FORT MYERS, FLA. – Carlos Correa chose Minnesota late Friday night to serve as the staging area for the second half of his All-Star, Gold Glove, borderline MVP-level career, accepting a contract that makes him the highest-salaried player in Twins history.
Technically, Correa’s contract lasts three years and pays him $35.1 million in each, or more than half again as much as Joe Mauer’s $23 million annual salary, the Twins’ previous highest ever. But the Twins also gave him the right to tear up the contract next October, or 12 months later, and become a free agent once again — an option he almost certainly will exercise to pursue the $300 million-plus deal he was seeking this offseason.
Whether Correa stays for seven months or for a decade, however, the Twins and their fans will always be able to savor the electrifying late-night thrill of baseball’s most highly prized free agent, coming off the most individually successful season of his career, picking Minnesota. Not to mention the pinch-me-I’m-dreaming prospect of putting him into the middle of their lineup.
“We’re going to be good,” Jorge Polanco said after hearing his double-play partner was one of the top five players in the American League last season. “We are going to be good, really good.”
So one of baseball’s top free agents gets a three-year, $105.3 million deal with his yearly salary making him the fourth-highest-paid player in baseball, with opt-outs after 2022 and 2023 in a deal worked by the Twins and agent Scott Boras.
The Twins won’t make the deal official until Correa passes a physical Sunday. Correa did change the background on his Twitter account (@teamCJCorrea) to Target Field, though.
Shortstop has been a glaring area of need for the Twins this offseason, their biggest priority along with pitching. The Twins appeared to have acquired a starting shortstop last weekend when they traded Mitch Garver to Texas for Isiah Kiner-Falefa. But a day later, the Twins flipped Kiner-Falefa and Josh Donaldson to the Yankees for Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela. That trade also unburdened the Twins from the remaining two years of Donaldson’s contract, about $50 million.
With some money in hand, the Twins front office had been working hard for other deals, but their phones were pretty quiet for the past week. The Correa deal came together quickly and unexpectedly, as many figured the Twins were more in the market for free-agent shortstop Trevor Story.
“I knew they were looking for someone. And I’m glad they had a good one, a great one, in mind,” Polanco said. “He’s a good hitter, a good player.”
Top two from 2012
Correa was the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft ahead of new teammate Byron Buxton, and became a two-time All-Star with the Houston Astros, helping them to the playoffs in six of his seven seasons. The 27-year-old won the 2017 World Series, played in two others, and was the AL Rookie of the Year in 2015.
The Puerto Rico native, who made his big-league debut at age 20, had a .981 fielding percentage and .279 batting average last season, hitting 26 home runs. He also won his first Gold Glove and, according to Baseball Reference, had the fourth-best WAR (Wins Above Replacement) in the major leagues at 7.2, trailing only Angels pitcher-DH Shohei Ohtani, Phillies pitcher Zack Wheeler and Toronto (now Texas ) infielder Marcus Semien.
Correa has a career .413 average at Target Field, where the Astros swept the Twins in a best-of-three playoff series in 2020.
During their 2017 championship season, however, the Astros stole signs at home games by using a video camera in the outfield to see signals from the opposing catcher. MLB imposed severe penalties on the team and GM Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch were both fired, and Correa said: “We were wrong for everything we did in 2017. It’s not what we stand for. organization, and we were definitely wrong about all that and we feel really sorry.”
Correa’s arrival means Polanco can focus on second base, where he played the majority of last season to great success, when he hit career highs with 33 home runs and 98 RBI. Luis Arraez figures to return to a utility role with Urshela at third and Miguel Sano at first base.
“I can’t for him to get here so we can start getting to know each other,” Polanco said.
Lewis still on deck
An interesting aspect of Correa’s contract are the opt-outs, meaning he could be with the Twins for only one season. The Twins might need him for only that long, with top prospect Royce Lewis in the pipeline.
Boras is also Lewis’ agent.
Before the pandemic canceling minor league ball in 2020 and Lewis tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last March, Lewis was the future at shortstop. He played his first game since spring 2020 on Friday, so getting the 22-year-old to the majors by this season was a big ask.
“We needed a shortstop. I’m not on the big-league team. So I’m just here working to better myself and continue to gain some knowledge and wisdom around these guys,” Lewis said. “So I think it’s a great idea.
“…If I was in the big leagues, it’s a different story. But I’m not. So they’ve got to do what they’ve got to do to win up there.”
Correa’s $35.1 million salary for 2022 is behind only Mets pitcher Max Scherzer ($44.33 million), Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole ($36 million) and Angels center fielder Mike Trout ($35.54 million).
The Twins probably aren’t done adding players in spring training — they signed reliever Joe Smith later Saturday, and they could be focused on another deal to acquire a starting pitcher, although they would likely have to give up some top prospects. They have already sent their top pick in the 2021 draft, pitcher Chase Petty, to the Reds to get Sonny Gray, who projects as the No. 1 starter this season.
But there’s no doubt Correa changes the Twins’ season outlook, and gives them perhaps the best up-the-middle defensive alignment in the league.
“The middle of our field is going to be lockdown,” righthander Bailey Ober said of having Correa, Polanco and Buxton behind him. “It’s going to be pretty cool to see those guys playing back there.”