PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. – Did you hear the one about the Minnesota Twins signing a big-name free agent to a deal that practically guaranteed the player would leave after just one year, since he had the right to opt out after each of the first two years of his deal?
We’ll get to shortstop Carlos Correa in a second.
First, let’s talk about Hall of Fame pitcher Jack Morris. After 14 seasons and two World Series titles with Detroit, Morris signed a three-year deal with the Twins before the 1991 season, with opt-out provisions for the last two years. Back then, they called it a “player option.” Morris pitched just one season in Minnesota, then exercised his right to leave.
But what a season it was. Pitching for a team that had finished last the year before, Morris led the league in starts; won 18 games; made the All-Star team; and then won four games without a loss in the postseason, including a 1-0, 10-inning Game 7 win over the Atlanta Braves in the World Series that may rank as the single greatest game in franchise history, earning him a World Series MVP trophy in the process.
The Twins haven’t been in the World Series since. They’ve lost nine consecutive postseason series and are currently working on an 18-game losing streak in the postseason, by far the longest in big league history (the Red Sox lost 13 in a row between1986-1995).
WATCH: Twins introduce star shortstop Carlos Correa
Do you suppose that anyone in Minnesota will complain if Correa can deliver in one season what Morris did, then exit stage left? Did we mention that the Twins finished last in the AL Central last season? Hello, history? Care to hit that rewind button?
What is the downside, people?
Roughly 99.5% of the baseball universe believes Correa signed a three-year, $105.3 million contract with the Twins because agent Scott Boras, hamstrung by MLB's 99-day lockout, couldn’t induce a team to give him the type of long-term deals that all the best players are getting these days. So Boras just pushed it back a year, betting that the money will be there this winter, and settled on landing Correa the highest average salary of any infielder ($35.1 million, $100,000 more than Anthony Rendon of the Angels, another Boras client) during a frantic 14 hours of negotiations with the Twins.
That same 99.5% think Correa is not long for Target Field. But there is one voice saying, not so fast. Just because he has two opt-outs in his contract that will allow him to walk after this season, Correa insisted Tuesday that he isn’t approaching the 2022 season with the mindset of a short-timer.
“The way I see it,’’ Correa said, “I told Rocco (Baldelli, the manager) and Derek (Falvey, the Twins’ president of baseball operations), I want to show you guys what I can do and what I can bring to this organization and hopefully, we can build a long-term relationship together. I want to show them that I can help build a championship caliber organization here and you know, they see that, and maybe we can be here for a long time.’’
Correa was a 20-year-old rookie with Houston in 2015, when the Astros went to the playoffs for the first time in 11 seasons, losing the ALDS to the Kansas City Royals, the eventual World Series winners. Correa was named AL Rookie of the Year. The Astros went to the postseason in all but one of Correa’s seven seasons in Houston, winning a World Series (The Trashcan Series of 2017) while losing two others, and losing in the ALCS on two other occasions. Correa was widely acknowledged as the charismatic leader of the team.
Is it a pipedream that Correa could make the same impact in Minnesota?
Twins center fielder Byron Buxton was sleeping on the Saturday morning news broke that the Twins had signed Correa. His wife woke him up to tell him the news. He said he wasn’t entirely surprised; he’d heard some of the rumors. Buxton, 27, is the same age as Correa. When Correa was drafted No. 1 overall by the Astros in 2012, Buxton was taken second by the Twins. Last November, the Twins signed Buxton to a seven-year, $100 million extension. When healthy (which has been a challenge), he is one of the most electric players in the game. He and Correa are platinum glove winners as the best defensive players in the league, Correa in 2021, Buxton in 2017.
“It’s very rare you have two platinum glove winners on the same team,’’ Buxton said. “Him controlling and being that bulldog in the infield and me being the guy in center field who controls the outfielders, it doesn’t necessarily make it easier but we understand each other, those balls that some guys don’t get to, he gets to most balls. He’s got a lot of range, like myself.
“He’s obviously a great player, a great person to be around. So for me, it’s all about trying to get that knowledge and trying to build that winning culture here. That’s something he’s been doing throughout his career, just trying to battle day in and day out to get to those playoff games and get to those rings.’’
The Twins have made a flurry of moves this offseason, making one trade with the Reds for starting pitcher Sonny Gray and another deal with the Yankees for catcher Gary Sanchez and infielder Gio Urshela. On Tuesday, while Buxton and Correa were shooting a promotional spot for glove maker Rawlings, reporters were gathered around Chris Archer, who just signed a one-year deal with the club.
There’s talent in this room. Can Correa deliver, a la Morris?
What to expect from Carlos Correa with the Twins
Jayce Tingler is the Twins’ new bench coach after spending the last two seasons as manager of the San Diego Padres. He first saw Correa while working in player development for the Texas Rangers, when he took some of the Rangers’ young kids to Puerto Rico to play against some of the top prospects on the island, including Correa, who had just turned 17. His skills were obvious, said Tingler.
“But what was the separator was watching him talk to our scouts, his desire to be great,’’ Tingler said. “For a young kid, just the will and the drive to be great, the game knowledge, all those things, were just off the charts.’’
Tingler, who spends a lot of time working with the infielders, already watched how Correa has worked with 22-year-old shortstop Royce Lewis, who was drafted No. 1 overall by the Twins in 2017 but hasn’t played in two seasons, because of the pandemic and a torn ACL. Correa and Lewis, who share Boras as their agent, first spoke a couple of years before the draft.
“I saw a couple of videos of him and saw that he was a very, very talented player," Correa said. "I knew there was something special there. I gave him some advice and fast-forward, he was the first pick overall.’’
The two have spent considerable time together since Correa arrived.
“We worked together at shortstop, we worked together in the cage,’’ Correa said. “I invited him to dinner. He’s a special kid. I have fun working with him and getting to communicate things that I’ve learned through the years.’’
Lewis has already been sent down to Triple-A — the Twins want him to play every day.
“But the interactions (with Correa) have been awesome,’’ Tingler said. “Royce in a short time, he was super excited, stoked to learn and ask questions, and he did those things. And so now he’s able to take some of the things he's learned into his game as he’s starting to get ready and prepare for his season.’’
In Houston, Correa’s evolution as a leader was organic. How do you come into a new clubhouse and make a similar impact?
“I think the biggest thing is how he backs up his words with his actions,’’ Tingler said. “And you’re seeing it with his game prep, the way he goes out and the discipline in the way he takes ground balls and be in the right spot, to finish plays. The level of concentration. I think when you lead that way, it kind of raises everybody else’s accountability and they’ve got to be really sharp, even if we’re just doing drill work.’’
As a visiting player, Correa thrived at Target Field. In 15 starts, he batted .413 (26 for 63) with seven doubles, five home runs and an OPS of 1.205. He is aware of the excitement his signing has created among Twins fans — when he finished taking ground balls during infield practice Tuesday, he strolled over to the box-seat railing and signed autographs. Then he went out and hit his first home run of the spring in a 4-2 loss to the Rays.
“I’m very excited, man,’’ he said. “The fans of Minnesota, I know they are. I can’t wait to play in front of them. It’s certainly an exciting time for me and my family. We’re ready for a new chapter and challenge. We can’t wait to get there.’’
And if it’s only for a year? As Morris proved, that’s enough time to provide a lifetime of memories.