Gleeman: Twins front office will be put to the test after losing Carlos Correa

In the end, the Twins’ biggest fears came true, as the Giants decided to blow them out of the water, offering Carlos Correa a massive 13-year, $350 million contract that the superstar shortstop accepted late Tuesday night.

So much for that.

It’s the fourth-largest contract in baseball history, trailing only deals for Mike Trout ($426.5 million), Mookie Betts ($365 million) and Aaron Judge ($360 million). Correa also topped Francisco Lindor ($341 million), Fernando Tatis Jr. ($340 million), Corey Seager ($325 million) and Trea Turner ($300 million) for the largest contract ever given to a shortstop.

San Francisco flexed its muscle, pushed Minnesota aside and landed the next-best free agent in the class after getting turned down by Judge last week.

Correa did exactly what the Twins expected him to do when they signed him last spring to a three-year, $105.3 million contract with opt-outs after the first and second years. He was one of MLB’s top shortstops, hitting .291/.366/.467 in 136 games to lead the position in OPS. And then he opted out, re-entering free agency at age 28 in search of the mega-deal he failed to get last offseason.

What the Twins were hoping was that Correa would enjoy their seven months together so much, on and off the field, that he’d see Minnesota as a viable long-term home and perhaps be convinced to choose their contract offer over similar deals from other , bigger-market teams. Ultimately his feelings about Minnesota didn’t really matter, as the Twins weren’t particularly close to the best offer.

The Athletic‘s Dan Hayes reported that the Twins’ final offer was 10 years and $285 million, topping the largest contract in franchise history by $100 million. From the Twins’ point of view, it was an enormous, historic, franchise-altering offer. But from Correa’s point of view, that was still three years and $65 million short of the Giants’ proposal.

If all things were equal, maybe Correa would have stayed with the Twins, but we’ll never know because all things were not equal. Not even close, really. No one should blame Correa for taking what is by far the better offer, from by far the more successful team, in by far the bigger market. While disappointing for Twins fans, it’s certainly anything but surprising.

It’s also hard to blame the Twins for not beating the Giants’ offer, which likely would have required paying Correa around $30 million per season into his 40s. To do that while maintaining mid-sized payrolls, as the Twins have done in recent years, would have been extremely challenging, and the team’s ownership has given no indication of plans to push spending beyond league-average levels.

However, it’s noteworthy the Twins apparently offered a slightly higher average annual salary ($28.5 million) than the Giants ($27 million), but were willing to do so for 10 seasons and not 13. At some point there needs to be a line drawn, and doing so with an offer that goes through Correa’s age-37 season is logical. But is it really a big enough difference to lose him over?

What will the sport even look like in 13 years? How high will league revenues and payrolls have soared? And where will $28.5 million rank among the largest salaries? Beyond that, the odds of any front office still being in place more than a decade later are tiny. Derek Falvey and company could have pushed to get Correa back at all costs and made the end of the deal someone else’s problem.

Regardless of whether the Pohlad family or the baseball operations department was driving, the Twins cruised along at $28.5 million per season through 2032, but slammed the brakes before 2033, 2034 and 2035. Depending on your point of view, that’s either commendable fiscal responsibility or way too focused on a faraway future for which this front office likely won’t be around.

Much was made of Correa’s inability to land a long-term deal to his liking last offseason, resulting in replacing his agent with Scott Boras during the lockout and falling into the Twins’ lapse in the middle of spring training. In retrospect, Correa likely maximized his earnings, securing a total of $385.1 million for 14 years, with a brief layover in Minnesota between Houston and San Francisco.

If that total of $385.1 million were one contract, it would be the second-largest ever, instead of $350 million ranking “only” fourth. As recently as nine months ago, fans being genuinely and rightfully disappointed the Twins didn’t hand out one of the costliest deals of all time would have seemed like an absurd notion, but Correa’s arrival changed the idea of ​​what’s possible. But only so much.

Now the Twins must regroup, and fast.

If the plan is to pivot to another star free agent, the only two options left are Dansby Swanson and Carlos Rodón, both of whom have met with the Twins. Swanson is the natural fallback as a 28-year-old shortstop available for roughly half the price. Rodón has more upside as a No. 1 starter, but he may cost $200 million and this front office has never paid a pitcher more than $20 million.

Whiffing on Swanson and Rodón would leave the Twins in a very tricky spot. They’d be down their best player from a 78-84 team, with plenty of money to spend but no star-caliber free agents to spend it on. They could pursue the best unsigned second-tier free agents, such as right-hander Nathan Eovaldi or a big veteran bat like Justin Turner, JD Martinez or Michael Brantley.

Short of that, any major pickups the Twins make would have to come via trade, costing them valuable big leaguers from a roster coming off back-to-back losing seasons and/or top prospects from a farm system that already lost an awful lot of talent at the trade deadline. Treading water is not nearly enough, and now even that would require replacing Correa’s star-level production just to stay afloat.

At the beginning of the offseason, my assessment of the Twins’ biggest needs were, in order: starting shortstop, front-line pitcher, starter-level catcher, right-handed-hitting outfielder and setup man. They’ve addressed just one of the five areas fully, signing catcher Christian Vázquez to a three-year, $30 million deal Monday while waiting for Correa to make his decision.

Kyle Farmer, acquired from the Reds last month, is also a capable placeholder shortstop until Royce Lewis is ready around midseason. But the Twins haven’t added any pitching, or a platoon outfielder alternative to Kyle Garlick. Toss in Correa’s exit and the trade that sent Gio Urshela to the Angels for a low-minors prospect, and the Twins have undeniably lost talent since the season ended.

To move forward in a meaningful way the Twins need to add significant talent at several crucial spots, which will require some very creative maneuvering and a willingness to take home-run swings on trades — Corbin Burnes? Zac Gallen? Pablo Lopez? Brandon Woodruff? Willy Adams? — that may be painful and carry every bit as much risk as simply signing a great player on the open market.

It’s possible that the Twins could also decide that taking a step back with an eye toward 2024 is the least-bad path, but taking a step back from what, exactly? In six seasons under Falvey, the Twins are 451-419 overall, equivalent to an 84-78 record per 162 games, with zero playoff wins. They haven’t built enough to tear it down and rebuild, and that might wreck the fan base’s already shaky morale.

Getting value for impending free agents Kenta Maeda, Sonny Gray and Tyler Mahle would be logical for a rebuilding team, as would shopping Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco and possibly even Luis Arraez. But that’s an awfully sharp U-turn from making a $285 million pitch to Correa and would also make spending $30 million on Vázquez look like an immediate misstep. Pushing forward is a must.

They made a legit run at Correa, and watched as most of the quality free-agent alternatives came off the board before that bidding played out. There are three paths left: sign either Swanson or Rodón for big money, or pay the price in the form of players by trading for a star. Re-signing Correa was always unlikely, so the Twins should have fallback plans. Now we’ll see if they can pull them off.

(Photo of Derek Falvey and Carlos Correa: Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images)

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