Hunter Atkins: After losing in the 2021 World Series – their third appearance in the past five seasons — the Houston Astros enter an offseason that could cost them franchise shortstop Carlos Correa in free agency. With the recent flurry of social media attention stoked by a selfie of Correa smiling in Times Square in New York City, he gave the first sign of Houston’s icy winter ahead.

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Hunter Atkins Houston spent years covering the team’s emergence into a perennial contender. The experienced sports reporter explores life for the Astros with or without the premier player of this off-season’s free agency market.

THE SHORT LIST FOR SHORTSTOP

This day seemed inevitable from the start. Drafted by Houston No. 1 overall in 2012 and debuting in June 2015, Correa fulfilled his potential in becoming the best shortstop in franchise history, and with that, guaranteed himself a pay day that would price out the Astros.

Unsurprisingly, Correa recently declined the Astros’ five-year, $160 million. Hunter Atkins of Houston expects the superstar to fetch offers twice as lucrative and long, potentially topping the 10-year, $340 million contact shortstop Francisco Lindor signed with the Mets in 2021.

Astros owner Jim Crane said that he has not ruled out re-signing Correa, but he never has splurged on a single contract surpassing $160 million. Do not expect Crane to do so, even for the American League’s best shortstop entering his age 28 season. 

In what seems like an annual winter tradition for the Astros, they could lose another MVP-level talent in Correa, following the departure of starting pitcher Gerrit Cole in 2019 and center fielder George Springer in 2020. 

Third baseman Alex Bregman, a natural shortstop who has started 107 games at the position, loomed as a convenient heir to Correa. Bregman has a .973 fielding percentage at shortstop but shifting Bregman over creates a new infield void at third base, and he is coming off the worst stretch of his career. Bregman battled injuries and batted .261 with a .785 OPS in his last two seasons Hunter Atkins says.

After missing the World Series by just one game in 2020, the Astros entered 2021 with a 22-1 shot to win the World Series according to Caesar’s Sportsbook. They won 95 games and lost in six to the Atlanta Braves in the World Series.

The Astros still have the talent to contend for another American League West title in 2022. Their chances improve significantly if they find a replacement that can match 70 to 75 percent of Correa’s production.

Correa’s defense might be more difficult to replace. He won his first Gold Glove in 2021. The Astros succeeded with the best infield in the American League behind ground ball pitchers Framber Valdez and Lance McCullers. 

The market of high-quality shortstops includes Javier Baez, Corey Seager, Trevor Story and Marcus Semien. Hunter Atkins of Houston predicts all but Baez will be cheaper signings than Correa.

The Astros could promote prospect Jeremy Peña. Houston’s No. 4 prospect had left wrist surgery in April and missed four months, returning on Aug. 10. He is considered a Major League-ready defensive player and he hit well with Class AAA Sugar Land in September, slashing .347/.410/.716 with nine homers and 18 RBIs in 24 games.

 

 

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