We’re not ranking free agents this offseason, but if we were Carlos Correa would easily be at the top of the list. Even in a free-agent class with Corey Seager, Trevor Story, and Marcus Semien, not only is Correa the best shortstop available, he’s the best player available full stop. After a relatively rough couple of months in 2020, Correa came back in his walk year to put up his best all-around season yet. Correa slashed .279/.366/.485 for a 134 wRC+ in addition to leading all shortstops with 21 DRS. He’s had better years at the plate, but his 5.8 fWAR in 2021 is a high-water mark.
When trying to determine which teams could use Correa, it’s faster to list the teams that don’t need a shortstop with a well above average bat and excellent defense for a big chunk of the next decade. The left side of the infield is the area of least concern for the Padres between Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr., but even they could figure something out.
Of course, not every team is willing to pay for a superstar, so that narrows things down a bit. Most teams wouldn’t even pay the laughably small contract reportedly offered by the Astros. According to Mark Berman, Houston offered Correa a five-year, $160 million deal. A $32 million AAV is perhaps better than what he’ll ultimately get, but Correa is only entering his age-27 season. He should get be getting closer to 10 years.
Correa already intimated that this was his last year in Houston, so the Astro’s offer is likely just eyewash. Jim Crane can tell season ticket holders that at least they tried. Correa was the one who wanted to leave.
If a return isn’t particularly likely, that leaves Houston with a not-insignificant hole in their lineup. The Astros weathered the departure of George Springer thanks to the breakout from Kyle Tucker, but we’ve probably seen the best of Aledmys Díaz. Jeremy Peña could get a shot at the starting job next spring. Houston’s fourth-overall prospect mashed at Triple-A this year, hitting 10 homers in 30 games. Peña only walked 8 times in 160 plate appearances across all levels, however. Meanwhile, he struck out 41 times for a 25.6 percent strikeout rate.
The Astros might not be willing to pay Correa what he’s worth, but some teams will. For instance, the Yankees are in dire need of a shortstop. Maybe there’s an argument that Corey Seager is a better fit since he’s a cheaper lefty who can slot in with righties Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and DJ LeMahieu. Seager might be a clankmitt, but he wasn’t embroiled in the Astros’ banging scheme. Some Yankees players might still harbor a grudge. Clubhouse chemistry is hard to quantify, but it’s not irrelevant.
The Tigers should be active this winter since Spencer Torkelson is on the cusp of the majors, and their young starters should be improving. Correa would help kickstart this new window of contention especially since there’s daylight in the AL Central.
Seattle is another team whose contention window is just starting to open. JP Crawford is coming off a 3.1 fWAR season, but he can slide to third for Correa or any of the other shortstops on the market. With Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodríguez both up in 2022, Jerry Dipoto needs to add some reinforcements to get them in contention.
Again, any team could find a spot for Correa. That’s one of the reasons his market is going to be slow to develop even ignoring the loom CBA negotiations. He has the luxury of being able to wait for something better. From a team’s perspective though, there are some nice consolation prizes out there, but Correa’s as good as it gets.
Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.