Law: Giants should see strong return on investment in Carlos Correa

The Giants missed out on Aaron Judge, but their consolation prize might be even better, as they landed this winter’s No. 1 free agent in shortstop Carlos Correa, giving the former Astro and Twin a $350 million deal spread out over 13 seasons. It’s one of the longest deals in MLB history, paying him through his age 40 season, but underpays him so much for the player that he is now that the Giants are still likely to get a strong return on their investment.

Correa was worth 12.6 rWAR/10.6 fWAR over the last two years combined, and that’s a $35-40 million player at the very least. I’d argue for the higher end, or more, given Correa’s age — he’ll play at 28 this year, so he’s still in what should be his peak offensive years — and the scarcity at the position he plays. This contract covers his ages 28 through 40 seasons, but that’s more of the same accounting chicanery we’ve seen in other long-term deals given to free agents this winter. If this were a $350 million, eight-year deal, which is an AAV of $43.75 million, it would look more reasonable based on the player Correa projects to be over the entire deal, even though it’s the same amount of money.

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The term of this contract reduces the luxury tax impact, which is fair, although I have the same concern about this that I do with all contracts that take position players into their late 30s or early 40s — if the player declines more quickly than expected, the team might be reluctant to bench or release him given the commitment. Given Correa’s track record and age, this contract is more like Turner’s, where the players are likely to pay out early and decline slowly, than Aaron Judge’s or Xander Bogaerts’. If Correa is healthy, which was an issue for him in the first five years of his MLB career, he’s a superstar and will be more than worth what the Giants are paying him.

Correa also fills a huge need for the Giants, whose incumbent shortstop, Brandon Crawford, fell apart in 2022 after a surprising bounce-back year in 2021. Crawford hit just .231/.308/.344 last year, well below league average, and his batted-ball data mirrored that decline — he swung and missed at an exceptionally high rate and stopped hitting the ball hard. He’ll turn 36 in January, and while he’s got one year left on the two-year deal the Giants gave him after that dead-cat bounce season, it’s a sunk cost, and they’re better off just benching or even releasing him . Correa is anywhere from a 5-to-7-win upgrade over Crawford right now, improving the team both on offense and defense.

With the additions of Mitch Haniger and Ross Stripling, they might have added 10 wins of value, although they have yet to replace Carlos Rodón, who was a 5-win pitcher and gave them 178 innings in 2022. They also aren’t likely to see much production behind the plate or from first base or DH, and more playing time has exposed Mike Yastrzemski as a platoon or part-time player, not a regular in center field. They’re better, but this can’t be the last big move for San Francisco if they want to catch the Dodgers and Padres.

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The Correa signing leaves just one of the big four free agent shortstops still unsigned in Dansby Swanson, the one who came into free agency with the shortest track record of strong production, as his defensive value took a big jump in 2022 and he isn’t the hitter that the other three (Correa, Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts) have been. There are more clubs with money and a clear need at short than there are Dansby Swansons, with the Angels, Cubs and Twins at the top of the list, while other teams, like Boston and Atlanta, could at least upgrade at the position.

The trade market also seems to be warming up, and a couple of teams have some surplus at the position, with Bryson Stott pushed over to second base by the Turner signing, and the Orioles now facing a logjam at short between incumbent Jorge Mateo, top prospect Gunnar Henderson, and a virtual parade of shortstop prospects behind those players, from Joey Ortiz to last year’s No. 1 draft pick Jackson Holliday. Mateo can’t hit at all, with a comically bad .267 OBP last year, but he’s a plus defender at short and a plus-plus runner who led the AL in stolen bases last year. He’s superfluous for the Orioles, but he’d be an upgrade for a couple of teams.

(Picture: David Berding/Getty Images)

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