On Dec. 21, the Mets were declared by many as the winners of the off-season after they agreed to terms with Carlos Correa, one of the top infielders in baseball, on a 12-year, $315 million contract. The Mets, who won 101 games in 2022, were adding an all-around superstar in what they hoped was the final piece in the team owner Steven A. Cohen’s championship puzzle.
The Mets deal, which came after Correa’s 13-year, $350 million deal with the San Francisco Giants unraveled, was “pending a physical examination,” contract language that is often glossed over like the “terms and conditions” on a website.
Twenty days later, however, Correa’s deal is still pending. And other than occasional reporting from news outlets about the team and player working on contract language — reportedly over concerns about a previous leg injury — one of the loudest moves of the off-season has become eerily quiet.
At this point, speculation has begun about whether Correa, a 28-year-old shortstop, can go back to the Minnesota Twins, his team in 2022; if he can work things out with the Mets; or if some other team will get involved.
Is Correa officially committed to a team?
Not really. He agreed to terms with the Mets, but no deal has been completed. He remains a free agent. If the $315 million contract with the Mets were to be salvaged, it would be the 11th-largest contract in M.L.B. history in total dollars, according to Spotrac, and the third-largest one agreed to this off-season.
What have the Mets said?
In an unusual move, Cohen addressed the signing before it was completed — a decision he may be regretting.
“We needed one more thing, and this is it,” Cohen told Jon Heyman of The New York Post on the day the deal came together. “This was important. This puts us over the top.”
Heyman later reported that the Mets sold $1 million in tickets on the day the Correa news was reported.
Since then, the Mets have not discussed the deal. Even Cohen, one of the more communicative owners in sports, has not tweeted since Nov. 9.
What have the Giants said?
The Giants, who offered Correa what would have been the second-largest deal of this off-season, had scheduled a news conference for Dec. 20 to introduce Correa to reporters. But it was canceled that day, leading to speculation that something on his physical examination worried them.
Overnight, the Mets news was reported, and Scott Boras, Correa’s agent, brushed off any suggestion that there were issues with Correa’s health, telling The New York Times that “medical opinions are just what they are — opinions.”
The Giants made an unusual move by issuing a statement about a deal that fell apart.
“While we are prohibited from disclosing confidential medical information, as Scott Boras stated publicly, there was a difference of opinion over the results of Carlos’s physical examination,” said the statement, which was attributed to Farhan Zaidi, the team’s president for baseball operations. “We wish Carlos the best.”
Zaidi later addressed the issue further in a conference call with beat reporters, taking issue with the idea that the team had blindsided Correa and Boras with their concerns.
What has Correa’s agent said?
Never shy, Boras was happy to talk to reporters once he found a landing spot for Correa after the problems with the Giants.
“He was readying himself for a new place in his life and then the delays occurred and you have to go through another transition,” Boras told The Times of Correa’s decision to move on from the Giants. “But he’s very happy to join the Mets.”
Boras described his phone call with Cohen in detail and dismissed any concerns that the Mets would have any issues with Correa’s medical information.
Since then, however, Boras has made no public comments.
OK, is Correa injured?
The short answer is no. The long answer is long.
Nearly all of the speculation and anonymously sourced reporting has focused on the state of Correa’s lower right leg. In 2014, two years after Houston selected him as the No. 1 pick in the draft, Correa was thriving for Class A Lancaster when an awkward slide into third base resulted in his spike catching in the dirt. Correa, who was 19 at the time, was carried off the field.
What was initially diagnosed as an ankle injury ended up being a fractured fibula, with what was described as minor ligament damage. He had season-ending surgery five days after the injury occurred, and Jeff Luhnow, the general manager of the Astros at the time, said the team expected Correa to “return to exactly the point he was at when he got injured.”
That certainly appeared to be what happened. In 2015, Correa began the season with Class AA Corpus Christi and was promoted to Class AAA Fresno after 29 games. He thrived there as well and was called up to the Astros after only 24 games at the minors’ highest level. In Houston, he hit .279 with 22 home runs and 14 stolen bases in 99 games and narrowly edged his close friend Francisco Lindor, who played for Cleveland, as the American League rookie of the year.
While Correa missed significant time with injuries in 2017, 2018 and 2019, none of those absences were related to his right leg. And he has been fairly durable since, playing in 342 of his team’s 384 regular-season games since the start of the 2020 season. If there are other concerns with his physical examination, beyond the previous leg surgery, they have not been reported.
So the leg has not been an issue at all?
Mostly. The old injury, and the way it was repaired, resurfaced briefly last season when Correa was playing for the Twins. On Sept. 20, he tried to steal second and came up limping after being tagged out. After the game, he was not concerned that he had seriously hurt himself.
“He just hit my plate,” Correa told reporters. “I had surgery, and he hit it. Just kind of felt numb. Vibrating. So I was just waiting for it to calm down. It was a little scary, but when I moved I knew it was good.”
Sure enough, he was back in the lineup the next day and did not miss any time as a result of the slide.
What’s the big deal then?
Extraordinarily long contracts like the ones Correa agreed to with the Giants and the Mets carry a large amount of risk. Going into one with a known issue that could limit a player’s mobility as he ages would increase that risk. That is particularly true of a player like Correa, who derives a lot of his value from his defense and athleticism.
Contract language and insurance adjustments can be included to account for the heightened risk, but Boras had Correa walk away from the Giants when they wanted to alter terms and has moved slowly with the Mets.
Whether Correa will agree to those protections with the Mets, the Twins or any other team could be what decides his fate.
Is there a deadline for any of this?
What happens next?
A deal with the Mets could theoretically be finalized quickly if the contract language is worked out, as they have already completed a physical examination. If Correa were to pull out of an agreed-upon deal again and come to terms with another team — even the Twins — he would probably need to start the process over. So even if a deal is reported as done, it could once again result in a waiting period as the signing team examines him.
Would the Mets be OK without him?
For all the money Cohen has spent this off-season — the Mets’ payroll and luxury taxes will most likely approach $500 million in 2023 — the team’s offense was not upgraded beyond Correa. That being said, third baseman Eduardo Escobar, who hit 20 home runs in his first year with the Mets, is still under contract, as is second baseman Jeff McNeil, the N.L.’s batting champion last season. And Lindor, despite not being as strong a fielder as Correa, was expected to remain at shortstop all along.
So not signing Correa would be a blow to the Mets, but it would not really leave them with a hole in their lineup.