The current situation concerning the Astros’ All Star shortstop Carlos Correa has been a head-scratcher. Health problems have always been a concern for the super talented player dating back to his short time in the minors, but the last season and a half has changed the nature of the concerns towards skepticism and suspicion.
Here’s a quick timeline of Correa’s (who just turned 25 last Sunday) stay with the Astros organization:
- June 2012 – he is chosen as the surprise overall 1st pick in the MLB draft. The Astros sign him under slot and use the extra money to sign Lance McCullers Jr. and Rio Ruiz for over slot.
- As a 17 year old he does OK at rookie ball, but really turns it up in 2013 at A ball and is on fire half way through the 2014 season at A+ Lancaster when he suffers a serious leg break and misses the rest of the season.
- At age 20 in 2015, he spends a productive month at AA and another at AAA, before getting the call-up to the big club and earning the AL Rookie of the Year award in only 99 games.
- He has a solid season in 2016 (better than almost any SS in the team’s history) and at 22 in 2017, he is brilliant for most of the season until he breaks a thumb in mid-July. He does not come back until September, and he struggles a bit before turning things on the last week of the season and through the Astros run to the World title. He only plays 109 regular season games in 2017.
Note – to this point he has had two serious injuries that impacted chunks of two seasons, but these were the type of injuries that were for all the world to see. Things change after this.
- In 2018, Correa is on the IL for a little bit of June and a little bit of August and all of July with a back issue. Looking at the way his numbers tailed off, it is likely the injury occurred long before he went on the IL. He is never the same guy after returning to the lineup in August through the playoffs. He went from a premier hitter to a middle of the roader in one season. He only plays 110 regular season games in 2018 and that was probably more than his body should have supported.
- This season, he was rocking and rolling like the 2017 version of himself, until……he goes onto the IL at the end of May with a rib fracture from a MASSAGE??? He comes back at the end of July and is hitting well again until,…….he starts slumping in mid-August and goes on the IL with back problems.
- He misses a month and returns last week, but they plan on easing him back into the flow of things by playing him part time. After playing Friday and Saturday, he is off Sunday and then flies with the team to Seattle. His back is bothering him again and we are told he is going to miss one, wait – two, wait – the rest of the regular season.
Which brings us to the question mark part of this piece:
- Can the Astros win it all without Correa? Well, they are 50-25 with him in the lineup this season, which if my math is good means that they are a pretty darned good 54-29 without him in the lineup. So, yes they could win it without him.
- Are they better in the playoffs without him playing? A kind of trick question, because if he plays like he did before his rib break this season, the answer is no, but if he plays like he did after his back injury in 2018, the answer is yes. If he can play healthy he makes the team better even with the great job that Alex Bregman has done at short stop and Aledmys Diaz and Abraham Toro have done at third base. Just remember how many games in the 2017 playoffs came down to a play or two at the plate or in the field. If they need a 95 mph relay to gun down a winning run can anybody else do that like Correa? If Bregman was playing SS in 2017, would someone else have made the laser throws from third base to the plate to save the day? The team is better if Diaz is giving them depth off the bench rather than being in the lineup.
- Does the team put him on the playoff roster? In the playoffs not everyone may play, but you never know when you will get into 16 or 18 inning marathons (shades of 1986 or 2005) where all hands must be on-deck, not getting their ribs rubbed.
- Do the fans believe him? Back aches can be debilitating, but it is not like seeing someone in a cast. He lost a lot of credibility with the broken rib massage (maybe it was an S&M masseuse) and the latest tight back problems frustrate a populous, who would run through brick walls to get paid to play a kids game.
- What does the team do long term? Having a “now you see him, now you don’t” shortstop makes it tough on the team. A lot of what happens in a team situation revolves around the “T” word – Trust. You have to be able to trust that guy next to you, have to know he will be there when you need him, have to know he cares as much as you do. If they trade him in the off-season, they would be trading him at the low point in his value. Would they be better off to let him play some next season, show he is healthy and then trade him? Can they trust him to show he is healthy long enough to do this?
- But if the weirdness of what is happening to Carlos – is because he is lazy, he is a malingerer, he is shrewdly and trying to get traded to a bigger city, or even that he wants to get paid now, etc. ….the real question has to be “Why?” This is what makes the case even more curious. What could possibly be in it for him to miss time over aches and pains or oddly obtained injuries? He is in arbitration years right now, which means performance = $$$. Yes, he is making $5 million this season, more than most of us will make in our whole lives. But a solid, healthy 2018 would have gotten him more like $8 million this season. He is now likely ending 2019 with only 75 games played. He has 21 HRs and 59 RBIs in those 75 games. He will likely get an arbitration bump to $6 or 7 million, but if had played 150 games and put up 40 HRs and 100+ RBIs he would be staring at $10+ million. If he could show he can stay on the field he might be looking at a Bryce Harperish deal as a 27 y.o. free agent after 2021. Two more partial seasons of problems might cut that in half.
In the end, this might go away and he might turn into an iron man. Or this might haunt him the rest of his playing career. Either way it is a puzzlement.