Detroit Tigers free agent target: Shortstop Carlos Correa

Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa smiles in the dugout at Comerica Park. Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa smiles in the dugout at Comerica Park. Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

Carlos Correa is the prize of this year’s free agent class, and the Detroit Tigers need a shortstop. They look like an ideal match, but let’s dig a little deeper.

Welcome to Contender November, a full month of articles about the free agents, prospects, and  trade pieces who could turn the 2022 Detroit Tigers into legitimate contenders. Our first week will be spent looking at arguably Detroit’s biggest need: shortstop.

And what better place to start than with Carlos Correa? Many baseball commenters have suggested Correa will be a top target for the Tigers, and he sure seems to be the top choice of most fans right now, too:

Fan opinions can be a funny thing. Ideas catch on and seemingly go viral, and consensus can change rapidly. Just seven months ago we ran the exact same poll, and saw markedly different results, with Carlos Correa finishing third:

That dramatic shift actually makes sense on a few fronts. Perhaps the April voters thought the Tigers were too far from contention to be a legitimate option for Carlos Correa. There’s also the fact Báez, Seager, and Story had decent years, while Correa had the best season of his career.

So, with Carlos Correa the top target for fans, let’s take a look at who he is, what he can provide for the Tigers, and what it might cost to sign him.

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.

Carlos Correa was unusually young for his draft class, 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 it didn’t take long for him to show the tools to stick at shortstop.

In his first full season in the minors, Correa 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, after just 282 games in the minors, the Astros called Correa up to the big leagues. He hit his first career home run the next day.

Correa batted .279 with 22 home runs, 22 doubles, and 14 stolen bases in just 99 games to edge out out Francisco Lindor for Rookie of the Year honors. And then that fall he began establishing himself as one of the great playoff performers in MLB history.

He followed up with a terrific sophomore campaign, batting .274 with 20 home runs, 36 doubles, and 13 steals in 2016, and then he played like an MVP in 2017, batting .324 with 24 home runs in 109 games. But a torn ligament in his thumb cost him almost two months.

For the next three seasons Carlos Correa never seemed quite right. He hit .239 over 110 injury riddled games in 2018, played just 75 games in 2019 after a bizarre massage-related injury, and then posted a career worst 96 wRC+ in 2020. That severe decline in production looked pretty suspicious after Correa admitted to taking part in Houston’s cheating scandal:

"“Yes, I used the trash cans. Yes, I used the trash cans. And I’m here like a man and I’ll tell you I used it. Because, my credibility, right here, this is what I live for. Every time I speak, I want you guys to believe me. So I’ll tell you, yes, I did."

Then Carlos Correa went out in 2021 and had the best season of his career. And for all the controversy, and that rough 2018-2020 stretch, he is still very much on a Hall-of-Fame track. The table below shows the top 10 shortstops in the Integration Era through their age-26 seasons:

Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to sign potential Hall-of-Famers in the prime of their careers.

What Carlos Correa Would Do for the Detroit Tigers

Carlos Correa would immediately fill huge holes on both sides of the ball for Detroit. He consistently grades out as one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball, while the Tigers ranked in the bottom third in shortstop defense this season.

And Correa would instantly become Detroit’s best hitter. He’s not Miguel Cabrera, but Correa’s career 128 wRC+ is exactly the same as Magglio Ordonez’s career mark when he signed with the Tigers. Correa could easily slot into any of the top five spots in the Tigers lineup.

The only real concerns with Correa at this point are his injury issues. In his ten professional seasons he has dealt with a broken leg, a broken rib, a torn thumb ligament, and two extended stays on the IL with back issues.

Those injury concerns are scary, but the upside is undeniable. Correa would likely add 3-5 wins to Detroit’s total on an annual basis, and he has the talent to be a true MVP-caliber player.

The Cost of Signing Carlos Correa

So what does it cost to sign a potential MVP? The best way to project what kind of deal Carlos Correa will get is to look at what his contemporaries received:

As a baseline, fans should expect Carlos Correa to get a 10-year, $350-million deal. But who knows where the price may go when other teams get involved. Rogelio looked at a couple potential suitors here, but there will be plenty of teams after Correa’s services, so the Tigers may need to offer more than 10 years, and up to $400 million.

Can they afford that? Of course. If you want the prize, you have to pay the price. But it remains to be seen if Christopher Ilitch is willing to open up his pocketbook and play with the big boys the way his father once did.

All is not lost if the Tigers fail to sign Carlos Correa. Check back in tomorrow and for the rest of Contender November to read about other potential paths to success.

Next. Cost-efficient Starting Pitcher Options for the Detroit Tigers. dark