Longtime Astros shortstop Carlos Correa — MLBTR’s top-ranked free agent — was spotted having breakfast with Tigers manager A.J. Hinch at a Houston cafe on Thursday morning (photo taken by Astros blogger Zach Hablinski). Hinch was, of course, Correa’s manager in Houston from 2015 to 2019.
It’d be dangerous to read too much into the meeting. Beyond his previous relationship with Hinch, Correa is widely considered the top free agent this winter and is likely to meet with quite a few teams. Still, it’s easy to draw the connection between the two-time All-Star and the club. The Tigers have made it very clear they intend to open their pocketbook this winter, and Correa makes lots of sense for a club with money to spend and a desire to push themselves into a contention window. Indeed, the Tigers, who have already added starter Eduardo Rodriguez (the biggest free agent signing of the winter so far) and catcher Tucker Barnhart, are widely expected to be among the most active teams.
Were Correa to make his way to Detroit, he’d less upgrade than revolutionize the Tigers’ outlook at the position. The position was something of a black hole for the club in 2021; Niko Goodrum, Zack Short, and Harold Castro each saw significant time, but none came particularly close to even league-average production. Each of the three (particularly Goodrum) has enough positional versatility to provide some value, but none are likely to be in the Tigers’ long-term plans. Combined with the acquisitions of Rodriguez and Barnhart, adding Correa wouldn’t necessarily vault the Tigers (who finished eight games below .500 in 2021) into contention, but he’d clearly make a team with a lot of promising young starting pitching better for years to come.
Very much in the prime of his career as he enters his age-27 season, Correa is coming off a platform year that saw him slash .279/.366/.485 (not to mention an astounding 20 Defensive Runs Saved) that more or less matches his career .277/.366/.485 line. Given both his offensive pedigree and his stellar glovework at a premium position he’ll likely be able to play for years to come, Correa is a pretty safe bet to demand a contract that at least approaches the market-setting 10-year, $341MM extension the Mets gave Francisco Lindor just ahead of this year’s Opening Day. MLBTR projects he’ll ultimately sign for $320MM over ten years.
Though any effect it will have on his market will be negligible, whichever team signs Correa will be required to forfeit a draft pick, as he received (and rejected) a qualifying offer from the Astros. Only the handful of teams shopping in free agency’s premium aisle will have a shot at getting his name on the dotted line, but the Tigers will hardly be alone in pursuing his signature. The Yankees — who’ve made clear they intend to replace Gleyber Torres at shortstop — have explicitly put to rest any speculation that they’d avoid Correa due to fan resentment stemming from his role in the 2017 sign-stealing scandal, and will have plenty of money to spend after dipping below the luxury tax threshold in 2021. Beyond the Tigers and Yankees, MLBTR lists the Phillies, Rangers, Angels, Mariners, and Cardinals as potential suitors in the Correa sweepstakes.