The Twins deliver a stunning signing: Carlos Correa

Carlos Correa

Almost nobody expected the longtime Astros shortstop to sign with the Twins.

It’s hard to look at Carlos Correa signing with the Twins for three years and $105.3 million without knowing the Astros’ remaining Astrogate contingent is reduced officially by one. There are now only three position players and one pitcher remaining from the tainted 2017 World Series winners.

This should be good for the Astros in terms of leaving the Astrogate taint further and further behind them. But I suspect it won’t be. With only four Astrogate-team members left last year, the Astros still heard it loud and long from fans on the road. Some of it was mere booing, catcalling, and “chea-ter!” chants. Some of it was inflatable and actual trash cans hitting fields.

I still suspect it’s not going to stop until the last Astrogater standing no longer wears an Astro uniform. Not until second baseman Jose Altuve (who actually didn’t partake all the way in the Astro Intelligence Agency’s 2017-18 off-field based, illegal camera-abetted, electronic sign-stealing operation), third baseman Alex Bregman, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, and pitcher Lance McCullers, Jr. move to other teams if not into retirement.

As it happens, I have tickets for what will now be Opening Day, period, in Angel Stadium on 7 April. Guess who the Angels host to start their regular season. My son and myself will probably wonder en route the ballpark how many other Angel fans will turn up with inflatable trash cans, bangable trash cans, and more to continue letting the Astros have it.

It took decades before the 1951 New York Giants were verified once and for all as off-field based sign-stealing cheaters en route the comeback that forced the fabled pennant playoff. It took only two years from the 2017 World Series to expose and verify the AIA. And it took only a couple of hours during the pandemically-aborted 2020 spring training for the Astros to show the world they didn’t quite think their cheating was that big a deal.

Correa since the infamous spring training 2020 presser has been maybe the most stubborn defender of the Astros’ 2017 Series title. “When you analyze the games,” he said before the coronavirus closed that spring training and half the season to come, “we won fair and square. We earned that championship.”

Funny, but that’s not exactly what Correa said at the infamous presser. While Astros owner Jim Crane tripped over himself, Bregman tossed word salad, and since-gone outfielder Josh Reddick “couldn’t really say [the AIA operation] did or didn’t” give the Astros an advantage, Correa said, essentially, not so fast:

It’s an advantage. I’m not going to lie to you. If you know what’s coming, you get a slight edge. And that’s why [then-general manager Jeff Luhnow and then-manager A.J. Hinch] got suspended and people got fired because it’s not right. It’s not right to do that. It was an advantage. But . . . it’s not going to happen moving forward.

After the Braves nailed last fall’s World Series at the Astros’ expense, Correa spoke in terms that would have made him a fit on the 20th Century Yankees.

Second place is not good enough for us. I know it’s not good enough for you guys. But it speaks volumes of how good our organization is, how talented our clubhouse is. Five ALCS in a row. Three World Series in five years. I don’t know what else you want to ask from a great ball club . . .People expect greatness when you talk about the Houston Astros. They expect us to make the playoffs every year. They expect us to be in the World Series every year.

But the only one they won is the one that just so happens to be tainted.

And, speaking of the Yankees, take a poke around the vast multitudes that root for or at least follow them and it seemed as though the number one thought in and out of their minds Saturday morning was, How on earth could the Yankees miss out on signing Correa? Did they really take Josh Donaldson’s contract on in that trade with the Twins just to let the Twins snatch Correa with the savings?

Others thought Correa outsmarted himself into taking considerably less with the Twins than he thought he might get on a market that got forced into overdrive thanks to that ridiculous owners’ lockout. But he’ll pull down the fourth-highest single-season salary of 2022, behind pitchers Max Scherzer (Mets) and Gerrit Cole (Yankees) plus outfielder Mike Trout (Angels).

The deal also includes opt-outs after this season and next. Turning 28 in the final third of this coming September, and assuming he has a typically Correa season in Minnesota, he could still opt out and play next winter’s market for something more to his supposed liking. Maybe he didn’t really outsmart himself, after all?

Maybe the Yankees still have a spring surprise yet to play. They unloaded Gio Urshela (shortstop) and Gary Sanchez (catcher) to bring Donaldson (third base), Isiah Kiner-Falefa (shortstop), and Ben Rortvedt (catcher) aboard. Maybe they have Kiner-Falefa in mind to play support after they sign free agent shorstop Trevor Story? Maybe?

Or maybe the Twins have decided, yes, they’re coming into it to try to win it, including enticing the shortstop anchor from the penthouse of the American League West for a season at least. Maybe they can make Correa happy in the Twin Cities, after all.

Maybe he can join his fellow high 2012 draft pick Byron Buxton (Correa and Buxton were numeros uno and two-o in that draft) to yank them from the basement to the penthouse. He did prove last year that he knows how to win without any funny business that anyone knew of, even if the Astros came up two bucks short in the World Series.

‘[T]he makings of a formidable lineup are present in Minnesota, though they’ll need a few things to break right,” writes MLB Trade Rumors’s Steve Adams, who also notes their “patchwork starting [pitching] rotation” remains a cause for some alarm even with trading for Sonny Gray from the apparently tanking Reds.

From the defensive side of things, Correa gives the Twins a pair of Platinum Glove winners, joining Buxton in that regard. With quality defenders like [Max] Kepler, Urshela and young catcher Ryan Jeffers also occupying key spots on the diamond, the Twins should have a strong defensive team overall. The Twins already ranked 12th in the Majors both in Defensive Runs Saved and Outs Above Average in 2021, and Correa should boost both marks.

There’s something else Correa could do now that he’s become a Twin, too. Something not exactly unprecedented. He could become the latest 2017 Astro to drop all pretenses, denials, and whataboutisms, and come a lot cleaner about Astrogate.

That began with utilityman Marwin Gonzalez, who signed with the Twins as a free agent for 2018, then with the Red Sox as a free agent for 2021, got released by the Red Sox last August, and signed to return to the Astros for their run to the World Series.

Gonzalez broke the ice around the time of the infamous 2020 Astro presser. “I’m remorseful for everything that happened in 2017,” he told reporters, “for everything that we did as a group, and for the players that were affected directly by us doing this.”

He, too, didn’t use the C word. Maybe it’d be too much to expect Correa to use it, too, if he decides it’s safe to come all the way clean now. But it would give him a better look either way than the one he often had clinging stubbornly to the idea that the 2017 World Series title wasn’t really tainted.

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