In a stunning move, the Twins have agreed to sign the market’s top free agent, shortstop Carlos Correa, reports Mark Berman of Houston’s FOX 26 (Twitter link). Rather than the massive long-term deal that Correa has been seeking, he’ll instead sign a three-year, $105.3MM contract with opt-out clauses after the contract’s first and second seasons. ESPN’s Jeff Passan adds that the contract pays an evenly distributed $35.1MM annually and is not front-loaded. Correa is represented by the Boras Corporation.
In signing Correa, the Twins are giving him the second-highest average annual value of any position player in MLB history, trailing only the $36MM AAV on Mike Trout’s decade-long, $360MM contract extension with the Angels and narrowly topping the $35MM AAV on Anthony Rendon’s seven-year deal with the Angels. The move also gives the Twins the No. 1 and No. 2 picks from the 2012 draft, Correa and Byron Buxton, who’ll now be teammates for at least the 2022 season.
Upon shedding the remainder of Josh Donaldson’s contract in a trade with the Yankees, Minnesota was immediately linked to fellow free-agent shortstop Trevor Story. Instead, the more than $40MM saved in that Donaldson deal will be reallocated to Correa, whose $105.3MM guarantee trails only Joe Mauer for the largest in Twins franchise history.
The opt-outs in the deal provide Correa with the ultimate insurance net; if he remains healthy in 2022 and produces anywhere near his 2021 or 2019 levels, he’ll surely reenter the market in search of something along the lines of the 10-year deal he originally sought. If he suffers an injury of note or experiences an unexpected downturn at the plate, he’ll have another $35.1MM salary waiting for him in 2023 with the same opt-out opportunity in the 2023-24 offseason.
Correa, a career .277/.356/.481 hitter who slashed .279/.366/.485 in 148 games (640 plate appearances) this past season will serve as a focal point in a Twins lineup anchored by center fielder Byron Buxton and second baseman Jorge Polanco. Minnesota’s lineup is deep in talent but also lacking in consistency; the likes of Miguel Sano, Max Kepler and Gary Sanchez all have 30-homer seasons in their past but have ebbed and flowed through roller coaster performances at the plate in recent years. Third baseman Gio Urshela, acquired alongside Sanchez in the Donaldson deal, will also look for a rebound to his 2019-20 levels (.310/.358/.523) after playing through health troubles in 2021.
Meanwhile, former top prospects Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach have considerable offensive ceilings but played through injuries in their first full looks in 2021. Kirilloff, in particular, played through a torn wrist tendon before undergoing season-ending surgery. Top prospect Jose Miranda, who posted video-game numbers between Double-A and Triple-A this past season (.344/.401/.572) is expected to debut in 2022 and could see time at third base and/or designated hitter.
All of that is to say, the makings of a deep and talented lineup are present in Minnesota, though they’ll need a few things to break right. 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 Kepler and Urshela also occupying key spots on the diamond, the Twins should have a strong defensive team overall. Correa joining the team will provide a major defensive boost to a team that already ranked 12th in the Majors with 32 Defensive Runs Saved last year.
The larger questions center around the team’s patchwork starting rotation, however. After shipping Jose Berrios to the Blue Jays prior to the 2021 trade deadline and watching fellow righty Kenta Maeda fall to Tommy John surgery not long after, the Twins entered the winter in need of at least three veteran starters to pair with youngsters Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober.
Minnesota has gotten a decent start, acquiring Sonny Gray from the Reds and rolling the dice on a Dylan Bundy rebound, but the rotation is still lacking and much of the market has been picked over. The Twins have been tied to Athletics starters Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas, and there’s clearly still some work to be done on the starting staff. With precious few free-agent options remaining, president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine will surely be on the hunt for some creative and under-the-radar options — particularly now that they’ve gone all-in on the 2022 season with this Correa deal. Minnesota has a number of pitching prospects on the precipice of the big leagues, but the Correa signing is a clear win-now move that necessitates additional moves to fortify both the rotation and the bullpen.
It’s not clear just how much latitude Falvey and Levine will have to further boost a payroll that now, with Correa’s addition, is at a projected $128.5MM — within a few million dollars of franchise-record territory. The front office has repeatedly spoken of ownership support to boost payroll as needed in the past, however, and the shocking addition of Correa seems to support the notion that there’s more room to take the team’s spending levels to new heights — at least for the next few seasons.
More to come.