Astros can’t afford to delay Correa’s promotion
I’m not going to reprise my Kris Bryant hissy fit, kicking and screaming, calling for a grievance, questioning the very meaning of life itself.
I’m just going to ask . . . quietly . . . patiently . . . politely . . .
WHERE THE HELL IS CARLOS CORREA?
Oh, I know where he is – Triple-A. And I know where he should be – starting at shortstop for the Houston Astros.
Welcome to another installment of service-time shenanigans, in which we ask, “If not for Super Two considerations, would Correa be in the majors today?”
No, wait, that’s not fair.
Strictly from a baseball perspective, the Astros’ handling of Correa makes more sense than the Cubs’ handling of Bryant at the beginning of the season.
Bryant clearly was ready for the majors; the Cubs started him in the minors to gain an extra year of control before he became eligible for free agency. As I wrote at the time, I would have done the same thing.
Correa, 20, is about 2¾ years younger than Bryant, and he missed the second half of last season with a broken right fibula. Even though he destroyed Double-A this season, batting .385 with a 1.185 OPS in 133 plate appearances, the Astros want to see him follow a normal path of development and make a final stop at Triple-A.
Except Correa is not normal. The Astros’ situation is not normal. And some of the obstacles that prevented Bryant from making the Cubs’ Opening Day roster are not obstacles here.
This is, or should be, a baseball decision, a decision between Correa and the Astros’ current shortstops, Marwin Gonzalez and Jonathan Villar, a decision that could influence whether Houston steals the surprisingly mediocre AL West.
Which is to say, not much of a decision at all.
The Astros already have gained an additional year of control on Correa, just as the Cubs did with Bryant and Addison Russell. Oh, the ‘Stros could wait another month or so and ensure that Correa does not qualify for an extra year of arbitration. But all they would be doing is saving money, and to what end?
Yes, we’re talking about millions of dollars. But we’re also talking about a $9 billion industry, and a franchise that banked serious cash while fielding payrolls of $26 million in 2013 and $50 million in ’14. As if those aren’t mitigating enough factors, Correa will help sell tickets. And if he helps the Astros reach the postseason, he will help pay for himself.
The Cubs, you may recall, were hell-bent on gaining an extra year of control over Bryant partly out of fear that his agent, Scott Boras, would resist a contract extension before the player became a free agent. Well, Boras does not represent Correa; Greg Genske of the Legacy Sports Group does.
Genske has agreed to numerous extensions over the years, most recently for the Indians’ Michael Brantley (though, ahem, not for the Astros’ George Springer). Such extensions often include a discount on a player’s arbitration years in exchange for long-term security – another reason why in this case the Super Two consideration should be insignificant.
Here is all that matters:
Astros shortstop Jed Lowrie will be out through the All-Star break after undergoing right-thumb surgery. Gonzalez is batting .232 with a .620 OPS, Villar .182 with a .432 OPS. And the Astros, since their 10-game winning streak, have lost six of eight, averaging just two runs per game.
Ask anyone in the sport — Correa vs. Gonzalez/Villar is no contest. Never mind that Correa has been one of the youngest players at every level; rival scouts and executives will tell you that he looks like a man among boys. Indeed, some think it’s possible that Correa will become the best player in the Astros’ 54-year history.
Yes, Correa has played only 30 games above Class A, and only one at Triple-A. But what happens in two weeks if he is dominating Triple-A and the Astros’ four-game lead in the AL West has disappeared? The team would promote him then, right? So why even wait?
Sure there is risk, but if Correa struggles, the Astros can always return him to Triple-A. Teams overstate the trauma for elite players who get demoted; Mike Trout seemed to handle it just fine. The bigger question might be what happens when Lowrie returns, but the Astros knew they would face such a day of reckoning from the moment they signed Lowrie to a three-year, $23 million free-agent contract last December.
Correa was looming then, and he is looming now. The sooner the Astros promote him, the better they will be.