FLYING THE FRIENDLY SKIES?

How the latest chapter in Carlos Correa ordeal could've been solved at an airport

How the latest chapter in Carlos Correa ordeal could've been solved at an airport
What a crazy free agency period for Carlos Correa. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

In less than one year, Carlos Correa has gone from being the coveted linchpin of one of the greatest infields in baseball history and a World Series champion to being regarded as damaged goods and playing in relative obscurity for a losing team in a secondary sports market.

This despite having one of the best seasons of his career in 2022.

How on Earth did that happen?

Last March, Correa turned down a five-year, $160 million offer from the Astros, the only team he had played for during his seven-year career. The Astros play in air-conditioned comfort in front of an average crowd of 33,000 adoring fans in Top 10 market Houston.

Instead he signed a three-year deal with the Minnesota Twins for $105 million with opt-outs after each year, which he exercised shortly after the 2022 season ended.

The Twins play in an outdoor stadium in the coldest climate in the Major Leagues. Their average attendance last year was 22,000 fans. Minneapolis-St. Paul is a Top 20 market and not nearly as diverse as Houston.

Despite Correa hitting .291 (well above his career average) with 22 homers, the Twins finished 2022 with a 78-84 record, out of the playoffs. The Astros, in case you haven’t been keeping up with the news, won the World Series with Correa’s replacement, rookie Jeremy Pena, becoming a fan favorite in Houston.

Back on the market for 2023, Correa received a mammoth 13-year, $350 million offer from the San Francisco Giants shortly before Christmas. That offer was rescinded after the Giants found an undisclosed (at the time) problem during Correa’s routine physical.

That’s when the New York Mets swooped in with a 12-year, $315 million offer. But the Mets also backed out over health concerns.

On Wednesday Correa finally re-upped with the Twins, this time for a six-year deal for $200 million. His value plummeted six years and $150 million in one month. Tesla stockholders said, hey, we feel your pain.

That’s three separate deals over one month and each time Correa’s price was marked down. That’s not baseball. That’s Nordstrom Rack.

The problem and cause of Correa’s descending value is his surgically repaired right ankle. In 2014, then a 19-year-old sensation, Correa suffered an ankle injury sliding into third base. He had surgery, which included the insertion of a metal plate in his leg. He went on to a productive, at times spectacular, tenure with the Astros.

Here’s the part of the story that I find most interesting. How wasn’t it well known that Correa has been playing all this time with a metal plate in his leg? That didn’t become widespread knowledge until last year when he slid hard into second base and felt numbness and vibrations in his leg. After the game he told reporters about the metal plate.

That was the first I heard about it. And this is a culture where nothing is private and every excruciating detail about an athlete’s physical and mental health is fair game in the media.

I have a friend who’s in my travel group. He had hip resurfacing surgery a few years ago, which involved placing a metal cap over a bone in his hip joint. Now when he passes through TSA security at the airport, he sets off the metal detector every time. It never fails. Then he is patted down and felt up by TSA agents.

I’m not saying that Correa kept his metal plate a secret. I’m saying fans didn’t know about it.

Correa is a big deal. He flies a lot, with his team, on business, for promotional appearances, on personal trips. Teammates, including former teammates (especially one) who may hold a grudge against the Astros, never let it slip that Correa has a metal plate in his leg? Fellow travelers at the airport never heard the metal detector go beep?

I asked a friend who flies with a professional sports team, do players go through airport security, including a metal detector, like the rest of us?

I was surprised, the answer is no. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

“We have a private terminal with private parking at the airport. There is security, but they only pat down a small number of us at random. We don’t go through the typical metal detector that regular travelers do,” he said.

I also asked someone who travels with a major college football team. Same thing.

“We get on a bus together on campus and go straight to the plane. When we land, we get on another bus that takes us to our hotel. ESPN will show the team getting off the bus at a stadium or hotel. That’s the bus that meets us at the plane. You’re asking if the players and coaches and school officials go through a metal detector. We don’t.”

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The Astros are back in action Friday night against Seattle. Composite Getty Image.

The Astros were a season low 12 games under .500 (12-24) on May 8th but were able to turn things around and entered the All-Star break with a respectable 50-46 record.

The turnaround can be attributed to better performances on the field by a multitude of players, but there are still things that could be improved to ensure a successful second half of the season.

As it currently stands, Houston is only one game behind the Seattle Mariners in the American League West division race, and the Astros should have key players returning from injury to further bolster their playoff ambitions.

The return of the King

Kyle Tucker has been on the injured list with a shin contusion for six weeks now, and looks to return in the near future.

The Astros have done surprisingly well without their three-time All-Star outfielder thanks to contributions from guys like Joey Loperfido, Jake Meyers and Marcio Dubon in the outfield. Plus, Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman, Yanier Diaz and Jeremy Pena carrying the offense while King Tuck is away.

Before getting hurt, the 27-year-old was hitting .266/.395/.584 through 60 games. Houston already has one of the best offenses in baseball, and adding Tucker back would give the Astros another high-quality bat to further bolster their lineup.

The latest update is Tucker has been playing catch and could start a rehab assignment soon if all goes well.

Fix the rotation

Starting pitching has been a major issue this season due to a multitude of injuries.

Cristian Javier, Jose Urquidy and J.P. France have all been lost for the year with various surgeries and guys like Justin Verlander and Luis Garcia are trying to work their way back from their injured list stints.

Garcia was recently pulled from his rehab assignment and won’t pitch again until he is ready. Meanwhile, Verlander could be closer to his return and is throwing bullpen sessions as of July 14. Getting both of these pitchers back at some point this season will be a huge boost to this roster.

The current Astros’ rotation consists of Framber Valdez, Ronel Blanco, Hunter Brown, Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss. Although not a bad rotation by any means, the starting pitching depth is getting pretty thin and Houston can ill afford another injury to their staff.

Astros general manager Dana Brown has been vocal about his desire to add starting pitching, and could have some options heading into the trade deadline. Players like Jack Flaherty, Garrett Crochet or Yusei Kikuchi, just to name a few, could be low risk high reward pitchers the Astros could acquire to add depth to their rotation.

Another option would be to call up A.J. Blubaugh from Sugar Land. The 24-year-old has a 6-2 record with a 3.46 ERA in 71.1 innings pitched this season for the Space Cowboys and could be a necessary depth piece to add to the rotation.

Play Astros baseball

The Astros have been playing better baseball as of late and have won 18 of their last 23 games. With players like Kyle Tucker and Justin Verlander potentially returning soon, there is reason to believe Houston can make the playoffs for the 8th consecutive season.

The 'Stros will try to take sole possession of first place in their division from the Mariners when the two teams meet for three games at T-Mobile Park starting on Friday night.

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