The long-ballyhooed superstar shortstop free-agent class of 2021-22 is down to two: Carlos Correa and Trevor Story.
Beginning with the 10-year, $341 million extension Francisco Lindor signed with the Mets just before the 2021 season, the shortstops have come off the board one by one: Marcus Semien, Corey Seager, Javier Baez. That leaves Correa, Story and a whole lot of teams that ought to be interested in them when this tedious labor dispute between the owners and players is resolved.
Thus, though their situations are very different, the narratives of Story and Correa are intertwined more now than ever.
The basics of this offseason are simple: A number of teams need shortstops. The best players available at that position are Correa and Story. But it’s also more than that. One of the things about being a major league shortstop is that if you can play that position well, you can play other positions well, too. Thus, Correa and Story don’t just fit with shortstop-thirsty teams, but teams that need an infield upgrade, period.
That should mean a robust market for these two standouts, once baseball’s transactions start rolling again at full capacity. As we said: It’s simple, right? Supply and demand.
Alas, when it comes to baseball economics, things are rarely as straightforward as they appear. After all, who could have predicted when free agency started that the 102-loss Texas Rangers would end up with Semien and Seager?
Well, with the owners and players standing their ground on “core economic issues” (i.e., how to split up the riches), let’s go through the likely markets for Correa and Story, with the caveat that the outcome of the collective bargaining agreement negotiations might impact this analysis in ways that, right now, we can’t predict.
Where are Correa and Story likely to land?
Let’s begin with a comparison of the two.
Correa is younger and, in fact, is the youngest of the top-tier free agents this winter, which is a big reason he topped virtually all the free-agent rankings before this all started. His career began a year earlier than Story’s, but he has played in only seven more games because of a steady stream of injuries during his career. Still, Correa has provided more on-field value, been a superior hitter once ballpark effects are brought into the mix and matched Story in terms of defensive excellence.
This disparity between the two is reflected in the projected contract terms, according to ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel. The situation has changed somewhat since then, but you can still see the stark difference in the baseline economic expectations of these two fine players.
Just to underscore Correa’s lofty status as a free agent, let’s do another comparison, this one pairing Correa with another 6-foot-4 shortstop from baseball’s past.
In terms of percentages, body type and defensive value (especially arm strength), Correa is pretty much a dead ringer after seven big league seasons for Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. The big difference is games played, and it’s a huge difference. Of course, no one is going to look good in terms of durability when compared to Ripken. But perhaps another way to think about it is that as good as Correa’s numbers look, imagine what they might be if he had been just a little healthier.
What we are left with is that in terms of on-field impact and the sustainability of that impact, Correa ought to be the Plan A for suitors, and Story more of the fallback option. Yet because of Correa’s injury history and the perceived chasm in their asking prices, the choice between them is not that clear-cut.
Now that we’ve seen Lindor get his 10 years and $341 million on an extension, and Seager get 10 years, $325 million in free agency from Texas, what does that mean for Correa?
It seems logical that Correa could ask for the longest deal of the three, and for the highest average annual value. So at a minimum, we’re talking about 11 years for around $35 million per season, which translates to a $385 million contract in total value. As good as Correa is, $385 million seems like an outlandish figure, putting him historically between the deal signed by Mike Trout ($426.5 million) and Mookie Betts ($365 million). But the comps are the comps. While it is really hard to pinpoint which team would give Correa $385 million, that’s the figure where logic takes us. But we know logic and free agency are, at best, loosely correlated and there just aren’t many teams that can or would be willing to swallow a $385 million pill.
Also, let’s keep in mind that there are arguments for both Correa and Story being best served to push for shorter-term deals for a higher average value. Both players were extended a qualifying offer, so they carry with them draft pick compensation that would disappear with a subsequent free agency (pending the terms of the new CBA). Also, for Correa, it’s a matter of his age and the prospect of reentering the market while still in the midst of his prime. For Story, it’s a matter of putting up a better-platform season and proving he can put up numbers outside of Coors Field.
As we go through the teams, we’ll try to bear all of this in mind. First, let’s eliminate a few teams.
Not a fit
Baltimore Orioles: Given the Ripken comparison and the threadbare status of the Orioles’ payroll, you could argue that they should be in on Correa as their cornerstone player going forward. But it’s just not where Baltimore is right now.
Texas Rangers: After signing Semien and Seager, the Rangers’ attention no longer needs to be on the middle of their infield.
Pittsburgh Pirates: It’s just not where Pittsburgh is right now. It’s never where Pittsburgh is.
Kansas City Royals: As it is, the Royals already have a middle infield puzzle to solve given the not-unlikely scenario of having three starting-caliber shortstops on their 2022 roster in Bobby Witt Jr., Adalberto Mondesi and Nicky Lopez.
New York Mets: OK, maybe you can’t currently count the Mets out of any opportunity to spend a lot of money, but it’s really hard to envision a successful pursuit of Correa or Story, given the presence of Lindor, the need to add starting pitching and the solid depth around the roster. If the Mets could somehow find a taker for Robinson Cano, this would change, but good luck with that.
San Diego Padres: The Padres are trying to juggle payroll already and are fully stocked at second base, shortstop and third base, with top prospect CJ Abrams waiting in the wings.
Cleveland Guardians: The Guardians aren’t likely to spend any more than their predecessor did, and the organization’s infield depth chart is already deep.
Cincinnati Reds: The Reds could have used an elite shortstop last season. Now, they are streamlining their payroll. Besides, Kyle Farmer proved to be an adequate stopgap at the position, prospect Jose Barrero isn’t far away, and the Reds have other ranked infield prospects in the organization.
Oakland Athletics: Shedding payroll, as ever.
Tampa Bay Rays: With the Rays, high-ticket investments are rare and targeted. They’ve already splurged this offseason with Wander Franco‘s extension. They have another infielder in Brandon Lowe coming off a 39-homer season. And they have other infielders in the pipeline, including Vidal Brujan, who may have to move to the outfield just to get into the lineup.
So we’re down to 20 teams! From here, we’ll try to assess the fits by rating each team from a one-star fit to a five-star fit.
Colorado Rockies: The Rockies always claim that they are trying to contend, and if they were to actually shock everyone by re-signing Story (perhaps shocking even Story himself), it would at least redeem their decision not to trade him at the deadline. Since Story is their own free agent, they don’t have to worry about the qualifying offer they tendered him. And bringing back Story would restore at least some of the faith of the fan base. Finally, the Rockies are the one team that doesn’t have to try to project what Story’s numbers will look like when he no longer calls Coors Field his home venue. As for Correa: Um, no.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Arizona would not want to concentrate so much of its payroll in one player, as would be the case with Correa. However, you could talk yourself into a case for Story with the Diamondbacks. Yes, Arizona lost 110 games last season, and that’s probably the biggest reason this is a long shot. But the Diamondbacks signed a premier closer (Mark Melancon), so they apparently have not hit the reset button.
Milwaukee Brewers: This doesn’t seem a likely destination for either Correa or Story, but the Brewers operate in mysterious (and successful) ways and can surprise you. Story in particular might work as a third baseman in Milwaukee on a short-term deal. The draft pick compensation might be too much for the Brewers, unless they can keep a Story contract under $50 million.
Chicago Cubs: The Cubs have raised the floor of their 2022 roster with some of their moves so far. The money is there to give Correa whatever he’s asking, and he’d raise the ceiling as well as the floor. Still, it seems hard to believe the Cubs would invest $300 million-plus on a player so soon after hitting reset. Also, Chicago needs to see if Nico Hoerner can be the answer at shortstop, and if Hoerner and Nick Madrigal are going to lock down the middle infield over the next few years.
Minnesota Twins: The Twins seem to love short-term splurges. While their need on the infield could be satisfied by just a good all-around defender, they could use the kind of lineup upgrade Correa in particular would represent. Still, the timing isn’t quite right. Assuming prospect Royce Lewis recovers fully from a torn ACL, the Twins are going to need to see what he can be at the big league level at some point in the near future. Also, Minnesota really needs to focus its resources on the starting rotation.
St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals aren’t going to sign Correa to a long-term deal, and while Story is a great on-field fit, St. Louis typically just isn’t that active in free agency. When the Redbirds make a splash, it’s usually via a trade. Over the offseason, the Cardinals have said that they are happy with a Paul DeJong and Edmundo Sosa combo at shortstop. We’ll take them at their word.
Seattle Mariners: With Seattle pushing hard for near-term contention, Story would be a great fit here on a short-term deal, while Correa would work on a contract of any length. Keep in mind that the Mariners have a really exciting shortstop prospect in the pipeline in Noelvi Marte, but he’s only 20 years old and finished last season at the High-A level. Correa might be a worthy splash for an organization that has reached the top 10 in payroll in the past and currently doesn’t have much money on the books. He fits long term, as he must given the level of investment, but even for 2022, he not only adds needed star power to the position group but he’s the right kind of star in that he gets the bat on the ball. That’s a needed skill for a team that hit .226 as a club in 2021.
Chicago White Sox: The White Sox have really flubbed the process of putting the finishing touches on a roster bursting with high-ceiling talent. They faceplanted the deal last season that sent Madrigal and reliever Codi Heuer to the Cubs for Craig Kimbrel and Ryan Tepera. And the presumed Madrigal replacement, Cesar Hernandez, had his option declined and is now with the Nationals. It’s truly the case that the White Sox would have been far better off both short and long term by standing pat. Alas, that’s hindsight, and the best way to fix the second-base problem now is to throw money at it. Semien was the perfect fit, but Story is next in line.
Atlanta Braves: The Braves just won the World Series with Dansby Swanson at shortstop, and he’ll be back in 2022. However, Swanson didn’t have a great 2021 and is due to be a free agent after next season. If Freddie Freeman leaves, there will be money to play with, especially since Atlanta has cornerstone players Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna Jr. signed to team-friendly long-term extensions. Also, the Braves don’t have a highly ranked prospect at shortstop, so if they want to move on from Swanson, they’ll be looking outside the organization. Perhaps the prudent course would be to focus on Freeman and signing Swanson to an extension that wouldn’t likely break the bank, but you could see Atlanta wanting to get involved with Correa or Story.
Miami Marlins: The Marlins are a natural fit for Correa, if they wanted to make him the face of their emerging rebuild. He would raise the stature of the franchise and be a touchstone for fans of all backgrounds in south Florida. Miami should be at least a moderate contender over the years to come because of its depth of pitching. Correa would be the anchor of the position group. The problem is (of course) money, as in the Marlins traditionally have not spent at the level it would take to land Correa on a long-term contract. But they did, under a previous ownership group, sign Giancarlo Stanton to a $325 million extension, so you never know. Or perhaps Correa could be enticed by a shorter-term deal for high annual value, raising Miami’s immediate profile and buying some time for prospect Kahlil Watson to develop.
Boston Red Sox: The Tampa Bay Sox, er, the Boston Devil Rays … it’s very confusing. Shouldn’t the Red Sox be in big on every premier free agent? Doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. Still, with Xander Bogaerts in hand through 2025 (assuming he doesn’t opt out of his deal after 2022), Boston doesn’t have an obvious need for a splashy shortstop. However, either Story or Correa would upgrade the defense at the position and free up Bogaerts to slide over to second base, or third base if Boston wants to move Rafael Devers to another spot. There isn’t that much long-term money on the books. The Red Sox do have a lofty shortstop prospect in 2021 draftee Marcelo Mayer, but he’s just getting started. A big short-term offer to either Story or Correa would make a lot of sense.
Washington Nationals: The Nats are a lovely match for Correa. They have a history of the kind of payrolls that can afford him. They have a short-term hole at shortstop and can slide Correa over to third base if prospect Brady House blossoms over the years to come. They can signify to Juan Soto that the team is in it to win it over the long haul, and signing Soto to an extension is the top priority for the organization until it either does or does not happen. There would be no better evidence that Washington’s rebuild is of the quick-turnaround variety than going big on Correa.
Toronto Blue Jays: The Blue Jays are just looking to upgrade, regardless of position. They are good with Bo Bichette at shortstop for the foreseeable future, but they signed Semien last year anyway and made him their second baseman. They could do something similar this time around with either Correa or Story, only perhaps insert one of them at the hot corner, or bump Bichette. The Blue Jays had a special position group in 2021 but Semien was a big part of that dynamic and now that he’s in Texas, they have an opening for a star-level player on the infield.
Houston Astros: The Astros were one game short of the title in 2019, lost in the ALCS in 2020, then came up two games short in the 2021 World Series. Back in the late 1970s, it was another Houston franchise (the Oilers) that talked about knocking on the door and the need to kick the dadgum thing in. That’s pretty much where the Astros are, and it’s hard to see how letting Correa walk and turning the position over to prospect Jeremy Pena makes that happen. If Correa’s market options dwindle to the point where he tries to max out on a deal of three years or fewer, the Astros can and should be at the front of the line. If he doesn’t want to come back, then Story should be their next call.
San Francisco Giants: The Giants have all sorts of unused payroll capacity, both in 2022 and particularly beyond that. They can pinpoint the specific players coming on the market over the next few years whom they see as foundational roster anchors worth investing in for the long haul. Correa is just such a talent, even if he has to play off the shortstop position for a year or two while Brandon Crawford and Evan Longoria play out their outstanding careers. The Giants have matched or surpassed the Dodgers in the facets of team-building that revolve around organizational efficiency. Next up is matching the Dodgers in terms of star power.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Perhaps inserting Correa, who was at the center of the 2017 Astros, on the Dodgers might be awkward, but winning trumps everything. As ever, the Dodgers can target the small subset of players who actually upgrade their roster. Correa is that player, even if L.A. eventually is able to sign Trea Turner to an extension and even if Gavin Lux proves to be a first-division shortstop. Resources are not a question, as not only are the Dodgers awash in revenue, but after 2022, L.A. has loads of payroll flexibility.
Los Angeles Angels: With so much money going long term to Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon, and the looming need to sign Shohei Ohtani to a similar deal growing more acute, the long-term version of a Correa contract might be too much, especially as the Angels still need to add more pitching. But a shorter-term deal might work, either for him or Story, and the Angels should be willing to go big on a contract of that duration to fill a glaring need on their roster. If they can pull that off, Ohtani would surely approve, and that might be the most important factor of all.
Detroit Tigers: After signing Baez, the Tigers are playing with house money. Correa has always seemed like a good fit for them as the foundational hitter for Detroit’s emerging rebuild, and because of his longtime association with Tigers manager A.J. Hinch. Baez’s deal wasn’t a payroll killer, so if the Tigers want to make one more free-agent splash, this would be the one to make. While Detroit has gathered a nice array of prospects during its downturn and many of those are in the majors or getting close, the Tigers have not come up with a long-term answer at shortstop. Correa is the answer.
Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies make sense either as a landing spot for Story on a shorter-term deal, or as the landing spot for Correa at the higher end of the payroll spectrum. Improving the infield defense is major need for this team, and either star shortstop accomplishes that. Didi Gregorius could slide to third base or move around in that scenario. And if prospect Bryson Stott proves to be ready sooner than later, he can play at second base, pushing Gregorius and Jean Segura into a rotation during their final seasons in Philadelphia. The Phillies’ 2022 payroll could be daunting, but after that, Correa would become the fourth high-dollar player for a team that probably has the bandwidth for that many of them.
And finally …
New York Yankees: Correa is just a natural fit in the Bronx. The money matters, even here, as the Yankees have Gerrit Cole and Giancarlo Stanton both on the books through at least 2027 and an impending need to lock down Aaron Judge for the long haul. For New York, it’s more a matter of dealing with the long-term ramifications of the new CBA than anything else, and we don’t know what those are at this point. We do know that they can easily afford Correa in terms of sheer payroll and revenue.
Correa would fill the shortstop position for a few years, and perhaps slide to the hot corner when prospects like Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza seem ready, or one of them could be traded to add elite pitching. Either way, perhaps the biggest consideration for the Yankees is the short-term pursuit of another World Series title. Correa doesn’t just help them in the regular season, but he might put them over the top in October. After all, Correa, through just his age-26 season, is already third all time in postseason win probability added.
So in the end, maybe it was simpler than we thought. The best free agent on the market is a shortstop. And baseball’s richest team — the Yankees — needs a star player at that position. And if Correa ends up in the Bronx, then all of these interested teams will be focused on the last star shortstop standing: Story. Maybe we don’t need to think about it any deeper than that.