Carlos Correa was a San Francisco Giant in the same manner that Alex Rodriguez once was a Boston Red Sox, in handshake form only, one industry-rattling deal collapsing only to give way to another, and a superteam resulting because of it.
Two decades after the game’s preeminent superstar shortstop saw his transfer to Boston nixed, it happened again, and a team in the Big Apple once again will be the beneficiary.
This time, it is the stunning, limitless, never-say-never New York Mets changing the game.
Owner Steve Cohen’s reported 12-year, $315 million commitment to Correa after the shortstop’s 13-year, $350 million pact with the Giants dissolved due to concerns over a physical examination is a bicoastal stunner, the ramifications both immediate and very long term for the principals involved, with two of the game’s most significant franchises altered forever.
It is a lot to unpack. Buckle up:
Correa’s $350 million agreement with the Giants, struck on Dec. 13, ostensibly took the last superstar off this winter’s free agent board and came after Mets owner Steve Cohen made a late, implausible entry to the sweepstakes. And for the first time, it seemed too little, too late for the hedge fund kingpin worth a reported $17 billion.
Yet things took an alarming turn when the Giants canceled a Tuesday press conference believed to be Correa’s introduction. Issues with his physical exam, the last step before a player is officially rolled out, caused alarm and, as Giants GM Farhan Zaidi acknowledged in a Tuesday statement, resulted in a ‘a difference of opinion over the results of Carlos’ physical examination.’ Correa has hit the injured list six times in his career and has a history of back trouble, although it did not flare up in 2022, his lone season with the Minnesota Twins.
What’s lurking under the surface will only roil both franchises for, oh, the next dozen years or so.
Was there a breakdown in the Giants’ front office over the transaction? Did Cohen’s late foray into the sweepstakes give Correa’s camp – helmed by superagent Scott Boras – more urgency to steer the boat toward Flushing? Can the Giants ever land a superstar to replace Barry Bonds and Buster Posey in their line of succession?
Not enough popcorn to cover all of that.
Correa, Lindor: Somehow, teammates
Correa and Francisco Lindor were Puerto Rican kids who defined the shortstop position over the past decade, both expected to be part of a star-studded free agent class after the 2021 season.
It took a series of unrelated tremors to make them, against all odds, teammates with $300 million contracts.
Lindor, the eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft, and Correa, the No. 1 pick in 2012, have combined for six All-Star appearances and two Platinum Glove awards, with Lindor just missing a World Series title with Cleveland in 2016 and Correa winning one in Houston a year later. Yet several factors interceded before both hit the free agent market together.
OK, just one, really: Steve Cohen.
He purchased the Mets, traded for Lindor and worked into the wee hours before Opening Day 2021 to gift Lindor a 12-year, $341 million extension – a record for a shortstop that Correa ostensibly exceeded with the Giants.
Yet it’s been an odd two years for Correa.
The 99-day lockout did not give his camp ample time to get his own massive long-term deal in 2022, instead agreeing to a $35.5 million annual salary with Minnesota that allowed him to test the market after each season. The Giants, it seemed, fulfilled his wishes for long-term security.
Instead, Lindor will retain the top-paid shortstop title and the position itself, with Correa moving to third, an all-Boricua, All-Star left side of the infield that will evoke memories of A-Rod and Derek Jeter – though without the saucy Esquire interview that preceded their union.
Mets impact: Superstar City
Just a day ago, we opined that the Mets’ wild-spending off-season was actually more lateral in nature, despite the massive outlays. Justin Verlander ($86 million), Kodai Senga ($75 million), Edwin Diaz ($102 million) and Brandon Nimmo ($162 million) really just backfilled spots left empty by free agency and the eventual departures of pitchers Jacob deGrom, Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker.
Um, not so much anymore.
It is not so much an All-Star infield as it is a potential MVP at every spot, from Pete Alonso to Jeff McNeil to Lindor and Correa. The lineup is 1 through 9 potent and then some, with last year’s No. 5-6 hitter, the useful Mark Canha, shoved all the way to eighth. For now, barring trade, respected third baseman Eduardo Escobar will likely share DH duties with Daniel Vogelbach.
All this to support a rotation fronted by two guys each making $43.3 million and headed for the Hall of Fame. Yeah, somehow Verlander and Max Scherzer are just cogs in this machine. And keep in mind the Mets already won 101 games, one fewer than they needed to wrest the NL East title from the Braves but a number that typically will play.
And after losing two of three to San Diego in bowing out of the playoffs, they add one of the greatest postseason performers of all time. In 334 playoff plate appearances, Correa has an .849 OPS and 18 homers, seventh-most in history.
Oh yes, it will cost. The Mets’ on-field payroll will exceed a record $350 million; its luxury tax payroll could touch $390 million. Cohen, who had a third tier of MLB’s luxury tax named after him, will pay more than $100 million in tax penalties alone, exceeding the total payroll of multiple teams.
Disgusting? Well, it’s also endearing.
“This puts us over the top,” Cohen, ever the fanboy, told the New York Post Tuesday.
Giants impact: A fog over the Bay
There’s no soft-pedaling how devastating this defection will be in San Francisco.
Forget the on-field impact momentarily: If there’s one thing this club lacked, it was charisma. How else can you explain a platoon-happy squad winning 107 games in 2021, only to be greeted largely by indifference at the box office in 2022?
It’s one reason why the Giants went so hard after Aaron Judge, and then pivoted those dollars toward Correa when the AL MVP returned to the Yankees. While it was popular to say the Giants got “played” by Judge, they did force Yankee owner Hal Steinbrenner to dig deep for a free agent record $360 million deal. No shame in second place, there.
But this? It only provokes more questions, pokes a massive hole in the lineup and will make disengaged fans only feel jilted.
Regardless, the Giants’ current starting third baseman is erstwhile Met Wilmer Flores. An awkward call to beloved shortstop Brandon Crawford telling him he was moving to third base never had to happen, leaving another relationship to mend come February. Five regulars are over 30, a reminder that Correa, just 28, would have refreshed the lineup in so many ways.
With the post-pandemic work environment in San Francisco leaving an emptier downtown and potential happy hour fans ensconced in their living rooms, the challenge to lure them to China Basin just got greater.
The A-Rod Factor
Since he was the 1/1 of the 2012 draft, Correa has drawn a handful of comparisons – and significant praise from – Alex Rodriguez. Now, they are tied in an even more tangible manner.
It was December 2003 when A-Rod, the reigning MVP, was ticketed to the Boston Red Sox in a blockbuster trade with the Texas Rangers. But on Dec. 18, 2003, the deal was declared dead after Rodriguez, Boras, the union and the Red Sox could not agree on restructuring his contract.
One month, one Aaron Boone torn ACL and one massive trade later, A-Rod was, stunningly, a Yankee.
That worked out OK for all parties. The Red Sox stunned A-Rod’s superteam in that 2004 ALCS, won the World Series and established a semi-dynasty of four titles in 15 seasons. Rodriguez got his ring in 2009 – and another $275 million contract along the way.
It’s hard to imagine things working out so swimmingly for all this time. All we know is that Correa will get paid, Cohen’s pockets remain bottomless and the Giants without a rudder.