If the owners didn’t initiate a lockout on Wednesday night, we might have been in the full throes of an Obsessive Carlos Correa Watch. For as unrealistic as that would’ve sounded just a few days ago — before the Cubs signed Marcus Stroman (and he began his Cubs career by trying recruit Correa to Chicago) — it is no longer such a wild dream.
Just this morning, Patrick Mooney wrote that “Stroman makes the idea of Correa in a Cubs uniform at least a little more credible,” in an entire post wondering whether the Cubs would talk themselves into the same conclusion on Correa. And he’s hardly the only one to go there.
Aside from the direct report that the Cubs were one of six teams in contact with Correa’s camp, the industry is buzzing with speculation, urging the Cubs to head in this direction:
— Mully And Haugh (@mullyhaugh) December 2, 2021
— Matt Clapp (@TheBlogfines) December 2, 2021
And why not? Let me make the argument, at least.
Consider the age and remaining control of some of the Cubs’ key players, and how it simultaneously argues in favor of pushing a little harder the next couple years (while also leaving the books wide open after that). The Cubs’ second best pitcher, Kyle Hendricks, has three years of remaining club control. Their third best starter, Wade Miley, is 35 years old and entering his final year of team control. Willson Contreras is entering his final year of control. Yan Gomes is 34 years old. And Ian Happ has just two more years of control. The short-term nature of Stroman’s deal preserves the Cubs ability to target 2024 as more of a go-for-it year. But his presence simply changes the calculus of these next two seasons … which happen to be the two seasons Correa would project to be the most valuable to whichever team signs him.
And let’s talk about those three starting pitchers for a second, in relation to Correa’s elite shortstop defense. Yes, adding any two sure-fire starters should make the Cubs more competitive and thus more likely to go after someone like Correa. But adding *those* two starters, in particular, to Kyle Hendricks makes the fit even more likely.
Career K%, Ground Ball%
Kyle Hendricks: 20.2 K%, 46.8 GB%
Marcus Stroman: 19.9 K%, 57.4%
Wade Miley: 18.5 K%, 49.1 GB%
Those are some weak strikeout numbers and some VERY strong ground ball numbers. But remember, this Cubs defense is not the one you remember. As of today, the Cubs have traded Anthony Rizzo’s Gold Glove at first base for Frank Schwindel’s possibly rough one. They’ve likely downgraded from Nico Hoerner’s gold-caliber glove at second base to Nick Madrigal. And from Javy Báez’s studliness at shortstop to maybe passable work from Hoerner. If Patrick Wisdom is your everyday third baseman, that might be the only spot where you’d say it doesn’t look like a big hit from last year.
The point is the infield defense is not currently optimized for this rotation. But Carlos Correa won the Gold and Platinum Glove award for his work at shortstop last season and has the 4th highest Defensive Runs saved at shortstop since 2015! Adding his glove to the Cubs infield picture over the life of Stroman and Hendricks’ time in Chicago might be a disproportionately important to their success.
But it won’t be easy, obviously. The Cubs may be going up against the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, Braves, and Astros. The Braves just won the 2021 World Series, while the Dodgers and Red Sox made it to the LCS. And, of course, the Dodgers, Yankees, and Red Sox are three of MLBs biggest market clubs, while the Braves, one of baseball’s public franchises, are known to be overflowing with cash at the moment. Then you’ve got the only team Correa’s ever known, the also-quite-good Astros (though their offers to him have been relatively tiny so far, and it’s not clear if they’re really going to go over $300 million to retain him).
Even against that dour outlook, there are some glimmers of hope. The Braves are trying desperately to keep their face-of-the-franchise Freddie Freeman in Atlanta for the rest of his career. And that’ll cost them. Meanwhile, the Yankees are reportedly not in on the big money shortstops. Also, Aaron Judge is going to be a free agent after this season, and the Yankees could be gearing up for what should be a massive deal – a deal that could divert those Correa dollars elsewhere.
— Jake Asman (@JakeAsman) December 2, 2021
Yes, they’re the Yankees. But remember, they’re paying huge money to Gerrit Cole (through 2028) and to Giancarlo Stanton (through 2027). Could they add a third $300M+ player? Of course. A fourth if you include Judge? I don’t know. They’ve also been heavily connected to left-handed bats – Correa is a righty – and still have Gleyber Torres and D.J. LeMahieu as a middle infield “fall back” option if they don’t get him.
While we’re shooting everyone else down, I’ll add that the Red Sox also have Xander Bogaerts at shortstop through 2026 (though he can opt out after next season). And while the Dodgers were in on Seager, they still have Trea Turner at shortstop and just re-signed Chris Taylor. None of that would take them out on a guy like Correa, but you could at least argue they aren’t as wide open as the Cubs.
So I guess what I’m saying is if you set the competitive picture aside, the Cubs arguably have the greatest need and opening of the five big market teams who’ve been in contact with Correa. The problem is that you can’t just set the competitive picture aside. And while the Cubs’ odds may have ticked up a bit with the addition of Stroman, the Cubs would need to do a lot more than that to justify (to themselves?) why a monster contract for Correa is worth it at this precise moment in time.
We’ll have to keep doing some more mulling on this topic as the lockout plays out …