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Carlos Correa's free agent saga comes full circle

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The Minnesota Twins tried not to make the press conference by announcing the biggest free agent signing in franchise history over how the player at the center of it all had already agreed to play for two other teams this offseason. But it did.

Carlos Correa had been a Twin (after seven years with the Houston Astros) for a minute, and then he was a free agent that the Twins desperately wanted to bring back. Over the course of a single season, they fell in love with the player and the person and spoke openly about that adoration. When Correa was in Minnesota, that feeling certainly seemed mutual; but money, of course, can make many places look attractive.

That’s how Correa ended up agreeing with the San Francisco Giants, who planned to pay him $350 million over 10 years. But for the twins – and for the story that would be told when all was said and done – the team and even the terms weren’t the important part.

“I remember calling him late at night and wishing him well,” Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said Wednesday at a news conference. “It was an emotional conversation. It was an honest conversation on both sides. And what I took away from that conversation was how much of his heart was here, how much he invested in this organization, how much he cared about us as a group.”

To a cynic, this might reek of revisionist history and bad bologna, but here’s the cold, hard truth: After failing physicals with the Giants and New York Mets, Correa – whose leg still turned to dust, and indeed looks pretty stable, at least for now – would play for one of the other 28 teams at the end of a very strange, public and potentially ignominious saga. In Minnesota, at least, both sides can celebrate it as a homecoming.

Minnesota Twins' Carlos Correa, left, wears a team jersey next to Twins President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey at Target Field on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023, in Minneapolis.  (AP photo/Abbie Parr)

Carlos Correa of ​​the Minnesota Twins (left) wears a team jersey next to Twins President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey at Target Field Wednesday in Minneapolis. (AP photo/Abbie Parr)

When he entered free agency last winter with 127 career OPS+, a Rookie of the Year award, a couple of All-Star appearances, a Gold Glove and a Platinum Glove (not to mention his World Series ring, which perhaps is for the best), Correa was presumably after the kind of $300 million-plus deal that effectively anoints a superstar. That seemed to preclude her going to the Twins.

And yet, as Correa’s agent, Scott Boras, pointed out Wednesday, if you add 2022 to the maximum version of the new contract, Correa will earn about $305 million over 11 years in Minnesota.

“Hopefully longer,” Falvey said. “We want him to finish his career as part of this organization.”

Everyone involved understands that this meeting was possible – and even then, the total is less than the two deals that fell through – only because two other teams turned down such an expensive commitment to a player with his right ankle surgically repaired. So what was different about Minnesota?

To believe Boras: familiarity. And it fits the narrative perfectly — which doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Those teams that don’t truth know Carlos—his pain tolerance and all the intangibles he brings—were making their assessments based on impersonal MRIs. The twins, however, had a season of daily contact and close observation of Correa’s durability to fall back on.

Correa said that process taught him that doctors have different opinions. Boras is not a doctor. “But I must say,” he offered, “that in medicine, and particularly in sports medicine, orthopedic functionality and day-to-day clinical examination are far more important than an MRI.”

Still, the deal finally signed after the twins performed their own physical this week was for less money overall and included a lot more convolutions than the $285 million 10-year offer they originally made this offseason. So even for the team that watched Correa take the field 136 times last season, there was some cause for concern.

It was in deciding what to do with that concern that the other two deals fell apart – the Giants’ quickly because an anxious Steve Cohen was essentially on the other line. The Mets’ one unraveled much more slowly, with the red flag looking much more threatening after a second opinion. And here, credit goes to the creativity of the Twins’ front office and what could be interpreted as Correa’s genuine interest in ending the club.

After six seasons guaranteed at a total of $200 million, the contract switches to year-to-year team options for four years, which become guaranteed if Correa reaches a certain number of appearances in the previous season. Even though they’re taking a risk that other teams have been uncomfortable with by signing Correa, it’s a smart setup for the Twins.

As Athletic’s Aaron Gleeman wrote: “For most contracts worth more than $100 million, the signing team goes into it knowing that they will be taking more and more risk each season, often to the point where the player becomes an asset. negative by the end of the deal. In this case, the twins risk is anticipated, with Correa getting the most money when he is likely to provide the most value.”

The twins got here through luck, patience and persistence – and, apparently, a little nostalgia.

“We never stopped keeping in touch,” Falvey said.

Correa, for his part, has also kept the lines of communication open with his former and future team. He said he talks to Byron Buxton daily and Jose Miranda regularly and also stays in touch with Twins hitting coach David Popkins and head coach Rocco Baldelli.

“I’ve always been involved with everything and how we can make each other better,” he said. “Even though I wasn’t formally part of the Twins at the time.”

It’s like the Correa that the twins first fell in love with to do this.

Throughout Wednesday’s press conference, there was quite a bit about Correa serving as the Twins’ assistant general manager, as well as their shortstop. It’s a knowing joke, based on comfort and familiarity, a reference to how completely he committed himself to improving the organization for what cynics would have said would only be a single season.

“I think it’s more a matter of sentiment,” Falvey said of why the team has remained so focused on Correa this offseason, even with deals apparently closed. “It felt like he wanted to be a part of it.”

Maybe Correa has figured it out. But if you’re inclined to believe the stated sentiments of the players, the story of how Carlos Correa made the most circuitous free agent journey ever, literally crossing the country only to end up right back where he started, is pretty good.