Tuesday brought word from 670 The Score’s Bruce Levine that the Cubs not only have the money and desire to pursue Carlos Correa once the lockout ends, but that the interest is mutual. The sticking point is that Chicago would “rather not go 10 years” for a player who is almost certainly going to want that length and/or to top the record of $341 million for a shortstop contract.
Levine joined Jake Asman, Cody Stoots, and Brad Kellner on ESPN Houston’s The Wheelhouse Wednesday afternoon to discuss his report and to add a little more color.
“There’s certainly great interest in Carlos Correa with a number of teams, but the Chicago Cubs may indeed by the ones to step up and step forward once there’s a lockout that’s over,” Levine said. “They expressed interest in each other before the lockout…and now the Cubs are sitting there, they have a lot of money to spend and a lot of it may go toward Carlos Correa.”
Levine mentioned the concerns about Correa’s back, questions about which are only growing louder during the transaction void as national voices join the chorus of others questioning the All-Star’s durability. Then there’s the risk of a 10-year deal for any player, something Jed Hoyer has noted several times since the end of the 2021 season.
“The consensus is that a seven-year deal would be probably what the Cubs are gonna try to convince Correa of doing [emphasis mine],” Levine explained. “I don’t know if that’s gonna get it done considering Correa is a 27-year-old player, he played 148 games last year, he was a dominant player in the playoffs again, he played most of the games in 2020 in the truncated season.
“So maybe those injury issues are a little bit overrated. When you look at the overall player, you know you’re gonna have to pay high, you’re gonna have to pay many years. The hangup might be with what years he wants and what teams like the Cubs will be willing to offer.”
Bingo. I wrote in the earlier piece on this topic that reports about the Cubs not wanting to go 10 years felt sort of like setting up an eventual excuse for when Correa signs elsewhere. However, this could be a matter of the team getting around the lockout and essentially using Levine as a negotiator. Perhaps they’re leaking concepts and making sure they go public so Correa and his reps can mull over some ideas.
“The Cubs won’t hesitate to offer an opt-out after three years or after four years, or both,” Levine continued. “It could work both ways to where Correa gets the opportunity to opt out after even two years and maybe get another fortune from somebody else at age 29.
“How does that sound to you if you offered $35 million a year for seven years, you bank $70 million after two and you still have a chance to go out and try to get another contract?”
If you’re asking me personally, I would gladly take $35 million for one year and then I’d never work again in my life. But I’m not an elite shortstop who’s looking to be paid like the best in his field and who certainly has specific targets he feels need to be reached. So while getting a record AAV over a shorter period would certainly be nice, Correa’s focus at this point seems to be on the total value.
Could that have the Cubs pivoting in a different direction as they look to keep adding talent to fuel a turnaround that no longer feels like a rebuild after signing Marcus Stroman?
Levine joined Matt Spiegel and Alyssa Bergamini on 670 The Score Thursday afternoon, doubling down on the idea that the Cubs aren’t done with big moves and offering further details on their shortstop pursuit. More specifically, he was very clear that the Cubs indeed seem to have zeroed in on Correa and do not view Trevor Story as an alternative.
“I really don’t so, I don’t think people are that high on Story to give him a long-term deal,” Levine answered when asked whether the Cubs viewed the former Rockies star as Plan B should Correa fall through. “He’s had some issues, he’s had some throwing issues, he’s had some arm and shoulder issues. I don’t know what Story’s gonna get, I don’t know where he’s gonna go, but I think the possibility for his free agency is that he signs a shorter-term deal.”
Back to Correa, no pun intended, and what kind of deal the Cubs might try to convince him to take. Spiegel was understandably skeptical of the notion that something shy of 10 years would get it done, but Levine went back to the early opt-out again to make what appears to be an oddly specific case.
“He might [get 10 years], but I have a better contract for both sides…Seven years at $224 million. That’ll give you an AAV of $32 million, okay? He can get more, but if you make him the highest-paid position player in baseball in 2022 and 2023 at $37 million per year and you give him an opt-out for that third year and then the rest of that contract reads ($30 million per year), that’s an AAV of 32.
“Everybody wins when he has $37 million a year that he’s making in ’22 and ’23. He jumps over Trout as the highest-paid position player in baseball. I rest my case, Your Honor.”
Ed. note: If you only came here for the rumors, you may want to stop now. What follows is a fairly lengthy exploration of contract structures that might not appeal to the masses.
As cool as it sounds that he could best Trout in that regard, Correa and his agent would still have to be looking at it and wondering whether they could secure more than eight years and $267 million two years from now. That’s how much it would take to reach Francisco Lindor‘s deal, a feat that seems unlikely even with that high early AAV.
Not only is Lindor’s $34.1 million AAV $2 million higher than Levine’s proposal for Correa, but Correa would have to land another $117 million for three years if he were to play out all seven years with the Cubs. That’s $39 million AAV for his ages 36-39 seasons, not exactly the kind of thing a player would want to bank on.
If the Cubs are going to be able to convince Correa to forego three years of security, I can’t imagine any structure that gets it done at $80 million less in total value. Nor can I imagine them offering an opt-out after only two years unless the third and/or fourth years provide much higher annual salaries that Correa would only turn down if he’s performing at an MVP level.
Even with the Cubs signaling very clearly that they intend to compete in short order, losing a foundational player at the peak of his prime would create a big hiccup. Their stated plans see the organization starting to produce impact talent on a more regular basis in 3-5 years, at which point Correa could move to third base or DH and continue to provide tremendous value. Of course, losing a huge financial commitment would mean being able to replace Correa with another elite free agent.
The only way I see a concept like the one Levine espouses working out is if it starts out at something like $35 million for the first year and $40 million for the second, at which point Correa could opt out. He would then have additional opt-outs after the third and fourth years, each of which would pay him $45 million per year. From that point, the annual salary drops to $30 million for the final three years. That’s a $255 million guarantee ($36.4M AAV) with a $75 million minimum ($37.5M AAV), either of which top Trout.
Correa could opt out after two years with the chance to surpass Lindor’s total, or he could get $165 over four years to score $41.25 million AAV and then bounce at 31 years old if he thinks he can top $30 million AAV. The central tenet of my idea is that you’ve got to incentivize the third and fourth years to a much higher degree in order to keep him around for what should be the most integral years of the deal from all angles.
Those are also the years with the greatest financial flexibility, as the Cubs will be calling up younger players and watching other big deals fall off the books. Correa would be heading into his age-32 season at that point, at which point it becomes more difficult to project a player’s continued production, so seeing him opt-out wouldn’t be such a bad thing. And if he does choose to stick around, his hit on the actual payroll and on AAV is lower.
Or, and hear me out on this next part because it’s really wild, the Cubs could simply offer Correa 10 years and $350 million. The AAV would be less than in the shorter examples, they probably wouldn’t have to convince him of anything, and they’d have a lot less competition from other teams that might be more willing to get creative with options on shorter deals.
No one knows what the financial parameters will be 7-10 years from now, so it feels like a really big mistake to whiff on a coveted player because you’re worried about the budget that far down the road. That’s a lot easier to say when it’s not my money, but the Cubs would actually have more flexibility over the next seven years if they inked a longer deal.
Wow, that was a lot more than I intended to say and the timing is pretty terrible what with this being Christmas Eve and all. Thanks for spending some of your day with us, we truly do appreciate each of you. Yes, even those harboring the belief that I’m a moron who knows nothing about baseball or the Cubs. Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone.