Carlos Correa, forever tainted by the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, is among the most hated players in baseball.
Correa’s injury history includes a 2014 surgery to repair a fractured fibula and back issues that hounded and limited him in 2018 and 2019, when he played in just 185 of a total possible 324 regular-season games.
Though Correa has taken the field in 284 combined games the past two seasons, the injury concerns will follow him — and perhaps did follow him to his brief stop in San Francisco. Correa agreed to a monster contract with the Giants before a “difference of opinion,” as Giants president Farhan Zaidi put it (echoing agent Scott Boras), regarding Correa’s physical exam led to the dissolution of the contract.
As Tuesday became Wednesday and an off-the-market star suddenly was back on the market, the Mets pounced on a player trailing red flags. Presuming he passes the team’s physical, Correa will be on the left side of Buck Showalter’s infield for 12 years. In the very days after the 28-year-old “failed” another team’s doctor visit, the Mets extended the polarizing star a $315 million pact in the type of stunning, risky move that baseball teams have long tried to avoid with risky players: Today’s star can become tomorrow’s contractual albatross.
But Steve Cohen, a Mets fan who happens to own the team (and billions of dollars), may have publicized a secret that the other 29 owners did not want publicly known: There are no bad contracts in a sport without a hard salary cap. Major League Baseball mistakes are like a handyman’s: They typically can be spackled over. Millions do not matter if the team’s owner has decided they do not matter.
Cohen wants to win today, so he assembled the best team half a billion dollars could buy for 2023. Justin Verlander joined Max Scherzer at the top of the rotation, and Kodai Senga and José Quintana were added alongside Carlos Carrasco. The bullpen was rebuilt, headlined by the Mets return of Edwin Diaz and the New York return of David Robertson. Brandon Nimmo was retained, but Cohen felt the team was one bat short. So a club that already had a $341 million shortstop threw a few more hundred million dollars at the best shortstop on the market, turning Correa into a stud third baseman.
When money is removed from the equation — and for all intents and purposes, Cohen is spending as if his money does not matter — adding Correa is a stroke of brilliance. Correa is a two-way force who, by FanGraphs’ measurements, has been the 12th most-valuable player in the majors over the past two seasons, his total 10.5 WAR a smidge behind No. 11 Juan Soto and just in front of No. 13 Xander Bogaerts. Correa is a Platinum Glove Award winner whose combined OPS in 2021 and 2022 (.842) is better than every Met except Pete Alonso (.866). He is a World Series champion (even if the 2017 title probably needs an asterisk) and is tied for seventh all-time with 18 postseason home runs.
He does everything, and he does everything well. Cohen famously said he wants to win a World Series in the next “three to five years.” Next year will be Year Three.
What will Correa look like in 12 years? If Cohen does not care, then neither should you. Maybe he ages like Tom Brady, settles into his less-demanding third base spot and rounds out a Hall of Fame career. Or maybe his back issues return, and a 12-year deal ends with Correa relaxing at home, cashing paychecks and watching the Mets on TV.
Which is the stage Robinson Cano has reached. In May, Cohen could see the Hall of Fame talent was no longer himself, so he gave GM Billy Eppler the green light to designate Cano for assignment. Cohen ate about $37.6 million that he’ll finish paying out in 2023. The Cohen Mets clearly were not burned by the “bad” contract: It is not preventing them from adding more.
“Just because you spend, it doesn’t guarantee you’re going to win,” Derek Jeter, who knows about baseball life with money (with the Yankees) and without it (with the Marlins), said Wednesday at the Yankees’ news conference to reintroduce Aaron Judge, the new team captain. “Spending gives you a better chance year in and year out. … [But] organizations are trying to be creative and outsmart others.”
Sure. And the Mets, who have been overhauling their player-development system, will try to outsmart their opponents, too. But you don’t need to excel on the margins if you excel on the surface. And when contracts go “bad” — when a 39-year-old Cano bats .195 in 12 games — you can outspend your mistakes.
Is this apparent epiphany good for baseball? It is certainly good for the players and the agents. It might not be good for Giants fans, who have watched their two top targets, Judge and Correa, spurn them for New York. It will not be good for rival owners who aspire to be fiscally responsible rather than formidable.
It will be glorious for New York.
“I think having two great New York sports teams is phenomenal,” Hal Steinbrenner said when asked about Cohen’s splurge. “It’s phenomenal for the city, it’s phenomenal for the rivalry, and I’m all for it.”
So are Mets fans, who watched the Yankees welcome back their $360 million man — the American League single-season record holder for home runs — with a ceremony that was overshadowed by the size of Cohen’s wallet.
Maybe Correa’s deal is a mistake. The Giants apparently decided signing him long-term might backfire.
If so, Mets fans would eagerly await the next mistake.
Today’s front and back pages
⚾ SHERMAN: Yankees no longer the only baseball goliath in New York City
🏈 VACCARO: Jets’ matchup with Jaguars comes with playoff pressure
🏒 BROOKS: Rangers-Islanders showdown a season finale come too soon
🏀 Knicks can’t stop Pascal Siakam, Raptors as win streak comes to an end
The rising cost of aging
In just about every way, Wednesday’s Judge ceremony was incredible. Jeter handing flowers to Judge’s mother and the proverbial torch to the next Yankees captain; Aaron Boone dominating the microphone with nearly eight minutes of love extended Judge’s way; and the incredible fact it was not the news of the day on Dec. 21 in New York baseball.
The Yankees, who have proven more conscious of the luxury taxes — and dipped below the tax line in 2018 to reset their penalty status — can not allow contracts to age poorly because money has mattered in their payroll. But Judge, who signed a nine-year contract that will take him to his year-39 season, believes he can be the rare superstar who ages gracefully.
“I’ve gotten a chance to know some athletes who are playing in their 40s and what they’re doing,” said Judge, who was on the Tampa Bay Bucs sideline a few weeks ago. “I feel like I can play in my 40s. But for me, I want to be at the top of my game the whole career. I don’t want to be a liability at the end of my career, where it’s, ‘Where can we put this guy or move him around, kind of hide him.’”
So, he wants to be like Tom Brady?
“That’d be great,” said Judge, who hopes he has not signed his final contract.
Only one athlete has aged like Brady, but Judge seems to be hoping he can be the second.
If the NBA were trying to use the Knicks to send a message to the NBA, the mission appears to read: Go ahead, tamper away.
The Knicks were docked a second-round pick three drafts from now — in 2025 — as a penalty following an investigation into whether they tampered with Jalen Brunson, a free agent they landed.
“This outcome reflected a finding, following an investigation, that the Knicks engaged in free agency discussions involving Jalen Brunson prior to the date when such discussions were permitted,” the league said in a statement.
Essentially, the Knicks traded a distant second-round pick for a point guard for whom they waited decades. Brunson has been everything the Knicks could have wanted and has been the best player on what looks like a playoff team. That’s a good trade!
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