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Why Astros Why?

Today we will officially close the book on the Carlos Correa era with the Astros. This and it's partner article "Why Carlos Why" will provide you my perspective on how this team's front man and vocal leader - Carlos Correa- got to the position of no longer being with the Astros.

I want to be clear and to differentiate this from my normal work. This is far more opinion and projecting motives work here. There will be less facts and numbers. I admit this upfront- I am in the grieving process with regard to Correa leaving. Let's work through it together.

Let's start this part two with what the team has said they wanted, The Astros are an excellent baseball team and have been since 2017. The team has seen multiple veterans (Cole, Springer, etc.) leave but somehow Correa feels different. Perhaps in my mind I always thought that the others leaving was to insure the Astros had resources to keep Carlos Correa. The team drafted him number one in the 2012 draft and it is fair to call Correa the vocal leader or front man to the heart and soul of the team Jose Altuve.

In short, the goal of the Astros Front Office and Ownership is to cost efficiently compete at a championship level. What are some of the factors that make that possible?

No long Term Contracts

One of the ways Jim Crane believes efficient excellence is accomplished is to NOT offer long term contracts. There have been very few good more than seven year contracts in the MLB. The nature of the sport shows that performance drops off rapidly (when not chemically enhanced by PEDs) in the early 30s. Bill James wrote in more detail about this here. I learned this lesson from James in the 1980s. Baseball players peak in the 26-28 year old range. Correa is 27.

We told the story of Christian Yelich on this web site to help calibrate this fan base to the no long term contract reality to be applied to Correa.

In the January article "Correa's Best Options" I wrote about the long term deal issue and I said this:

DO NOT go more than 7 years with Correa and if that means he leaves, he leaves.

This is the harsh reality for Astros fans. Jim Crane does not seem willing to and probably will not go even seven years in a contract to Carlos Correa.

I have tried to prepare you for Correa to get a deal that Jim Crane would simply not match because of its length.

Willingness to allow stars to leave

The Astros have let Cole, Greinke, Graveman, Springer, Reddick Harris, McHugh among others to leave the last three years. They believe in their Farm System and development. One cannot really blame them.

I believe the Astros consider themselves capable of winning with multiple iterations of the core of this team- Cole is essentially replaced with Valdez, Greinke is replaced by Javier, Graveman is replaced by Neris, and Springer and Reddick are replaced with Tucker and McCormick/ Meyers. The bullpen is in constant flux. This is also the business of the MLB in 2022 and it is also the Tampa Bay Rays model. The Rays are notorious for trading players as they reach advanced arbitration. To be fair, this is how a MLB team can keep cycling significant talent and remain good without losing cost control. Applying the Rays Model to Correa wold have had Correa traded before the 2020 season.

Desire for smart contracts to be cost efficient

The best teams do not sign players to bad contracts and end up with dead money from players they have to DFA or pay other teams in a trade part of the contract to have the player play for them. Generally the Astros have done well at minimizing dead money.

Dead money

2021- $2.5M for Joe Smith

2020- $0

2019- $0.5M for John Singleton

During this period the Astros had multiple players being partially paid by other teams most notably Zack Greinke.

So how do we apply these principles to the Correa situation?

Before the 2021 season, the Astros offered Correa $120M/6 yrs. Before the 2021 season there was more concern whether Correa could actually play close to an entire season. The Astros were attempting to mitigate risk in two ways- cost efficiency and reduced contract length. I can not tell if the Astros even believed this was a fair offer. It wasn't and I believe it eliminated any negotiating advantage the Astros had in 2022. Correa never forgave the Astros for this low ball offer. I considered Correa gone at this point.

On 11/6/21, Mark Berman reported that the Astros offered Correa a $160M/5 Yr deal. It is not even clear today if that deal had opt outs or was still available on 3/18, This was probably the maximum deal the Astros intended to offer at the maximum length of time at the $30+M AAV level.

The challenge is that Mark Berman reported Jim Crane said two things in March.

It is not clear that these discussions ever happened. John Granato tweeted this on 3/19.

John Granato@johngranato The Astros ghosted Carlos Correa this week. James Click said he would get back to them and never did and Jim Crane did not respond at all to Scott Boras’ texts. 12:35 PM · Mar 19, 2022 from Houston, TX·Twitter for iPhone

So which is it? Does it Matter?

Well, I would submit it does. The ultimate deal Correa took was a Twins deal (although it is not officially announced as of 3/20 7PM CT) reportedly for $105M for 3 years and includes opt outs after year one and two.

This is NOT a long term contract.

While this contract would not be called cost efficient, multiple reports have indicated the Astros did not have an issue with this AAV for a short term deal. They offered a $32M AAV deal for a longer term.

This leads us to three key questions

1. What is the issue the Astros had with matching this offer?

2. Did the Astros ghost Boras so that they never even heard of this deal?

3. Was it simply that the Astros had moved on and were no longer interested in ANY deal with Correa?

I honestly don't know but lets detail each more.

1. What is the issue the Astros had with matching this offer?

Let me state up front that a team and owner have a right to reject any offer they do not like. I am trying to analyze for you WHY. When I do that, I fail to see the Astros logic.

If Correa had signed a long term deal this analysis would be easy. He didn't. If he was only after guaranteed money, he would probably have signed with Detroit. He didn't.

Let's assume they heard of this offer and were allowed to match it. Why didn't they? The opt outs the Twins offered Correa gives him a degree of control that he wanted and that many teams would not give a player.

The opt outs make it available for Correa to

- have another great year and stay healthy and then seek a long term deal after that season

- have insurance to have generational money even if he has a serious injury and stays opted in.

The Twins deal allows Correa to essentially set up a redo at Free Agency while he is still young and the SS market is less crowded.

I personally don't understand why the Astros would have an issue with this opt out arrangement.

- If Correa was good enough in 2022 or 2023 to think he was ready to test free agency again it means he played 150+ games of near MVP level SS and likely led the team to a deep postseason run. One or two years of MVP level Correa is a very good thing.

- If Correa was bad enough or hurt too much that he stayed opted in to this deal, then the only three year deal is $55M LESS than the offer the team was willing to make.

In either scenario it is a win-win. I reject the Astros position that the options were the issue. If that is their position it is not logical.

I honestly believe that Boras was giving the Astros what they said they wanted. They were willing to pay Carlos short term the Astros said. The deal Boras made with the Twins did that. However, the Astros were NOT willing to give Correa the control of when he went back into the free agent market. I believe this is horribly short sighted by the Astros.

2. Did the Astros ghost Boras so that they never even heard of this deal?

Again any team has a right to do that but any team that cares and manages PR and fan expectations owes it to their fan base to COMMUNICATE that decision. Crane said they would meet on 3/13. Granato says that the Astros froze out the Correa side for a week. Which is it? If Boras called to give the Astros a chance to match the sort of deal the Astros said they would do and Jim Crane did not respond, you as an Astros fan should be pissed.

3. Was it simply that the Astros had moved on and were no longer interested in ANY deal with Correa?

Astros PR has been heavy on Jeremy Pena. It is almost like they have been preparing for months to convince this fan base that Jeremy Pena is the answer at shortstop and that the franchise was not afraid again to show a willingness to allow stars to leave. This is ultimately Crane and Click's call. Astros fans hope they are right. In the very least it is a highly unusual decision that a team with #LevelUp expectations of a championship that the OWNER ADMITS has opportunities at CF and RP in addition to the SS position would take the additional performance risk at SS.

We wrote about Jeremy Pena here. There is reason to be optimistic but Pena has only 30 games at AAA and NONE at AA. Does he even start Day 1? It looks like the Astros are planning for that. I believe Pena will be good but how good in April and May is debatable. Can they run Pena out every day and not lose out on the number 1 or number 2 seeds should be the ultimate question asked. Does playing Pena every day make winning the more competitive AL West harder? Maybe.

The Astros signed Niko Goodrum to mitigate the Pena risk some by having a more known fielding capable SS and potentially productive platoon partner with Diaz. We wrote about that here. Think of Goodrum/ Diaz as Pena insurance.

IF the Astros ghosted Boras, it is because THEY decided they rather go with Pena at SS. They get paid to make these decisions.

They should explain their decision. They probably won't.

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