THE PALLILOG

Here are the Houston Astros implications of the latest Carlos Correa situation

Alex Bregman has to be a fan of the Correa contract. Composite image by Jack Brame.

The Astros in 2023 will pay Jeremy Peña as little above the Major League Baseball minimum salary of 700-thousand dollars as they choose to pay him. That Peña earned both American League Championship Series Most Valuable Player and World Series MVP honors basically means nothing. Peña’s salary for the coming season will be roughly that of David Hensley and Seth Martinez (provided both are also on the team). If you’re thinking “No way!,” as Madonna told Wayne and Garth in the 80s, “Way!” Yordan Alvarez won Rookie of the Year in 2019 and had a terrific 2021. For 2022 the Astros paid Yordan $762,000. Despite his postseason tour de force Peña’s resume isn’t nearly as strong now as Yordan’s was a year ago. This won’t be the Astros screwing Jeremy Peña, it’s the system which the Players Association negotiates with the owners. Peña is in line to make peanuts (in MLB money terms) again in 2024 before he becomes eligible for salary arbitration. For how much longer is to be determined, but Carlos Correa is a better player than Jeremy Peña. Still, man are the Astros lucky and delighted that Peña was their shortstop in 2022 and will be going forward.

Massive payday for Correa

Congratulations to Carlos Correa. Agent Scott Boras doesn’t always play the owners like fiddles but his batting average sure is high. After missing on their prime target (Aaron Judge) the San Francisco Giants made Correa the big beneficiary by lavishing a 13 year 350 million dollar contract upon him. Is LOL still a thing? Correa is an outstanding player who will always have a lofty place in Astros history, but a year in year out superstar he has never been and is unlikely to be going forward. You know he’s only made two All-Star teams? Not that All-Star selections are close to a be-all end-all in defining excellence (Jeff Bagwell only made four All-Star teams).

Unless they’re insane the Giants can’t possibly think the back half of the deal will work out well for them. In raw numbers Correa is taking a pay cut. He made 35.1 million dollars from the Twins this year after turning down the Astros’ five years at 32 mil per season offer. 13 years 350 mil averages a touch under 27 mil per season. So, not thinking of the Giants as flat out stupid, there is little doubt that they stretched the deal to 13 years to lower its cost per season as it counts toward the Competitive Balance Tax. Maybe they think of it as a 10 year 350 million dollar bag with the last three years as straight sunk cost. That’d still be nuts but in fairness it should be included that with these mega-length contracts, with normal levels of inflation (let’s say 2.5% per year) today’s 35 million will be more like “only” 24 25 million in today’s dollars come 2033. Still oodles of money.

Correa is a 28-year-old big-bodied shortstop with a spotty durability track record. The great Cal Ripken Jr. was a big-bodied shortstop who was legendarily durable. Ripken had one great season after his 28th birthday. There is zero chance Correa is an elite defensive shortstop in the last five years of his new deal (in the ninth year of the contract Correa will be 35 years old, in the 13th and final season he’ll be 40). Some defensive metrics rated him as merely a little above average this year. If/when Correa’s defensive decline is indisputable, his value plunges with his offensive history not uber-elite.

Alex Bregman’s career on base percentage is .375. Correa’s OBP has been .375 or better once in his career. That was in 2017, the lone healthy season of his career in which Correa performed like an offensive superstar. Considering he did that at age 22, that he might be an offensive monster for a long time was very legit. Five years later he’s never matched that level. It’s not unfair to mention that 2017 was the season of, well, you know. Correa has never hit more than 26 home runs in a season, never driven in more than 96 runs in a season, only once scored more than 82 runs in a season, and just once finished in the top 15 of American League Most Valuable Player Award voting (fifth in 2021). Some of that is explained by injury issues, some by a couple seasons of mediocre performance. 13 years, 350 mil? The price of poker only goes up but the Astros are way too smart for something like that. Or at least they have been to this point.

Speaking of Alex Bregman, what numbers must be joyfully dancing in his head seeing Correa (28 years old-13 years 350 mil), Trae Turner (29/11-300), and Xander Bogaerts (30/11-280) get what they got? Yes Bregman is a third baseman not a shortstop but over their careers Bregman has been a better offensive player than all of them. What is Jim Crane thinking of it all? Barring an extension before then, Bregman will be 30 when he hits free agency after the 2024 season. Jose Altuve can hit the market at the same time but he’ll be 34. Kyle Tucker can get to free agency at age 28 following the 2025 season.

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