Cohen has spent big this offseason.
Sipa USA via AP

That was not exactly a team with a $500 million-ish price tag and runaway expectations. Still, it was the most critical Cohen has publicly been in his ownership tenure. It was part of a social media presence that unnerved some potential candidates to run baseball operations and kept them from wanting to be considered for the Mets’ job.

Cohen has evolved in that area. He tweets far less frequently (just once this offseason, for example, to herald the re-signing of Diaz) and in a more banal way. His spending has revived memories of George Steinbrenner. But we have not seen those histrionics. Maybe we never will.

But I wonder about Cohen’s patience if this Mets club is, say, 35-35 after 70 games and looking up at the Braves and Phillies. No one has ever spent like this, and I suspect if more goodies become available during the season, Cohen would be willing to spend even more. But what will be the price in return? What will he do if the spending proves not to have been justified? Maybe he will remain patient and publicly stoic. I am fascinated to find out.

As for the Yankees, the most obvious question probably is what will Aaron Judge, armed with a $360 million contract, do for an encore after 62 homers? But Judge continues to talk about winning championships, and in the short term I am not sure how the Yankees can do that if Peraza and Volpe are not like Judge – huge success stories from the system.

Brian Cashman and the Yankees have ignored chasing Carlos Correa in free agency the last two offseasons.
Brian Cashman and the Yankees have ignored chasing Carlos Correa in free agency the last two offseasons.
Corey Sipkin for the NY POST

With restrictions on shifts, limitations on pickoff throws and bigger bases, there will be a need for greater athleticism in the middle infield and on the bases. With the Yankees’ failure to hit good postseason pitching (especially that of the Astros), there will be a need for new offensive blood.

For all that, the importance of Peraza and Volpe will grow. And the importance will only become larger when you consider all the shortstops the Yankees shunned the past two offseasons waiting for Peraza and Volpe. That ticket has to pay off now.

But in the past 20 years, the Yankees have not fully enjoyed the benefits of touted classes of prospects – from Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy; to the Killer Bs (Manuel Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman); to the positional influx of Judge, Miguel Andujar, Greg Bird, Jackson (Clint) Frazier, Gary Sanchez and Gleyber Torres.

Oswald Peraza
Oswald Peraza
Anthony Volpe
Anthony Volpe
MLB Photos via Getty Images

They now believe they are sitting with a prospect group ready to have an impact with Peraza, Volpe and Oswaldo Cabrera leading off, followed by Jasson Dominguez, Spencer Jones, Everson Pereira, Trey Sweeney and Austin Wells. How many will make it? How many are being inflated for trades?

The Yankees have not exactly shown in recent years the ability to develop position players with sustained excellence. Among those who originally signed with the Yankees and played in the majors last year, Judge had the best Wins Above Replacement at 11.4 (Fangraphs). The next group was Jorge Mateo, Thairo Estrada, Kyle Higashioka, Cabrera, Rob Refsnyder and Sanchez, who combined for 11.3 WAR.

General manager Brian Cashman has described an expected open shortstop competition in the spring between Peraza, Volpe and Isiah Kiner-Falefa. How deflating would it be if Kiner-Falefa becomes the starting shortstop again after not being able to hold that position in a postseason in which the Yankees were embarrassingly auditioning the position daily?

They were eliminated in an ALCS sweep by the Astros, who replaced Correa with rookie Jeremy Peña, who was the ALCS and World Series MVP. The Yankees have not signed Correa in either of the past two offseasons. They also did not sign, among others, Corey Seager and Trea Turner. They have insisted they have answers coming.

That is why that is one of my two big New York questions as 2023 begins.


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