All dressed up and no place to go

Carlos Correa

The Giants’ hesitation on sealing the deal sent Correa—the arguable best shortstop on this winter’s free agency market—into the Mets’ unhesitant arms for a twelve-year deal.

Well, now. A lot of teams this winter approached the free agency market like the proverbial children in the candy stores granted permission to raid the stock as they please until they can’t carry any more out. A lot of very wealthy ownerships have made a fair number of players of most ages very wealthy men going forward.

But at least one reasonably wealthy ownership, the group that owns the Giants, led by Charles Johnson but operated by his son, Greg, resembles Olympic hurdles champions who leapt and bounded their way to the gold medals without contact with even a single hurdle but tripped walking upstairs on their ways home.

They had erstwhile Astros/Twins shortstop Carlos Correa on board for thirteen years and $350 million. Then they didn’t. They had Correa in San Francisco, all dressed up and no place to go, instead of being at an Oracle Park podium ready to shoulder into a spanking new Giants jersey.

Over a week after the Giants and Correa agreed to the deal, the Giants quaked over a medical question and thus postponed the scheduled Tuesday introductory press conference. They said, essentially, “Not so fast.” The Mets, with single owner Steve Cohen bearing dollars unlimited and anything but shy about spending them, said, essentially, “Not fast enough.”

The Mets now have Correa for a mere twelve years and a mere $315 million. The Giants blinked. The Mets pounced.

The Giants pleaded a “difference of opinion” over Correa’s physical exam. Correa’s agent, Scott Boras, pleaded that the Giants got edgy over ancient medical issues, not present or coming ones. Enter Cohen, with Correa unexpectedly back on the open market, once Boras worked the phones and tracked Cohen down in Hawaii, where he and his wife are spending the Christnukah holidays.

Exit Correa from San Francisco. Enter Correa to New York. What began in San Francisco and continued with Boras and Correa over lunch probably telling each other, “Relax, brah,” ended at fifteen minutes past Simon & Garfunkel time.

That’s the time Correa agreed to become a Met, with his only immediate issue likely to have been jet lag from such a short turnaround in back-and-forth bi-coastal flights. Also pending a fresh physical, but without any apparent paranoia on Cohen’s or his organisation’s part over . . . just what, precisely?

“You’re talking about a player who has played eight major-league seasons,” Boras said. “There are things in his medical record that happened decades ago. These are all speculative dynamics. Every team has a right to go through things and evaluate things. The key thing is, we gave them medical reports at the time. They still wanted to sign the player and negotiate with the player.” Until they didn’t.

“It sounds as if there was a very old Correa injury—pre MLB—that was raised as a potential issue. It has not cropped up again,” tweeted Susan Slusser, the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Giants beat writer. “None of Correa’s other physical issues have required medical intervention or ongoing treatment.” She added that if it became cold feet, that’s usually on the owners and not their front office.

Last winter, the Twins signed Correa as a free agent to three years and $105 million, with an opt-out clause enabling Correa to terminate the deal after the 2022 or the 2023 season, his choice. He chose to exercise it after the 2022 season. They whispered about back issues last winter, until Correa had himself checked by one of the nation’s top spine surgeons, Robert Watkins, M.D.

“He said, ‘This dude is as stable, as healthy as he can be’.” Correa said then.

Hearing that from the best back doctor in the world, it was reassuring. I knew that already because I’ve been feeling great. But to get that expert opinion, after an MRI and the work I’ve been putting in . . .

This is what I tell people. There’s no way you can go out and win a Platinum Glove if your back is not right. There’s no way you can put up an .850 OPS if your back is not right against the elite pitching we’re facing nowadays. There’s no way you play 148 games—and I could have played more, but the COVID IL got me—if your back’s not right. There’s no way you sign a $105 million deal for three years, go through physicals for insurance and for the team if it’s not rightthere are a lot of people who make decisions when it comes to the Giants.

“Almost all of the small [decisions for the Giants] are no doubt made by [team president] Farhan Zaidi and/or [chief executive officer] Larry Baer,” writes Craig Calcaterra at Cup of Coffee.

When things get big—and a $350 million commitment is pretty big—I would guess that a lot more people have a say in that and I can’t help but wonder if there was some buyer’s remorse re: Correa on the part of the partnership at large in the past week. If so, it would not be hard for someone in-house to suggest, order, or otherwise put out there in the ether the notion that Correa’s medicals are scary as a pretext for scuttling things.

“The owners didn’t want to pay the contract,” Slusser added. “All this ‘we almost got Bryce [Harper] we almost got [Aaron] Judge’ is just cover for the owner to pretend he wanted to spend. He didn’t. He’s a cheapskate. How pathetic.”

Some think Cohen is channeling his inner George Steinbrenner, minus that George-bent toward turning the Mets’ atmosphere into a hybrid between the Mad Hatter’s tea party and a psychiatric ward. Those owners to whom spending is about as agreeable as a colonoscopy may think Cohen’s ignited a new, slow-burning slog liable to culminate in a future owner-provoked stoppage that translates, almost as usual, to a demand someone else (namely, the players) stop the owners before they overspend, mis-spend, or mal-spend yet again.

But then there’s the thought of a secondary method to Cohen’s apparent madness. While he puts a major league product on the field that glitters while going for the gusto, he has room aplenty to continue his oft-proclaimed intent to remake/remodel the Mets’ entire system.

Be reminded, please, that it’s not as though Cohen just went nuts on the sales floor when he went to market. He locked down incumbent relief ace Edwin Díaz to the largest deal ever for his Díaz’s line of work. Then he lost Jacob deGrom to free agency and the Rangers but replaced him with (so far) ageless future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander. He locked down incumbent center field centerpiece Brandon Nimmo and signed Japanese pitching gem Kodai Senga.

Now, pair Correa with his longtime friend Francisco Lindor on the left side of the infield, Correa slotting over to third, in a combination not alien to either player in other places. Thus, too, Cohen bumped the Mets’ offense up a few more rungs (they were good at working counts last year and Correa gives them extra there, too), behind a solid pitching staff and with a reasonable bench behind them.

The expectations now will be the Mets going deeper into the postseason next year than a round-one disappearing. Not to mention becoming first in line to shop at the booth of a certain unicorn wearing Angels silks until he reaches his first free agency next winter. The expectations for the Giants, by comparison, may only begin with a wisecrack from The Athletic‘s Giants writer, Tim Kawakami. “[L]et me suggest,” he writes, “that the Giants probably need a crisis manager as much as they need a general manager these days.”

They once said that almost annually about Correa’s new employers. But these are not your grandfather’s Mets. Sixty years ago, the Mets’ original owner told a writer that their maiden season of 120 losses begged for serious improvement. “We are going to cut those losses down,” insisted Joan Payson. “At least to 119.”

One of their fans was a Long Island kid named Steve Cohen. With the financial power to support it, he now behaves as though the Mets have just got to get the wins (regular and postseason) up at least to 119. (That’s a joke, son. Sort of.)

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