In what had already been an unprecedented spending spree in the sport for a team with a record-high payroll, Mets owner Steve Cohen had one more massive signing left: a middle-of-the-night deal for Carlos Correa.
Correa agreed to a 12-year, $315 million deal with the Mets hours after it was reported that the announcement of his deal with the Giants was being postponed because of unresolved medical results from his physical, major-league sources confirmed to The Athletic. The deal is pending a physical. For New York, he is expected to play third base.
Here’s a step-by-step explainer on why adding Correa was necessary, what it means for the Mets’ payroll in 2023 and beyond, plus how the lineup would look.
Why was this necessary?
The Mets are going for it. And by going for it, anything short of a World Series appearance with baseball’s highest-ever payroll would be a disappointment. If you’re intent on building the best team money can buy, it only makes sense to pursue the best position player available.
What the Mets had accomplished so far this winter in regards to rebuilding their pitching staff should be commended. But, remember, Cohen is a fan, too. And a fair gripe from last season with fans had remained: What about the lineup? To be clear, an upgrade offensively isn’t some outlandish wish. The Mets were good offensively. That said, regression is possible and they still have room to improve.
The Mets last season finished third in wRC+ (116). By re-signing Brandon Nimmo two weeks ago, the Mets were at least projected to run things back with a lineup adept at working pitchers, making contact and reaching base. Still, their group faded down the stretch and was held to one hit in the elimination game of their wild-card series against the Padres. While the Mets finished eighth in slugging (.412), they trailed playoff teams such as the Cardinals, Phillies, Dodgers, and Braves in the category. The Mets hit just 171 home runs, which put them 15th. Attempting to lengthen the lineup, particularly with someone who can supply a bit more power, was a worthwhile endeavor.
What’s up with Correa’s physical?
Cohen did something else unconventional: He acknowledged the deal before it became official, telling the New York Post, “We needed one more thing, and this is it.” Teams never say anything about a reported deal until a player passes a physical and it becomes official. The reason? As one former executive put it, it’s way harder to back out of a deal if a club finds a problem with the physical. To that point, the Giants announced a press conference for Tuesday, but never said what it was for.
It’s unclear what Correa’s medical issue was with the Giants, but the Mets obviously expect their deal with him to be finalized. They swooped in and made the signing happen because they seriously pursued him last week just before he agreed with San Francisco, as The Athletic first reported.
The Mets went through a similar situation in reverse during their 2021 dealings with Kumar Rocker, who, like Correa, is a Scott Boras client. The Mets selected Rocker 10th overall in the 2021 draft and the two verbally agreed to a contract. But post-draft medical concerns caused New York to back out.
What would Correa add?
Correa has never hit more than 26 home runs in a season, but he routinely hits around 20-25 home runs and scouts say that since he’s still very much in his prime, it’s probably just a matter of time before he reaches 30 one of these years. Correa is well-versed in analytics and his statistics match his intellect. In 2022, he finished in the top 7 percent for xwOBA or expected weighted on-base average. He hits balls hard, finds barrels and takes his walks.
The Mets at third base had a cumulative wRC+ of 102, right around average. Eduardo Escobar had a sizzling September in which he had a .982 OPS — the best month of his career — to boost that figure. Escobar finished with solid numbers — 106 wRC+, .726 OPS — but Correa would be quite the upgrade at the position.
Over the last two years, Correa has slugged .476 — the third basemen in that time period with a better slugging percentage are just Rafael Devers (.530), Austin Riley (.529), José Ramírez (.526), Nolan Arenado ( .513) and Manny Machado (.511).
Over the last two years, Correa has a .842 OPS — the third basemen in that time period with a better OPS are just Riley (.887), Devers (.885), Ramírez (.881), Machado (.867) and Arenado (.848).
Over the last two years, Correa has a 136 wRC+ — the third basemen in that time period with a better wRC+ are just Riley (139), Ramírez (138), Devers (137) and Machado (137).
Where does this put the Mets’ payroll?
The Mets’ total payroll projects to be around $495 million. That figure includes a tax penalty that alone will cost more than $110 million. No team in baseball has ever had a payroll exceeding $350 million.
Just consider where things were for the Mets just a few years ago under their previous ownership, led by Fred and Jeff Wilpon. New York’s payroll from 2015-19 never reached $160 million.
Correa’s $26.2 million AAV will be the fourth-largest on the Mets, behind Max Scherzer ($43.3 million), Justin Verlander ($43.3 million) and Francisco Lindor ($31.9 million).
Before the offseason spending got underway, The Athletic‘s Tim Britton projected eight years and $260 million. Britton used Machado — a former shortstop who moved to third base — and his deal with the Padres as a comparison. That was before long-term contracts this winter became all the rage. Britton’s projected deal gave Correa an annual average value of $32.5 million. That would’ve been high, even for the Mets. Earlier this winter, deals like Trea Turner’s 11-year pact with the Phillies worth $300 million ($27.2 million AAV) and Xander Bogaerts’ 11-year, $280-million deal ($25.4 million AAV) with the Padres were likely made with the idea of stretching the length out for luxury tax purposes, meaning a lower AAV.
When told of the Mets’ interest in Correa last week and asked for a prediction on the contract, industry sources suggested that it wouldn’t be shocking to see the length go to 13 years. That’s the length the Giants had offered him for $350 million ($26.9 million AAV). The Mets’ offer of 12 years, $315 million puts Correa at a similar AAV.
What about the money for the long term?
Yes, they can still sign Shohei Ohtani. Ohtani is set to be a free agent after the 2023 season, and as long as Cohen is still the Mets owner, New York should be considered the favorite to land him. The Mets’ deal with Correa shouldn’t change that.
For the Mets, a long-term contract with Correa made sense. They had the flexibility. And Correa is probably a star worth having for a while.
After their decisions this winter, the Mets were already headed toward going over at least the first tier of the threshold in 2024, too — even if Scherzer opts out, their total AAVs for players with guaranteed contracts are already at $205 million, and that’s just for nine players.
That total figure for 2024 also doesn’t take into account that by the end of 2023, Ohtani is one of a few free agents the Mets may want to add. Nor does it reflect whatever amount the Mets end up paying to Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil through either their final year of arbitration or in respective extensions; they are both set to be free agents after the 2024 season.
By 2025, the Mets’ guaranteed commitments in AAV will shrink to Lindor, Correa, Nimmo, Starling Marte, Edwin Díaz and Kodai Senga for a total of around $127 million.
They have only Lindor, Correa, Nimmo, Diaz and Senga signed beyond 2025 — and Diaz and Senga are able to opt out of their respective deals following the 2025 season.
What would the 2023 lineup look like?
At last, the Mets have secured powerful protection for Alonso — whichever way the lineup looks.
Here’s a guess based on facing a right-handed starting pitcher:
CF Brandon Nimmo (L)
3B Carlos Correa (R)
SS Francisco Lindor (S)
1B Pete Alonso (R)
RF Starling Marte (R)
2B Jeff McNeil (L)
LF Mark Canha (R)
DH Daniel Vogelbach (L)
C Omar Narvaez (L)
The order can go a few different ways — Marte could bat second, for instance, with Correa moving to fifth — but those are the likely nine. Against a lefty starting pitcher, the Mets could start Tomas Nido at catcher and use switch-hitting Eduardo Escobar at DH, among other internal options.
Lower on the list of considerations, adding Correa gives the Mets great protection at shortstop behind Lindor. Luis Guillorme, who missed time last summer because of a groin injury, is a terrific defender at any position on the infield and was formerly the Mets’ second-best option at shortstop.
What could happen next?
The Mets will make trades.
Catcher James McCann, who is owed $24 million for the next two seasons, is an obvious trade candidate — and that was true even before the Mets signed Narváez earlier this week. Escobar was the projected third baseman before Correa’s arrival, so he could be on the move as well. It’s possible that the Mets also trade starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco, but that would subtract from their depth. At one point, one rival executive said they were quietly exploring trades for Marte, too, but dealing him would be a significant blow to their lineup and the Mets are clearly trying to win.
With the left side of the infield locked up for the long term, would the Mets be more incentivized to deal prospects Brett Baty or Mark Vientos? They both play third base, but can also play left field and DH. The Mets could still use some outfield depth and it wouldn’t be surprising if they looked to further supplement their bullpen. For Cohen’s Mets, no upgrade should be seen as unrealistic.
At this point, Cohen has offered no indications whatsoever that cost matters. Whatever deals the Mets make from here should be designed to continue to bolster their chances — and expectations — of winning a championship.
(Top photo Carlos Correa: Jay Biggerstaff / USA Today)