The Orioles have lost at least 108 games in each of the last three full baseball seasons. Carlos Correa is one of the most enticing free agents to hit the market in a while, a 27-year-old shortstop who figures to have years remaining of star-level play at one of the premium defensive positions. He has been reportedly seeking a contract worth at least $300 million.
On the surface, nothing seems to point to any kind of connection between these two. Even if we were discussing this seven years ago, when the Orioles were in the midst of a competitive period, the idea of the Orioles outbidding the gigantic payroll teams for a player of Correa’s caliber would have been a pure flight of fancy. Add in the franchise’s recent fortune and there’s a player-side barrier too: Why would Correa come here if he was offered comparable money pretty much anywhere else?
One simple fact remains. Spring training games began yesterday. Opening Day is three weeks away from today. The lockout has been over for more than a week now. Correa remains unsigned and even rumors of teams you’d expect to be interested in him have not been frequent or plentiful.
Into this void, one lonely voice has been speaking. During the lockout, Raul Ramos of the primarily Spanish-language website Con las Bases Llenas wrote that the Orioles had made an offer to Correa prior to the lockout. Ramos followed up since the lockout ended to refresh his own rumor, writing that the Orioles are “working on a new offer” that might include an opt-out after the fourth year of the contract.
Longtime readers of this site know my standard rule about any baseball rumor: Probably nothing will happen. The more fanciful the rumor, and the farther it is from concrete reporting by one of the usual reliable suspects for baseball news, the less likely it is. I resolved not to put much thought into it until somebody like Ken Rosenthal mentioned something about the Orioles and Correa.
Friends, the Rosenthal line has been breached. In a Thursday night article on The Athletic discussing several topics, Rosenthal reminded readers that Orioles GM Mike Elias was an influential voice in Correa being drafted with the #1 pick by the Astros in 2012, noting that this could be an extra little nudge of a connection. Rosenthal added:
Elias seemed to dismiss the idea on Monday, telling reporters it was unlikely the rebuilding Orioles would offer any free agent a multi-year contract. But Correa, according to a source with knowledge of the Orioles’ thinking, might be an exception, if his price dropped to a level the club deemed appropriate.
As the GIF starring Leonardo DiCaprio says, you had my curiosity. Now you have my attention.
Let’s be real. Even though the rumor has reached the Rosenthal level, this is thin stuff. Supposing that the information attributed to Rosenthal’s source is 100% accurate, what does it tell us? Correa might be an exception, if his price dropped. A hypothetical scenario with no indication about what would trigger the condition is not a lot to go on. There is a big gap between this level of passive interest described by Rosenthal and the more active pursuit described by Ramos.
Presumably there are a lot of teams out there who would be interested in Correa if his price dropped from the long-term, $350 million contract that Rosenthal says Correa has been seeking. Rosenthal goes on to add that “many in the industry” believe Correa could end up back with the Astros on a short contract rather than take a long-term deal that doesn’t line up with his belief in his value.
Perhaps the big payroll teams have balked at Correa’s price tag because they’ve noticed he’s only played 140 or more games twice in his career. Maybe they have concerns that he’s been a below-average hitter in two of the last four seasons - though not by much, with OPS+ in those seasons of 99 and 93. The 93 OPS+ season was the shortened 2020 season. They might be thinking they should guarantee fewer years, or they might be offering a lower average annual value than Correa is seeking.
Even with some time missed by injuries and a couple of seasons of less-impressive performance at the plate, Correa has accumulated 34.1 WAR in his seven-year big league career. He’s fresh off a 2021 season in which he dropped 7.2 WAR. That’s the good stuff.
With the right shade of orange on your lenses, one may not take much convincing to see where there’s sense here for the Orioles. If Elias believes that next year, when Adley Rutschman and Grayson Rodriguez have arrived, is going to be the year to “flip the switch,” why not add in Correa a year early? That tells the world that the Orioles are ready to get serious pretty soon. That might help them lure in better free agents in the next offseason if they don’t think this is a hopeless cause here.
It remains unlikely. Sooner or later some team that’s going to win this year is going to step in with a metaphorical giant novelty check. Correa will go there and probably be great for a long time.
Still, it’s the morning of March 18 and this hasn’t happened yet. That’s weird. The longer this weird situation goes on, the more likely its final outcome is going to be weird. Weird enough for Correa to be in an Orioles uniform in 2022? Probably not. But there’s no harm in keeping that candle burning until he goes somewhere else.