Detroit Tigers fans need to stop and breathe. Carlos Correa wasn’t only path to a title

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Tigers are set to sign shortstop Javier Baez to a six-year, $140 million contract. To which I humbly say:

Stop. Take a breath. Try not to assume this is the last move the franchise will ever make.

Then remember that the team’s designated hitter and occasional first baseman used to be the best hitter in the game, a freakish combination of hand-eye coordination and power, a Hall of Famer, in other words.

You know what the Tigers won when Miguel Cabrera ruled the league?

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Nothing … if all you care about are World Series titles. Nor did they win a championship with Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez and Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez.

Stars, every one of them. And former Tigers’ owner, Mike Ilitch, liked stars.

Now, you can argue that they should’ve won a title, that they were the best team in baseball in 2013 — and maybe they were — that they came up small in the biggest of moments and surely some would listen.

Or, you can remove your stubborn and fuming head from your backside and remember that this is baseball, and that the favorite often loses, like the Dodgers lost earlier this fall, like the Astros did once, too.

Oh, did I say Astros? The team that employed shortstop Carlos Correa?

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The guy you wanted in Detroit because he would show that Christopher Ilitch was listening to you and cared about you and ready to compete with Los Angeles and New York and he’s got all this money and why isn’t he spending it already!?!?

Correa is a great player. Better than the shortstop who plays for the Atlanta Braves, the team that beat Correa in the World Series.

You haven’t forgotten that, right?

That the Braves slipped into August unnoticed, playing .500 ball, having lost its National League MVP candidate, Ronald Acuna Jr., to a torn ACL, having traded for a few outfielders and a couple of relievers just before the July 31 deadline.

Atlanta got hot. Snuck into the playoffs. Got hotter. Knocked off the Brewers, the Dodgers and, yes, the Astros.

Make sense?

Of course not.

But then it isn’t supposed to. Not the baseball playoffs. Sometimes not even who gets into the baseball playoffs makes sense.

Yeah, teams can spend big and make the playoffs and finally win the World Series — hello Dodgers. And teams can spend big and make the playoffs and never sniff it — hi there, Yankees. (Well, “never” may not be the best description for the Yankees. But it’s been 12 years; for Yankees fans, it’s been forever.)

Teams can also spend and miss the playoffs, as the Mets and Padres and Phillies and Angels all did this season. Those four teams have top-eight payrolls.

None of this is to say the Tigers shouldn’t spend money as they try to find their way back to contention. Nor is it to suggest that Correa wouldn’t have looked nice in a Tigers uniform. Of course, he would; of the five big-named, free agent shortstops, he’s the most gifted, and why he’ll command well north of $300 million.

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The Tigers weren’t ready to spend that.

And while you can lament that the owner is cheap and pine for him to sell the team and believe in your weary baseball-loving soul that he doesn’t care, it’s just as reasonable to surmise that as much promise as the team showed this summer, they are still a couple of seasons away from true title contention, and that Ilitch and general manager Al Avila want to wait to spend the outsized dollars when the team gets a little closer.

When and if they do, they still don’t have to spend $300-plus million on a shortstop. Correa didn’t play for the last four title teams: Braves, Dodgers, Nationals, Red Sox. And of those four champions, only the Nationals (Trea Turner) and Red Sox (Xander Bogaerts) had top-five shortstops.

Correa, obviously, played on a title team in Houston in 2017. You know who played shortstop part time for World Series champ the year before?

Javier Baez.

But then you probably know this. You probably also know that he isn’t the same player he was then, especially defensively — though he won a Gold Glove in 2020.

Still, for the Tigers, he is an upgrade, by almost any measure. His slugging percentage (.494) and on-base-plus-slugging (.813) were more than respectable this past season and a fair jump higher than the numbers he complied during the COVID-19 season in 2020.

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If you prefer wins above replacement, the catch all number used to designate a player’s overall value, yeah, Baez’s metrics aren’t what they were, nor is the WAR number close to Correa, at least the last two seasons.

Baez also strikes out too much, and on a team that was among the bottom four in strikeouts, that’s worrisome. Then again, the Tigers got him for a lot less than they would have Correa.

And that’s the point. Avila doesn’t think he’s one player away from a parade. He knows he has one of the best managers in baseball, AJ Hinch, who has shown a talent for player development.

So, why not take a chance on Baez?

Four years ago, he was second in MVP voting. Three years ago, he was an All-Star. Two years ago, he won a Gold Glove. Last year, he hit 31 home runs.

If Hinch and his staff can guide Baez back somewhere on that timeline, they’ll have underpaid. Even if they get the player from a year ago — he turns 29 on Wednesday — it’s worlds better than what they had.

Three teams made the playoffs last season with payrolls outside the top 10. Tampa Bay spent less than the Tigers, but they are an anomaly with their soothsaying voodoo.

The Braves had the 12th-highest payroll but also rode a classic baseball hot streak. The White Sox, meanwhile, spend just above the league average — though they are spending more heading into next year.

So, now, are the Tigers. They just weren’t quite ready to spend for Correa.

It’s disappointing, certainly. Yet he alone is not the difference between winning and losing.

At least not yet.

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor. 

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