NEW YORK (AP)Forget about RBIs and OPS. Carlos Correa’s free-agent destination was decided by MRIs.
At the end of the most convoluted high-profile free-agent negotiation in baseball history, the small-market Minnesota Twins ended up with the All-Star shortstop – and not the San Francisco Giants or New York Mets – because of their doctors’ comfort with Correa’s surgicaly repaired right leg.
San Francisco balked at finalizing a $350 million, 13-year contract with the 28-year-old, and then the Mets hesitated to close a $315 million, 12-year deal, both after a scan of Correa’s tibia alarmed their physicians.
As it turned out, those concerns cost Correa over $100 million in guaranteed money.
Correa, best known as the shortstop for the 2017 World Series champion Houston Astros, spent 2022 with Minnesota. The team’s medical staff, having examined the two-time All-Star several times over the past year, felt more comfortable with the ankle, which was repaired in 2014.
And so the Twins went ahead with a $200 million, six-year agreement that was finalized Wednesday – 29 days after Correa agreed with the Giants and 21 days after he struck a deal with the Mets.
Right back where he started. Here’s a look at how he got there:
WHY DID THE DEALS WITH THE GIANTS AND METS COLLAPSE?
Correa injured his right leg in 2014 while playing with the Class A Lancaster JetHawks, and doctors inserted a metal plate during surgery to repair it. The consternation centers on whether the ankle healed in a way that might hinder Correa as he ages.
Correa’s agent, Scott Boras, maintains it’s only a question of ”pain tolerance.”
”It’s not a functionality,” Boras said Wednesday at Correa’s introductory news conference in Minnesota. ”It’s just how long you weather the pain to play, and he has never had complaints. Will he have complaints in the future? And the answer is he hasn’t had complaints after eight years in the major leagues, and the functional fitness orthopedists say it’s unlikely he will going forward.”
Boras cited a split among orthopedists and surgeons, maintaining orthopedists believe ”almost a Darwinian concept where you actually grow into a formation of your being able to compete and perform.”
According to Boras, the Giants and the Mets both relied on opinions from the same specialist – Dr. Robert Anderson, a Green Bay Packers associate team physician who operated on Derek Jeter’s broken left ankle in 2012. Boras said Giants team orthopedist Dr. Ken Akizuki consulted with Anderson directly, while the Mets team at the Hospital for Special Surgery relied on foot and ankle specialist Dr. Mark Drakos – who also consulted with Anderson.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles Dodgers head team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache, a noted orthopedist, examined Correa ahead of free agency last offseason. Correa was also looked at prior to last March’s deal with Minnesota and again at the end of this past season by Dr. Christopher Camp, the Twins’ medical director and director of high performance as well as an orthopedist at the Mayo Clinic.
”Dr. ElAttrache (was) telling me that the ankle is great, it’s in great shape. Dr. Camp here telling me that I’m in outstanding shape, even better than last year,” Correa said.
”One thing I learned throughout the whole process was that doctors have a difference of opinions,” he added. ”I had a lot of doctors tell me that I was fine. I had some doctors that said it wasn’t so fine. It was shocking to me because since I had the surgery, I never missed a game. I never got a treatment in my ankle.”
The ankle has bothered Correa on at least one occasion, when he came up slowly after a hard slide into second base during a game last Sept. 20.
”He just hit my plate,” Correa told reporters at the time. ”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 I was good.”
Correa hit .319 in the final 12 games of the 2022 season after that slide.
HOW DID THE TWINS END UP WITH CORREA?
Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey kept calling Boras throughout the free-agent process, even after the deals were reached with the Giants and the Mets. New York owner Steve Cohen aggressively pursued Correa after San Francisco’s agreement stalled, which Boras said precluded talks with the Twins.
After Correa’s physical for the Mets, New York proposed cutting its guarantee in half to $157.5 million.
”Sometimes in baseball as in life and everywhere else, fate and destiny come back together and there’s an opportunity that you don’t always expect,” Falvey said. ”The journeys are not always linear. They’re circuitous sometimes.”
Correa earned $35.1 million from the Twins last season before opting out of the remainder of a $105.3 million, three-year contract. The Twins offered Correa $285 million over 10 seasons earlier this offseason. In the end, Correa agreed to a deal with four option years that could boost its value to $270 million over a decade if he plays regularly.
Boras received a call from Falvey just after Christmas, and the agent told him Minnesota may have an opportunity. Last week, Boras called Falvey back.
”We should start discussing a very serious dynamic about getting this done,” Boras recalled saying. ”I’ve had five, six teams contact me,’ and I let him know, ‘I’m only talking to you.”’
Boras said he spoke with Camp five times and sent him all the MRIs made available to the Mets.
”We’re not here to fault exterior physicians and their opinions, but I will say that medicine, particularly in sport, orthopedic functionality and clinical exam on a day-to-day basis is far more important than an MRI,” he said. ”The orthopedists, they’re operating on function, saying unless they have evidence to show the degenerative nature, it’s all speculation.”
Boras maintained the Mets, led by chief legal officer Katie Pothier, tried to weaken the guarantee language.
”There was an agenda going on there that was far afield from deal-making,” he said. ”There was an agenda where they felt that they could move a negotiation to a different place.”
Boras said he sent Cohen a text on Sunday or Monday telling him Correa wouldn’t accept the Mets’ proposed language and was turning to other teams.
The Mets issued only a brief statement Wednesday, shortly before Correa was introduced as a Twin.
”We were unable to reach an agreement,” the team said. ”We wish Carlos all the best.”
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