Can the Houston Astros extend Carlos Correa?
Well, anything is possible. The Houston shortstop is in the news this week despite his rather light start to the season with the Astros thanks to comments made by his agent, Greg Genske, to our own Jon Heyman, wherein Genske said with confidence that Correa would “never” do a multi-year deal during his arbitration cycle with Houston; in other words, the star talent of the team would operate strictly year-to-year until hitting free agency, at which point Houston would have to negotiate along with the other 29 teams in baseball for his services.
Correa would then come out later to say that he was unaware of Genske’s comments and that an extension could be signed, but that the price has got to be “right.”
In all likelihood, this is some PR jujitsu by Correa and his people rather than an actual botched communication between the two men; Genske goes out and drops the hardline stance in order to establish the public perception of where Correa’s camp is going to begin any negotiations, and then Correa comes out a bit later to assuage fan worries and provide that teasing hope that well, it’s not impossible. Stick, and then carrot. Plus, players reprimanding their agents in public for appearing too greedy toward the home team always plays well to the fan base.
Correa’s a special talent — the sort of guy who will make waves in the free agent market like Manny Machado and Bryce Harper are set to two winters from now — and the only things truly endangering him from collecting a spectacular payday in 2022 are injury, a major market crash, a wholesale desertion of his baseball talents, or the end of all life on earth in nuclear fire. Should everything proceed more or less as it has in the past, though, he can dream on a $250 million+ payday — while still having collected an almost $5 million signing bonus from the Astros and already making money off the field from endorsements. Baseball may not have a culture-defining face anymore like Derek Jeter, but there’s a lot of cash to be made by talented young players in the margins.
Let’s take the idea seriously though. Say Correa is actually willing to sign if the price is right, and hasn’t defined that price so enormously outside the realm of reason that the team would be willing to agree to it. Because yes, Correa likely would sign a 10-year, $300 million deal with four staggered opt-outs and three additional player options at the end of the contract tomorrow, but there’s no chance of Houston (or anyone) offering that.
The traditional deal that teams look for in situations with players of Correa’s age and service time (22 years old, entering his second full year in the majors) is a buyout of the remainder of the player’s team-controlled seasons — so this year and next year at league minimum, then three years of arbitration — plus one or two free agent seasons at the end, preferably as club options. The team-controlled years are bought at a very slight mark-up from what they might otherwise be projected to pay, in order to ensure the team against having to fork over more cash if the player breaks out into a superstar, and the free agent years are generally bought at the current market value, meaning that five years from now when the options actually kick in, they’ll be relatively cheap thanks to contract (and monetary) inflation.
That won’t cut it for a guy like Correa. For one, you can forget about club options. If Correa signs a deal with any kind of options, they’ll be his own — the ability to opt-out of the deal at certain thresholds, perhaps multiple times. While the last big team-controlled shortstop extension was given to Andrelton Simmons (quite a steal for the Braves, before they traded him to Los Angeles of Anaheim), given Correa’s talent and his comments, the more instructive precedent to look at in terms of structure would probably be the extension Scott Boras negotiated for Elvis Andrus with the Texas Rangers. Andrus was far more established than Correa was when he got that deal, but Correa is bargaining from perceived strength here — he wants to hit free agency and get his payday. And he’s got a lot more upside than even the very talented Andrus does.
Andrus’s deal was eight years and $120 million, but includes opt-outs after the 4th and 5th seasons, meaning it was really a four-year, $60 million deal with player options. The first four years of the deal covered only Andrus’ remaining team control, meaning that if he pleases, he can hit the free agent market when he originally would have in 2018 — but he started getting limited no-trade protections in 2016, and if he is traded, the last year of his contract in 2023 becomes a player option (it starts as a club option, but Andrus still has two player options before that, of course) and he gets full no-trade protection from that point forward.
If Correa signs an extension with Houston, this is likely the form it will take: a deal that formalizes and controls the cost of his remaining guaranteed time in Houston, gives him more or less just as much control over his free agency future in 2022 as he had before the contract was signed, but looks great on paper in years and dollars such that Houston can reasonably claim they signed the star they drafted to a deal big enough to keep him an Astro through his prime, and on his head be it if he decides to leave.
Will it happen? Who knows. Neither Machado nor Harper ended up extending with their Beltway teams, and it looks like it’ll pay off for them in a couple seasons, with the Yankees, Phillies, Red Sox, and other teams just waiting to open up the checkbooks. But it could happen — so long as in the end, it’s really not that much of an extension at all.