HOUSTON — That his Astros won 96 games this season and are still kicking in the World Series hasn’t made All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa warm and fuzzy about staying in Houston. The 27-year-old, two-time All-Star has made it clear he’s going to see where free agency takes him this winter.
“We’ll see what happens after the season,” he said last week. “One step at a time.”
Could those steps lead to Boston?
At first glance, it doesn’t make sense. The Red Sox already have an All-Star shortstop in Xander Bogaerts. Signing Correa also would require a huge financial commitment at a time the Sox may want to prioritize signing Rafael Devers to an extension and bringing back Eduardo Rodriguez.
But it’s not impossible.
Under Dave Dombrowski, the Red Sox took a linear approach to improving the team. He would sit down after the season, assess what parts of the roster were weak, and make a shopping list.
The Sox clearly needed pitching help after the 2015 season. He traded for Craig Kimbrel and signed David Price. When more pitching was required a year later, Dombrowski traded for Chris Sale. When the lineup looked a little thin, he signed J.D. Martinez.
It worked. The Sox won three division championships and a World Series under Dombrowski.
Chaim Bloom was hired to do more zigging and zagging, and that has worked, too. He stole Nick Pivetta from the Phillies, found Garrett Whitlock in the Rule 5 Draft, and signed Kiké Hernández to what now looks like an ultra-team friendly two-year, $14 million deal.
The vaunted financial flexibility the Sox have been touting for two years has been attained. Dustin Pedroia’s $13.75 million is now off the books and the $16 million they’re still paying on Price ends after next season. There could be even more room to maneuver if Martinez declines his $19.375 million option for 2022.
I’m not convinced Martinez will bolt. He’s 34, and his offensive numbers have slipped from the powerhouse he was from 2018–19. He’s also an increasingly one-dimensional player as his time in the outfield drops.
Martinez also would have to make his decision a few days after the World Series without knowing for sure there will be a universal designated hitter for next season.
But in recent weeks, teams believe Martinez will be on the market seeking a multi-year deal, and would leave open the option of returning to Boston on a new contract.
The Sox should be rooting for Martinez to go. His salary can be repurposed by keeping Kyle Schwarber to DH and helping to make a run at a star player like Correa.
Correa was the best defensive shortstop in baseball this season and would instantly improve how well the Red Sox turn ground balls into outs.
Bogaerts would shift to second base, a position he has never officially played, but has essentially played often in shifts the last two seasons. He looks comfortable on the right side of the infield, something manager Alex Cora commented on several times during the season.
Correa’s range and strong arm also would make things easier for Devers defensively, something the Sox clearly need to address.
It would take a lot of diplomacy on Cora’s part to get Bogaerts to accept Correa. But Bogaerts understands that he’s not going to play shortstop for the rest of his career. Whether it’s third base or somewhere else, he’s eventually going to move.
A 6-foot-2-inch, 220-pound second baseman would be unusual. But given how often teams shift, does it matter? Second basemen are often in short right field, or playing so far over to the right side that they’re not going to turn double plays regardless.
Adding Correa to a lineup that includes Bogaerts, Devers, Hernández, Schwarber, Alex Verdugo, Bobby Dalbec, and Hunter Renfroe would give the Red Sox a group with a lot of ways to score. It also turns Christian Arroyo into more of a utility player, which is probably the role that suits him best.
Yes, Correa is a prominent figure in the Astros scandal, and he’ll probably be booed until he retires. But he’s also one of the best all-around players in the game. He’s sure to land with a contender.
Correa has posted an .813 OPS the last two seasons without any trash cans being banged, and has a 1.094 OPS at Fenway over 19 career games. He’s an All-Star in his prime who would welcome the chance to play for Cora, one of his mentors.
The flurry of incremental improvements Bloom has made so far have put the Sox in position for a big splash. Carlos Correa would be that.