Stop the free agent talk! The lockout has commenced and with it there will be no more free agent signings until MLB and the MLB Players’ Association agree on a new CBA for the next five years. That being said, there are still several big-name free agents who remained unsigned through the Wednesday CBA deadline, the biggest of which is undoubtedly longtime Astros shortstop Carlos Correa.
Correa recorded a 6.6 WAR in 2021 — 0.6 more than the next highest shortstop in this loaded 2021 free agent class (Trevor Story), and Correa did it all while being the youngest free agent shortstop of them all. Correa posted the highest 2021 WAR of any free agent still available outside of Freddie Freeman. What Correa has over Freeman, though, is a Platinum Glove Award. Correa won the coveted award last season at the shortstop position. Last year, Correa made 156 out of zone plays. One hundred fifty-six! Just so you know how nuts that number is, the National League Gold Glove winner at shortstop, San Francisco’s Brandon Crawford made just 88 such plays all season. Correa has incredible range and anticipation and still has several years left in his prime at the position... so why would any team want Correa to make the transition to third base?
Apparently, several teams want Correa to make the switch, at least enough for Jon Heyman to tweet about it. And Correa isn’t the only shortstop getting these types of inquiries. Former Rockies’ shortstop Story is also being asked to move to the hot corner.
Story makes more sense. While a great defender when balls are hit to him, Story doesn’t quite have Correa’s range. This in turn makes Story a much better fit at third as the area for a third baseman to cover isn’t as large as a shortstop’s. Story also has a very strong arm, a prerequisite for anyone playing third. Correa also has a phenomenal arm — he used to hit 97 mph during infield drills in 2012 after all — but his skill set is more in line with that of a shortstop compared to Story.
So, why would any team want Correa to move to third? Clearly, Correa is a premier defender at short and as long as he wants to stay at the position, there’s seemingly no reason to make him switch. That’s all true, but there are some factors that could play into whether Correa would be willing to make the move.
Heyman mentions in his tweet that Correa is close friends with Alex Rodriguez, who of course made the transition to third base when he joined the Yankees in 2004, one year after Rodriguez won a Gold Glove at the shortstop position with the Texas Rangers. Rodriguez made the switch because he wanted the opportunity to play with his longtime friend Derek Jeter, but Jeter was the clear option at shortstop for the Yankees.
Outside of his remarkable friendship with Astros’ second baseman José Altuve, Correa has shown friendly tendencies to another shortstop in the MLB, Francisco Lindor of the New York Mets. The two of them have played together before as members of Team Puerto Rico during the 2017 World Baseball Classic, and Correa has expressed an interest in beating Lindor’s monster contract that the former Cleveland ballplayer received prior to last season. That sounds like a friendly rivalry to me. Correa even hinted at the possibility of joining the Mets late last season. However, I doubt the Mets would be willing to shell out that kind of money for Correa given how poorly Lindor played his first year in Flushing. Lindor wasn’t bad, just not worth the money he was given. That being said, the Mets do love to go big or go home on monster contracts (see Bobby Bonilla), so who knows?
There’s probably another reason teams want Correa to make the switch to third though. To put it bluntly, there just aren’t many great free agent third basemen. Quick, who are the best free agent third basemen available?
Then who? Kyle Seager? Eduardo Escobar (who’s already signed by the way)? Matt Duffy?
There are several teams out there right now with a franchise cornerstone at short but a big hole at third. The San Francisco Giants have Brandon Crawford at short, but will most likely lose Kris Bryant to free agency, and their best option otherwise is the oft-injured Evan Longoria. The Milwaukee Brewers were sixth in MLB in weighted Runs Created-plus last season at the shortstop position, but were in the bottom half of the league in that category at third base. There just aren’t many great options to fill that hole at third base, so why not convert a shortstop to play third base? It’s a devious plan, indeed.
Correa plays a mean third base according to people who saw him play when he was younger. I’m sure the transition wouldn’t be very difficult for Correa to make. However, the choice is his to make. Shortstops are in high demand right now, so perhaps he believes remaining purely a shortstop increases his value. I don’t know what’s going on in his head. Personally, I wouldn’t want to mess with what Correa has going on right now. He’s comfortable at shortstop, so let him play shortstop.
We saw what happened to Eugenio Suarez after he made the switch from third base to shortstop to start the 2021 season. Suarez was a fine (not great, but fine) defender, but with his focus shifted toward learning his new position, his bat, which had been a strong point for Suarez in years past, took a major hit. He was never able to recover from that early season slump. Was it because he’d become too predictable at the plate? Maybe, but many also seem to believe that the positional switch had something to do with his massive drop in production as well. Nobody wants to see that happen to Correa.
So, here’s my advice, if you don’t absolutely have to move Correa to third, make like the Beatles and Let it Be.