Latest noise around Carlos Correa puts Astros lineup in focus

Pay the man! Composite image by Jack Brame.

Some time around 7:45 p.m. on April 18, the Astros long-awaited home opener, public address announcer Bob Ford will drive the packed stadium into a frenzy with “Now batting for the Astros, the shortstop, number 1 …

“Carlos Correa!”

The noise-o-meter will redline to a Spinal Tap “11.” Fans will rise and lavish Correa with a long, love-drenched standing ovation.

At least it’s looking more and more that way. While Correa tips his hat to the crowd, his eyes possibly filling with tears that he made the right decision, perhaps fans should turn their gratitude to the two people who really made the moment happen.

Astros general manager James Click and owner Jim Crane.

From the final pitch of the 2021 season, when Correa became a free agent, chances of the brilliant shortstop returning to the Astros were bleak. Correa had a new agent Scott Boras, who’s not exactly known for allowing teams a “hometown discount” or accepting one penny less than absolute top dollar for his clients. Correa reportedly was seeking 10 years and north of $300 million, you know, Francisco Lindor and Corey Seager money.

The Astros offer of $160 million over five years merely wrinkled Correa’s nose. Let’s wait and see what the Yankees, Tigers, Dodgers, Red Sox, and others would cough up. Correa was the hottest free agent on the market. Bring it on! And we’re expecting to see a 3 followed by lots of zeroes.

As the months rolled by and that pesky owners’ lockout lingered, the list of teams interested (and could afford) Correa dwindled. The Yankees, Tigers, Rangers got their shortstops. Other teams decided to stick with what they had.

The only team reportedly to make a solid 10-year, $300 million offer is the Baltimore Orioles, who lost 110 games in 2021, dead last in the American League and tied for the worst record in all of MLB. If Correa likes cashing those post-season checks, Baltimore is not a realistic destination. Can you name one Oriole player? Sorry, Cal Ripken no longer plays for the O’s.

The Astros hung tough and waited out the marketplace. Now Crane is ready, willing and financially able to make a creative offer so both sides can walk away with heads held high. Perhaps $45 million for one year. Correa would be only 28 and still the biggest fish in the pond in 2023. How’s $160 over four years sound? Correa may not get the 10 years he wanted, but he’d beat Lindor and Seager per annum. The Astros clubhouse is giddy over reports that Correa and the Astros are talking.

If Click and Crane (sounds like a wacky morning radio show) can pull this off and keep Correa in the fold, it would be a bargain at any price for the team’s psychology and fans’ confidence in the organization. It’s fun for Houstonians to check the American League standings and see the Astros in first place.

Is Carlos Correa worth $40 million a year? Maybe … not. He’s the best defensive shortstop in baseball and a solid hitter. He’s clutch. He is not a Hall of Famer, though. But he is beloved by Astros fans and Crane would be keeping the customers satisfied. Fans want Crane to “pay the man.”

Either way, with or without Correa, the Astros will be heavy favorites (-145 is the current Vegas line) to win the American League West for the fifth time in six years. It’s become their thing. The Astros are the betting favorite to win the American League pennant and appear in the World Series for the fourth time in six years. And that’s without Correa factored in.

The Mariners are coming off a 90-win season but they haven’t appeared in the post-season in two decades. That’s their thing. In fact, the Mariners’ playoff drought is the longest of any team in America’s four major sports.

The A’s just held an “everything must go” sale that would make those gold-by-the-inch stores on Harwin envious. The Angels have some of the biggest stars and biggest contracts but can’t keep their heads above .500. The Rangers are awful and their ballpark is ugly.

So the Astros don’t really need Carlos Correa. Their lineup is packed with great players and powerful hitters 1-9. OK, maybe not 9. Talented but inexperienced Jeremy Pena, while not Correa, could mind the gap at short. Over recent years, the Astros have lost George Springer, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, Dallas Keuchel and now Zack Greinke. How do the Astros deal with star departures? By going to another World Series.

Now we wait, but hour-by-hour it’s looking better-and-better that Houston keeps their shortstop.

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