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Braves Potential Free Agent Target: Carlos Correa

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Would one of the offseason’s biggest free agents be a fit for Atlanta?

World Series - Atlanta Braves v Houston Astros - Game Six Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

While Atlanta has not signed a free agent on Carlos Correa’s level of late, there was a report of interest back in December. Despite the report of interest, this still seems unlikely, just on the basis of everything we’ve seen from this front office. With that being said, Correa is very good and could be seen as a better investment than Freddie Freeman, given how much younger Correa is, only entering his age 27 season.

Correa was widely expected to get the biggest free agent contract this offseason, above players like Corey Seager. With that being said, Seager was also generally not expected to get a deal as large as the 10 year $325 million that he ended up getting. The deal that Seager got from the Texas Rangers is actually larger than the projections for what Correa would get. This could result in Correa getting and absolute behemoth deal, or could mean that Correa just gets something in the same range as, or flat out less than Seager got. It’s also entirely plausible that something in the CBA agreement changes the math on free agency, resulting in Correa’s market changing. The time frame will be another factor to consider, as the free agency period is likely to be pretty frantic coming out of the lockout, as it is looking increasingly likely that there will be little, if any turnaround time before spring (hopefully not summer) training begins.

Barring a significant increase in spending from the Braves, it’s extremely difficult to see the franchise affording both Correa and Freddie Freeman, which is another interesting factor when considering Correa. When the report that Atlanta had made contact with Correa’s camp came out in December, I connected the dots and combined that with a rumor that the team was showing interest in Oakland star first baseman Matt Olson and speculated that the Braves could be entertaining signing Correa and then including Dansby Swanson in a trade for Matt Olson instead of signing Freddie Freeman. That combination of moves would result in an extremely potent offense in Atlanta, although losing two fan-favorites in Freeman and Swanson would perhaps give the front office some pause, depending on how much they take that into account.

I think it’s at least plausible that this combination of moves for Correa and Olson could be seen as a backup alternative if the Freeman market gets higher than what Atlanta is comfortable with. Of course, a Correa contract is likely to be much larger than a Freeman contract, so it would be a fair question to ask why the front office would be comfortable with doing a Correa-sized deal if they are uncomfortable with doing a Freeman-sized deal. Ultimately it all comes down to how the front-office projects the two players going forward and it’s entirely possible that they could see a Correa deal as better value, despite the larger raw number.

Because of the size of the contract that Correa is likely to receive, considering the possibility of Atlanta signing him requires a lot more thought about the surrounding roster pieces and remaining free agents than might be necessary for other free agents. As a result, I haven’t even really discussed Correa as a player yet. Fortunately, Braves fans recently got a very close look at Correa in the World Series (which the Braves won, if you hadn’t heard). Correa is a complete package as a player and as a free agent. He is a great defender at a premium defensive position, an offensive force, and still pretty young, at only 27, leaving a number of likely high quality years left for his career. In 2021, he was in the 98th percentile of Statcast’s Outs Above Average defensive metric and in the 87th percentile of xwOBA, which indicates expected offensive production based on the launch angle and exit velocity of batted balls. The defense in particular was on display in the World Series, as he made a number of tremendous plays against the Braves. This package of ability was worth 5.8 fWAR in 2021 and Steamer projects for 5.1 fWAR in 2022 (assuming a full season takes place)

World Series - Atlanta Braves v Houston Astros - Game Six Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

One big confounding variable for exploring a Correa contract is his injury history, particularly with his back. Not only does this history exist, but according to ESPN’s Buster Olney, Correa’s camp reportedly was at some point refusing to give out medical information on his back to a team unless that team made a significant offer. Whether that tactic has continued is unclear, but the issue of his back is definitely a consideration that teams will have.

My honest opinion of the report of Atlanta’s interest in Correa is that it’s reminiscent of similar reports of interest in Anthony Rendon two offseasons ago, which never seemed to really result in the Braves being contenders to sign him. It is at least plausible that this is different though, and World Series revenue is certainly a factor that could change Atlanta’s equation on big free agents, even if I’m skeptical that it actually has. With that being said, setting my irritation at Correa’s role in the Astros cheating scandal aside, he would be a fun player to have in a Braves uniform and would make the Braves a lot better.