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Free agent stunner: Carlos Correa heads to New York Mets instead



In one of the more stunning offseason twists in recent baseball memory, Carlos Correa will now be a New York Met, not a San Francisco Giant, when spring training begins seven weeks from now.

A week ago today, Correa agreed to a 13-year megadeal worth $360 million to join the Giants and serve as a worthy consolation prize after their failed pursuit of slugger Aaron Judge. But Tuesday, the Giants postponed a press conference they had scheduled to introduce Correa. And by early Wednesday morning, Mets billionaire owner Steve Cohen had made his move, agreeing to pay Correa $315 million over 12 years according to a person familiar with the situation.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that the Giants had canceled Correa’s press conference over medical concerns, and a person familiar with Correa’s situation said the Giants backed out over a difference of doctors’ opinions — though the specifics of those opinions and the exact medical concerns involved were not immediately available. Correa’s deal with the Mets is also pending a physical, and New York’s front office has not exactly been known to look the other way when it comes to medical concerns, either. But if this deal goes through, they will be adding a second premiere shortstop to a lineup that already boasts Francisco Lindor.

At 4:30 a.m. on the East Coast, it was not immediately clear where Correa expected to play in Queens, though it seems safe to bet on third base — at least for now. Correa and Lindor are two of the best shortstops to ever come out of Puerto Rico, more than familiar with each other and, at least outwardly, seem to share a mutual respect. They now seem likely to share a city, a uniform, and an ultra-rich boss who has now committed more than $650 million to the duo over the next decade-plus.

Correa’s deal will pay him about $26 million annually, about what that Giants deal would have paid him per year, though less guaranteed. That Giants deal made Correa the most highly paid shortstop, by total guaranteed money, in baseball history. The Mets deal may just make him one of the better-paid third basemen in baseball history when all the dust settles.

But more notably for Major League Baseball as a whole, that $26 million annually will push the Mets’ 2023 payroll to somewhere around $380 million for competitive balance tax purposes. Not only is that number unheard of, even by the lavish standards of New York baseball, but will come with a tax hit of more than $90 million when all is said and done. If Cohen stops now, he will spend almost a half-billion dollars on the 2023 New York Mets — or approximately what the Pittsburgh Pirates have spent on the entirety of their rosters since 2016. The New York Yankees are currently projected to have the next-highest Opening Day payroll and tax bill with about $290 million committed to their 2023 roster as of early Wednesday morning. Their projected tax bill is less than $30 million.

Ironically, it was just nine months ago that New York Mets ace Max Scherzer and the Major League Baseball Players’ Association’s leadership urged union members not to vote in favor of a collective bargaining agreement they felt was specifically designed to discourage Cohen from spending freely like this. That deal, which their colleagues ultimately approved, included a never-before-seen fourth-tier competitive balance tax threshold that came to be known as “the Cohen tax.”

Previous collective bargaining agreements included just three tax thresholds with progressively higher penalties for those who exceeded them. By implementing a fourth, Cohen’s less profligate peers hoped to prevent anyone from what some referred to as “runaway spending,” the kind of thing that could, in theory, force everyone else to spend more to keep up. This year’s Cohen threshold was set at around $290 million. He has blown right by it.

If the deal becomes official, and one can forgive a few extra caveats given the way Correa’s Giants tenure dissolved, the Mets will be the most star-studded lineup in a loaded division that has plenty of them. The National League champion Phillies added Trea Turner, Taijuan Walker and more to their already proven October crew. The 2021 World Series champion Atlanta Braves traded for one of the better catchers available before letting Dansby Swanson walk to the Chicago Cubs.

But in the last week alone, the Mets have introduced Justin Verlander and Japanese starter Kodai Senga to join Max Scherzer in a veteran rotation. They already locked up old friends Edwin Diaz and Brandon Nimmo on deals worth more than $100 million each. Their lineup retains slugger Pete Alonso, pesky batting title contender Jeff McNeil, and veterans Starling Marte, Mark Canha and Eduardo Escobar from a group that nearly held off Atlanta for the National League East title in 2022. That 2022 lineup lacked power. Correa, who debuted in the big leagues at age 20, has hit at least 20 homers in six of his eight big league seasons.

Free agent deals like this one always seem to leak out before physicals are done, the shared understanding between executives, agents, and players amounting to an assumption that for elite athletes at this level — particularly for non-pitchers — the physicals are a formality. But it is worth noting again that Correa has not yet passed his Mets physical, though his old team, the Minnesota Twins, was reportedly comfortable offering him a franchise-record deal as recently as a week ago.

Back then, Correa seemed destined to be the brightest star in San Francisco since Buster Posey, maybe even Barry Bonds. Back then, he seemed like exactly the kind of player who could ease the blow of the Giants falling short in their much-discussed pursuit of California native Judge. Tuesday, the Giants were supposed to introduce that star to a rejuvenated fan base. Wednesday, they will watch as the Yankees introduce Judge at a morning press conference, one still very much on the schedule as of early Wednesday morning.

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