Detroit Tigers Trade Target: Carlos Correa
Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa is set to be one of the top free agents available in 2022, but should the Tigers wait or try to trade for him now?
Carlos Correa was one of four players we asked our readers about just this morning:
As of this writing the poll remains fairly close, but Carlos Correa has surged into the lead. And wouldn’t you know it, just a few hours after our tweet, the Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported ($) the Astros are willing to listen to trade offers for Correa:
"The Astros, according to sources, are again floating Correa in trade discussions, knowing it is unlikely they will sign him before he reaches free agency at the end of the season."
Sometimes fortune smiles upon you. Now, you don’t have to be clairvoyant to suspect Correa might be on the block. All teams with impending free agents must determine if their stars are willing to re-sign early, and if not, decide if it’s best to trade them now or simply accept draft-pick compensation if and when they sign elsewhere.
So, at the risk of creating an embarrassing, Dewey Defeats Truman situation, we’re going to call this one early and dig more into Carlos Correa. Join us, won’t you, to see if it makes sense for the Detroit Tigers to make a move now.
Who is Carlos Correa?
The Houston Astros selected Carlos Correa out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy with the first overall pick in the 2012 draft, making him the highest ever draft pick from Puerto Rico.
It was a mild surprise, because while Correa was considered a top-10 talent in the draft, most expected Houston to take Stanford right-hander Mark Appel or Georgia prep outfielder Byron Buxton. The Astros were able to sign Correa at a slight discount, though, and then use their savings to land pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. and third baseman Rio Ruiz.
Carlos Correa was still 17 when he was drafted, but he already stood 6’3 and weighed 185 lbs. With plenty of room to fill out, some projected a move to third base. But he quickly showed both the prodigious talent and the precocious feel to stick at shortstop.
After hitting .258 over 50 games in a rookie-ball baptism in 2012, Correa moved up to the Class-A Midwest League in 2013, where he hit .320 with a double-digit walk rate, 9 home runs, and 32 doubles.
He continued to hit well the following season, batting .322 with 6 homers and 16 doubles, but a broken leg ended his season after just 62 games. The Astros pushed him up a level in 2015 and he responded by demolishing Double-A for 29 games, and then holding his own at Triple-A for 24 games.
Then, on June 8, 2015, the Astros called Correa up to the bigs, three months shy of his 21st birthday. He essentially took the league by storm, batting .279 with 22 home runs, 22 doubles, and 14 stolen bases in just 99 games. He edged out Francisco Lindor to take home the Rookie of the Year award, and he had a monster ALDS performance against the Royals.
He followed that up with a terrific sophomore campaign, batting .274 with 20 home runs, 36 doubles, and 13 steals in 2016. He played like an MVP in 2017, batting .324 with 24 home runs, but a torn ligament in his thumb cost him almost two months.
And Carlos Correa seemingly hasn’t been right since. He played in only 110 games in 2018, and just 75 games in 2019, and while he saw action in 58 out of 60 games in 2020, his walk rate took a noticeable dive, and he batted just .264 with 5 home runs. And of course, as with all Astros players, the specter of Houston’s cheating scandal looms over Correa.
One notch in Carlos Correa’s belt is his terrific playoff track record. He’s a career .270/.338/.531 hitter over 63 games, and his 17 home runs are tied for the 9th most in postseason history.
Still, if the Detroit Tigers want to trade for, and then presumably extend Carlos Correa, they had better be acquainted with the risks involved.
Carlos Correa is not without his warts. He has always looked like a franchise cornerstone, but outside of 2017, he has never really performed like one — at least not in the regular season. He’s been named to the All-Star team just once, and he’s never finished in the top ten in MVP voting.
A significant portion of his seeming underperformance can be blamed on injuries. And while an acquiring team may be able to chalk some of those up to bad luck, the biggest indicator of future injury issues is previous injury issues.
At this point it’s fair to label Carlos Correa injury prone. In addition to the aforementioned broken leg and torn thumb ligament, he has missed time with a broken rib he reportedly suffered during a massage, and he has twice seen extended stays on the IL with back issues.
It’s worth wondering if Correa’s 2020 season is indicative of the sort of player he will be in the future. He’s still just 26, and he has generally graded out as a solid defender at shortstop, but given his size and injury history, it seems likely he’ll have to move to third base at some point.
Correa has a 70-grade arm, so he shouldn’t have defensive issues at the hot corner, but then his offense comes into question. Simply put, his 2020 line (.264/.326/.383) won’t cut it at third base.
Perhaps reuniting with his former manager A.J. Hinch will put some pep back into Correa’s bat.
The Cost of Acquiring Carlos Correa
As we wrote about Javier Báez yesterday, Carlos Correa is a bit of a bargain compared to his peers. Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, and Trevor Story are all set to make significantly more in 2021 than Correa’s projected $9-10 million price tag.
The ZiPS projection system sees Carlos Correa producing about 3.5 fWAR next year, which suggests his surplus value in 2021 will be around $18 million. That is roughly the same as Báez, though the Trade Simulator at Baseball Trade Values thinks Correa is much more expensive than his counterpart in Chicago.
Baseball Trade Values is for entertainment purposes only, of course, but if we treat their numbers as gospel for this exercise, the Tigers will have to part with some talent. Perhaps a deal like this:
The Astros aren’t getting any of Detroit’s top prospects here, which they probably wouldn’t like, but they would be landing a promising young hitter in Paredes, a toolsy, cost-controlled utility man in Goodrum, and solid pitching prospect in Faedo, albeit one who likely ends up in the bullpen.
Of course any Tigers trade would be contingent on assurances they would be able to extend Correa. Otherwise they’d just be better off waiting until next year and trying their hand in free agency.
But if Detroit wants to make a splash and show the rest of baseball they’re serious about contending again, trading for Carlos Correa now would send an awfully loud message.