Carlos Correa and the Minnesota Twins are family. For now.
By Tyler Kepner
He was the first overall choice in his draft class, a high school shortstop with speed and power and the curiosity to keep learning. His task, someday, was to lead his team to a prize it had coveted for decades: the World Series trophy.
A decade ago, that was Carlos Correa. Five years ago, it was Royce Lewis. Now, after completing his mission with the Houston Astros, Correa is Lewis’ teammate with the Minnesota Twins. The union might not last long, but they hope to make the most of it.
He’s a winner, you can tell,” said Lewis, 22, who was injured last season and has not yet appeared in the majors. “He’s always helping out teammates. The first day he came up to me and said: ‘Hey, man, I’ll teach you whatever you want to know. I’m always here to help you. We’re family now.’ ”
The Twins and Correa are embracing the old Olive Garden slogan: When you’re here, you’re family. Correa’s three-year, $105.3 million contract, made official this week, gives him a record average annual salary for an infielder. It also gives him a chance to opt out after one season and explore free agency again.
Correa, 27, did not find a new team before the 99-day lockout began Dec. 2. In January he hired a new agent, Scott Boras, who got a short-term salary bench mark for Correa in a place where he loves to hit. Correa has a .413 average at Target Field with a 1.205 on-base plus slugging percentage, his best in any current major league park.
“Obviously we wanted to build a bridge,” Boras said. “But Carlos’ biggest concern was, ‘I want to go somewhere where I play well, do well and I want to have a chance to win.’ And certainly Minnesota fit that scenario for him.”
Correa might seem like an odd fit for the Twins, who went 73-89 last season to finish at the bottom of the American League Central, 20 games behind the Chicago White Sox. But if any franchise knows how quickly things can change, it is Minnesota.
Behind Correa at a news conference in Fort Myers, Florida on Wednesday was a floor-to-ceiling mural of memorable Twins players, including Hall of Fame pitcher Jack Morris, who left after only one season. But Morris made that season count, helping lift Minnesota from last place to the 1991 championship and winning the World Series Most Valuable Player Award. The Twins have not been back since.
“How do we make this look like a long-term partnership?” said Derek Falvey, the Twins’ president of baseball operations. “We recognize that takes work and time and we’re going to invest and get to know each other. The contract structure is creative and unique and we’ll address that at the right time. But we’re just excited about having him now and building that relationship and seeing where it takes us.”
The Twins signed their wondrous but fragile center fielder, Byron Buxton, to a seven-year, $100 million contract extension in November. They have added right-handers Sonny Gray and Dylan Bundy to a young rotation, and will pursue starting help from Oakland if the A’s make Sean Manaea or Frankie Montas available. To help afford Correa (who will make more by himself than the entire roster of the Baltimore Orioles, according to Spotrac), the Twins traded Josh Donaldson, their expensive third baseman, to the New York Yankees for catcher Gary Sánchez and infielder Gio Urshela.
“I see the talent in the clubhouse and I get excited when I talk to the guys,” Correa said. “With the right information and the right work we can put in as a team, I think we can get so much better.”
Correa arrived in the majors in 2015 as a natural leader. “We all have to learn from him,” said José Altuve, then a three-time All-Star, about a month into Correa’s career. Correa would help Houston to six playoff appearances and three pennants, including a 2017 title that was marred by an illegal sign-stealing scheme.
In the aftermath of that scandal, which erupted in early 2020, Correa probably did more interviews and offered more candor — and defiance — than any other Astro. His words may not have satisfied angry fans or rivals, but his status as the Astros’ de facto spokesperson underscored his value as a team leader.
“In Houston he helped all our pitchers, just talking about the game,” said Twins reliever Joe Smith, a teammate with the Astros. “The guy’s so smart about the game, he just makes everybody better. When you sign a guy, you want him to perform but you also want him to be right in the clubhouse as a leader, and he is.”
Correa said he was open to signing anywhere; he and his wife, Daniella — they got engaged on the field at Dodger Stadium after the 2017 World Series — have a young son and don’t spend much time out on the town. But he emphasized to Falvey and Twins manager Rocco Baldelli that he hoped to stay for a while.
“Like I told Rocco and I told Derek, we’re not seeing this like a one-year thing,” Correa said. “We’re seeing this as: ‘I want to build a championship culture in this organization; I want to show you guys what I can bring to the table so we can have a long-term relationship at some point.’ I’m very excited to show them what I can do, and for this team to start building that championship level and championship mentality for years to come.”
The Twins introduced Correa just after the Red Sox welcomed another free agent shortstop, Trevor Story, at their camp a few miles away. Story, formerly of the Colorado Rockies, will switch to second base for Boston, which gave him a six-year, $140 million deal.
Those signings resolved the destinations for a much-hyped class of players: six current or former shortstops who had, at one point, been eligible for free agency after the 2021 season. The group, which also included Javier Báez, the New York Mets’ Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, wound up with new deals that averaged nearly $29.2 million per season and totaled more than $1.22 billion.
Those players did not all gravitate to perennial contenders in big markets; Báez went to the Detroit Tigers, Seager and Semien to the Texas Rangers, and while the Rockies lost Story, they gave an even bigger deal (seven years, $182 million) to Kris Bryant. The Twins, then, have company as a surprise team hoping to improve in a hurry.
“It’s rare that you have brilliant talents who are also great leaders and communicators,” said Boras, who also negotiated the deals for Bryant, Seager and Semien. “And when they are available, they’re franchise-changing.”