What a long, strange trip it’s been . . .

Carlos Correa

Correa took a medicals-inspired, coast-to-coast trip back to the Twins in the end.

This much we should understand about today’s typical Met fan, and it’s not the first time this lifelong (theirs) Met fan has said so: Today’s typical Met fan is ready to push the plunger on a season over one bad inning—in April. The least shocking thing when Carlos Correa didn’t go from likely signing to donning a Met jersey at an introductory press conference was any Met fan surrendering 2023.

From the moment the Twins with whom Correa played last year came back into play for the shortstop, when the Mets proved as alarmed over Correa’s long-term health as the Giants had previously, many Met fans did. Social media was as crowded with them as a major subway transfer station is crowded during a New York rush hour. But there were voices of reason to be heard if you knew where to listen.

And what those voices said, from the top down, possibly including the fellow lifelong Met fan who owns the team now, was, If this guy’s rebuilt lower leg betrays him when the deal is halfway finished or less, he’s going to become a fan target and we are going to resemble the village idiots for signing him. At least, at the full thirteen and $350 million originally planned.

Now the Twins—who weren’t exactly circumspect about wanting to have Correa back longer term—have brought him back for six years and $200 million. ESPN’s Jeff Passan broke that news aboard Twitter Tuesday. The deal is now official with the physical passed.  Even if it took Correa two long stops aboard what sometimes resembled the crazy train to get there.

Remember: The Giants had landed him—until they didn’t. They quaked over something in Correa’s medical profile, enough to let him walk right into the Mets’ open arms on the day they expected to present him at a presser climbing into a Giants jersey. First it was thought to be Correa’s back. Then, as the Mets were ready to wrap him up for Christmas, the discourse turned to that now-notorious rebuilt ankle.

The Mets had Correa ready to place under New York’s Christmas tree—until they didn’t. They, too, quaked over something in the medical profile. Unlike the Giants, the Mets were willing to adjust. We know now they worked up an adjusted deal for six years and $157.5 million (were willing to go six assured at $175.5 million (roughly $27 million annually), with additional years up to six to follow based upon annual physical examinations.

The Giants’ prudence (if that’s what it was) about Correa in the end still leaves them with more holes to fill. The Mets’ such prudence doesn’t leave them with more than maybe a dent or two to fix. Remember: the Mets won 101 games last season before they collapsed in postseason round one. They’re not exactly in terrible 2023 shape, either.

But it looks as though Steve Cohen isn’t going to be the wild free-spender the rest of baseball world believed and maybe feared. It also looks as though he’s not willing to be as risky as people thought when it comes to players with injury histories no fault of their own but profound enough. Even players he says publicly, as he did about Correa, might be necessary pieces for a full-distance championship team.

Remember: Cohen once let a shiny draft pick (pitcher Kumar Rocker) walk rather than sign him over concerns about shoulder issues. He’s the owner who let Jacob deGrom, the arguable best pitcher in baseball when healthy (underline those two words), walk. (To the Rangers, for five years and $185 million.) If he was willing to let the game’s best pitcher when healthy (underline those words) walk, he wasn’t going to fear letting one of its best left-side infielders walk over similar alarms.

Is it unrealistic to think that the Astros, who raised Correa in the first place and saw him shine with them for seven seasons, let him walk into free agency in the first place because they, too, had long-term concerns about his long-term health?

Cohen may be willing to open the vault wider than any other major league owner, but it doesn’t mean he’s going to be that drunk a sailor. Remember: He had a plan and executed it regarding deGrom, signing seemingly ageless future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander for two years.

He also locked down late-game relief ace Edwin Diáz and outfield mainstay Brandon Nimmo. Extending first base anchor Pete Alonso isn’t unrealistic, either, especially after letting talented but too-firmly blocked Dominic Smith walk into the Nationals’ arms. The plan for Correa was moving him to third to play aside uber-shortstop incumbent Francisco Lindor. Without Correa? They have a pair of talented third basemen, veteran Eduardo Escobar and sprout Brett Baty.

The Mets aren’t hurting without Correa. The Twins are risking that they won’t be hurting if and when Correa begins hurting. As it was, Correa on his 2022 deal—three years, $105.3 million, and three opt-outs, the first of which Correa exercised to play the market in the first place this winter—proved a second half godsend, when the Twins became injury riddled enough but Correa managed to stay the distance.

The Twins also liked Correa’s clubhouse leadership and prodding teammates to improve. “The vision he has,” assistant pitching coach Luis Ramirez told The Athletic, “the awareness, the anticipation about what is going to come next. When he needs to talk to a teammate about an adjustment that needs to be made, or just, to like, picking up a teammate, or paying attention to small details in the game that others don’t see—he makes us better in everything, in the field, everywhere.”

They’re also banking on Correa maturing further and further away from his Astrogate past. Correa was once the staunchest public defender of the Astros’ 2017 World Series title. Yet he said not so fast, more or less, at that notorious February 2020 word salad-bar presser; their illegal, off-field-based, electronic sign-stealing Astro Intelligence Agency was “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.

Correa also took the Astros’ superstar second baseman José Altuve off the Astrogate hook, insisting—and the evidence since brought forth backs it up—that Altuve not only declined to work with stolen signs transmitted to him but actively objected to the infamous trash can banging of the pilfered intelligence while he was at the plate.

“The man plays the game clean,” Correa insisted, after then-Dodger Cody Bellinger fumed that Altuve should return his 2017 American League MVP award. “That’s easy to find out. [Astrogate whistleblower] Mike Fiers broke the story. You can go out and ask Mike Fiers: ‘Did José Altuve use the trash can? Did José Altuve cheat to win the MVP?’ Mike Fiers is going to tell you, straight up, he didn’t use it. He was the one player that didn’t use it.”

That’s what SNY’s Andy Martino said, too, in his Astrogate book, Cheated. It’s what Evan Drellich—one of the two Athletic reporters (with Ken Rosenthal) to whom Fiers blew the Astrogate whistle—is liable to reiterate in his forthcoming (next month) Winning Fixes Everything: How Baseball’s Brightest Minds Created Sports’ Biggest Mess. It’s what too many fans continue to ignore.

Without Correa, and placing their shortstop present and future into Gold Glove-winning rookie Jeremy Peña, last year’s Astros were down to only four or five remaining from the notorious 2017-18 Astrogate roster, including Altuve. The facts didn’t stop fans from hammering Altuve along with the others with chea-ter! chea-ter! chants—all the way into the World Series they won straight, no chaser at last.

The Twins bring Correa back with a front-loaded deal that includes no opt-outs and a full no-trade clause. They’re still taking a big risk on his health even for six years. God help Correa if his ankle or anything else breaks down and reduces him to journeyman status if he can play at all. Fans never let facts get in the way of fuming rants against what they think are fragile goldbrickers. Ask any Yankee fan when it comes to Jacoby Ellsbury.

But would a cynic suggest that, maybe, just maybe, in his heart of hearts, Correa was happy enough in Minnesota to let this weird coast-to-coast, medicals-scripted swing bring him back there in the first place, for a few more dollars than the Mets were willing to go on the same six guaranteed years? Maybe a cynic would. Maybe enough Met fans would. Did I just repeat myself?

The realist knows that, as fine as he’s still going to be, Correa’s ancient ankle repair did cost him in the long run. That, and not his controversial uber-agent Scott Boras, wrote this costly script. Costly for Correa. As The Athletic also points out, he lost seven years and $150 million compared to the original Giants offer, ended up with a lower offer from the Mets (half that $315 million over half the time), and signed with the Twins for four years and $85 million less than the ten/$285 million they first offered.

But realism isn’t half as much fun as ranting your head off about a season blown because of a signing blown, is it? Such is one of the major headaches of being a Met fan since the day they were born.

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