Could the Cubs make Twins shortstop Carlos Correa the new face of the franchise?

CHICAGO — Carlos Correa wowed Cubs officials with an impressive display of power during pre-draft practice at Wrigley Field in 2012. Dale Sveum, the Cubs manager at the time, kicked off batting practice at Correa and compared him to a young Alex Rodriguez. The Cubs thought they were in a strong position to sign the 17-year-old shortstop from Puerto Rico at No. 6 — until the Astros reached an agreement to make Correa the No. 1 pick with a $4.8 million signing bonus under the slot. . The Cubs and Astros, the bottom two teams in National League Central that lost 208 games that year, won the World Series in 2016 and 2017, turning tanking into standard practice within Major League Baseball. .

After the Cubs eliminated key parts of their championship core with a jaw-dropping sale at last year’s trade deadline, Correa became the free agent who could change the perception of an organization in decline. Threading the competitive needle now while building for the future is extremely difficult, but Correa’s presence could have helped the business side and the baseball side of the operation. Imagine Correa as the telegenic face and bilingual voice of “The Next Great Cubs Team,” a Gold Glove shortstop to replace Javier Báez and promote a Marquee Sports Network lacking the star power of Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant. But the Cubs never made a formal offer to Correa during MLB’s frenetic post-lockout period, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.

Is the third time a charm? Correa can opt out of his three-year, $105.3 million contract with the Twins after this season, when he’ll be 28 and not tied to a qualifying offer and the draft compensation system. Once again, Cubs fans will be on Correa Watch, assuming they haven’t ignored a team trending toward 100 losses this season.

While acknowledging that he’s fully focused on the American League-leading Twins, who played the first of 16 remaining games against the White Sox on Monday night, Correa answered several questions from the Cubs. Representatives for Correa spoke with the Cubs before the lockout but had no conversation afterward.

“(The Cubs) were interested, but they felt like they were in a rebuilding phase,” Correa said. “I’ve always been on winning teams and I’ve always had winning seasons. The rebuilding phase is not something I want to be part of. One of the main reasons I signed here was because I saw an opportunity to win the division and make the playoffs. Right now is the 4th of July and I don’t regret this decision at all. It was definitely the best decision I made. »

The Twins are delighted with what they have received from Correa and that extends far beyond the pitch. Presented as a good candidate for player and team by his newly hired agent, Scott Boras, the Twins needed just 14 hours to sign Correa on March 22.

They thought they would add a stellar player, mid-range batter, and exceptional defenseman with a high baseball IQ who could help improve the rest of the roster. What they didn’t know was that they would receive a versatile motivator, a player who knows how to lead from the front or wherever needed within the club. Correa isn’t afraid to say it like he is when the Twins need to hear it, just as he isn’t intimidated to defer to centre-back Byron Buxton.

The Twins have thrived with Correa’s presence in the clubhouse and they wouldn’t mind if he returned next season, although club officials acknowledge it’s a long shot the shortstop would round a huge payday for a second straight offseason. But, with top prospect Royce Lewis sidelined until July 2023 after undergoing a second surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament, the Twins would have no problem re-signing Correa if he wanted to stay.

Like most baseball executives, Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer values ​​optionality and operates in a less emotional way than Theo Epstein, his legendary predecessor and longtime colleague in Boston and Chicago. From Hoyer’s perspective, the number of years is more problematic than the dollars guaranteed with these long-term contracts. Ideally, the Cubs would layer those offers from offseason to offseason, buy time for their prospects, and stay competitive at the major league level without limiting their options going forward. And then go “when the time is right,” as Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney recently told 670 The Score, the team’s flagship radio station.

The problem, from the clubhouse’s perspective, is that winning isn’t a switch that can be turned on and off. Postponing until 2024 or 2025 is an affront to fans paying for one of baseball’s most expensive baseball experiences. The two big free agents the Cubs have added for this transition season — Marcus Stroman and Seiya Suzuki — have underperformed primarily due to injuries. Desperate would be too strong a word to describe the mood – the Cubs have a large pool of young talent and better infrastructure than in 2012 – but the start of another rebuild has definitely put the whole organization on edge. defensive.

The Cubs have earned skepticism about their willingness to spend, doubts nurtured by their fans and the Chicago media after a harsh response to financial losses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Laying off more than 100 employees in 2020, trading Yu Darvish to the Padres after winning a division title and Kyle Schwarber without a bid rather than putting him through the arbitration system has fueled that cynicism.

It’s impossible to know the full extent of the upcoming offseason before the August 2 trade deadline. The decision on outfielder Ian Happ — a successful first-round pick at All-Star level and under club control next year — will be particularly telling on the organization’s schedule. Still, it’s almost inconceivable that the Cubs wouldn’t have a huge winter after cutting so hard and having to fill so many positions. Their major league committed payroll for next year is $94 million, according to RosterResource, or nearly $109 million in terms of luxury tax accounting. At the end of the 2023 season, Stroman could be out of his contract, Jason Heyward’s mega-deal will be wiped off the books, and the Cubs will hold a $16 million option on Kyle Hendricks (assuming he’s not traded until then) and a $6 million option for wide receiver Yan Gomes. Otherwise, Suzuki and infielder David Bote are the only Cubs players under guaranteed contracts for 2024.

When Correa became available, the Twins knew they had to act fast. Their core group, the one that led them to the playoffs in 2017, 2019 and 2020, is hungry to win but is partly responsible for the longest playoff losing streak in major North American sports history. , an 18-game series dating back to 2004. It’s full of mishaps, minimal offenses and poorly executed pitches. They looked at Correa’s playoff resume (he played 79 playoff games) and figured his additions with Gary Sánchez, Gio Urshela, Sonny Gray and Joe Smith might get them there.

Players have regularly mentioned how Correa has brought a new way of thinking to the clubhouse. He delivers similar messages about the winning mindset as other previous teammates with gravity, but in a much more effective way, and they eat it. It’s one of the reasons the Twins avoided a three-game plus losing streak in 2022 and managed to bounce back steadily when faced with adversity, whether bullpen meltdowns, massive injuries or the shock departure of pitching coach Wes Johnson mid-season. Last week.

The Cubs will use the next three months as an evaluation period, but manager David Ross continues to rave about shortstop Nico Hoerner, another first-round pick whose performance is already worth 2.4 WAR this season. according to Baseball-Reference. Hoerner always believed he was capable of playing shortstop at the major league level, and so far he’s remained healthy enough to prove it. Hoerner is also an emerging leader in the Wrigley Field clubhouse, focused on winning rather than individual accolades. The Cubs already know that Hoerner is a Gold Glove-caliber second baseman, a selfless teammate and a Stanford grad. Pairing Correa with Hoerner would give Cubs pitchers a dynamic combination in the middle to work behind them.

A major hurdle has already been removed as Correa will be exempt from the qualifying offer that has slowed any momentum toward Chicago. The Cubs put the value of the draft pick they would have had to give up to sign Correa — and the corresponding money they would have lost to their pools for draft bonuses and international signings — at around $20 million. While that projection may seem high, Mets owner Steve Cohen gave some insight when speaking out on his Twitter account after his baseball operations team failed to sign the pitcher. Vanderbilt Kumar Rocker, the No. 10 pick in last year’s draft: “Education time – baseball draft picks are worth up to 5 times their pitch value for clubs. I am never afraid of investments that can bring me this type of return.

Correa expects the Cubs to return if he is available. He noticed when Cubs fans did their best to attract him via social media and appreciated their efforts. High fan expectations led Correa to believe the Cubs will be very active this offseason, and he has always enjoyed the organization.

“Wrigley is Wrigley and the Cubs are the Cubs – it’s a great organization with such a huge fan base,” he said.

But for now, his focus is on the Twins.

Correa loves playing alongside Buxton and in the friendly atmosphere created by Twins manager Rocco Baldelli. He hasn’t been in Minnesota for four months yet and has already said he could see a long-term adjustment. He wants to help the Twins take the next step.

“Honestly, I’m not even thinking about (free agency) right now,” Correa said. “It didn’t cross my mind. A lot of people have talked about opt-outs and this and that. I still feel like I want to help this team achieve that ultimate goal and I still feel like I still have a lot to do this year. My season is only getting better month by month. I plan to keep doing that and stay focused on this group of guys.

(Photo: Jay Biggerstaff/Getty Images)

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