Despite a strong season from Nico Hoerner, all signs point to the Cubs being a major factor in the upcoming free agent market, specifically when it comes to the loaded shortstop class.
That group could include not only Trea Turner and Dansby Swanson, but also Xander Bogaerts and Carlos Correa, the latter of whom recently indicated he plans on opting out of the deal he signed with the Minnesota Twins last offseason.
Correa, the youngest of the four, has been connected to Chicago for years – stretching back to his pre-draft workout at Wrigley Field in 2012. Last winter, rampant speculation swirled around the former AL Rookie of the Year and the Cubs, only for him to sign with what felt like the unlikeliest of teams in the Twins.
But with Correa poised to test the free agent waters once again, the Cubs are already viewed as early favorites to land the 28-year-old infielder. The other team specifically called out by FanSided’s own Robert Murray, though, is a bit of a surprise given their complete lack of spending in recent years: the Baltimore Orioles.
"The Orioles have a strong young core, headlined by Adley Rutschman, and are viewed by rival executives as a team that could make a splash in free agency. Correa, arguably the best free-agent shortstop, would fit that description … if the price is right. One note to consider: Mike Elias, the Orioles general manager, was the Astros’ amateur scouting director when Houston drafted Correa."
Everything Murray points out is spot-on and I don’t think you can look past that connection to Elias, either. Then again, everyone thought Correa was a lock to wind up in Detroit last winter in a reunion with former Astros manager AJ Hinch – but we all know how that played out.
Baltimore has just $19 million on the books (excluding arbitration salaries) next year, so handing a mega-deal to Correa would hardly handcuff the team moving forward. A winter headlined by a superstar free agent signing and a potential extension of Adley Rutschman would go a long way toward setting the franchise’s path forward. But they won’t be alone in their pursuit of Correa.
Cubs, Orioles both have young rosters and money to spend
The Cubs, as I noted above, were the other team specifically connected to Correa by Murray – and, honestly, you can apply a lot of the same logic to Chicago as you can Baltimore: they’re young, have a strong farm system and have no major contracts on the books moving forward.
"The Cubs have expressed confidence in Nico Hoerner as the long-term shortstop. But Jed Hoyer recently told reporters: “The way the game is trending, athleticism in the middle infield will make a big difference.” The Cubs were linked to Correa last offseason and once again, they’ll have a plethora of options to consider (Xander Bogaerts, Trea Turner, Dansby Swanson)."
David Ross’ club ranked ninth in the Senior Circuit last year with a .378 slugging percentage and 11th in runs. They really lacked a consistent impact bat in the middle of the order – and Correa would certainly add some thump to the roster moving forward.
Dating back to the start of the 2019 season, Correa carries a 130 OPS+ and .281/.360/.481 line. A middle infield combination of Correa (5.4 bWAR) and Hoerner (4.5bWAR) would rank among the best double play tandems in all of baseball, while also adding a strong veteran presence to the clubhouse.
Despite his ties to the Astros’ controversial 2017 sign-stealing scandal, teammates and coaches alike in Minnesota lauded his impact in the clubhouse and behind the scenes this year. Without Jason Heyward, this team will need a proven voice in the mix and Correa could be just that.
As Murray noted, Hoyer will have his pick of the group this winter. Money seems to be no object to either the front office or ownership – now, we wait and see which guy fits what the Cubs are looking for as they look to reach the postseason next fall for the first time since getting shown the door early in 2020 by Miami in a series that marked the beginning of the end on the North Side.