How could the Houston Astros replace Carlos Correa at shortstop?
By Jordan Shusterman
FOX Sports MLB Writer
Among the biggest questions as the hot pan season resumes, once a new CBA is reached, will be where top free agent Carlos Correa will sign and for how much.
At this point, most people assume the 27-year-old superstar will leave Houston and take his talents elsewhere. Correa’s destination will certainly have a dramatic impact on the baseball landscape, but should he indeed leave the Astros, a crucial question arises: who will play shortstop for the defending American League champions? It seems like a big problem.
Fear nothing. I’m here to try to answer that daunting question. There are certainly obvious solutions, but let’s be as thorough as possible.
Here’s a full list of who could play shortstop for Houston on Opening Day, broken down into several categories:
It won’t happen, but it would be really funny: JC Correa
It’s not uncommon to see teams recruit parents of star players or prominent members of the front office — or at least, that wasn’t the case when the MLB draft was 40 rounds long.
So when the Astros selected younger brother Correa not once but twice — in the 33rd round in 2018 at Alvin Community College, then in the 38th round in 2019 at Lamar University — I didn’t make a big deal out of it. -thing, especially considering how late the choices were.
Then the Astros signed Correa as a free agent after his senior year at Lamar in 2020, and he made a stellar pro debut in 2021, slashing .310/.368/.464 in 101 games across both A-ball levels. while playing multiple positions, including shortstop.
While JC Correa seems to have established himself as a legitimate prospect, the main issue here is that he seems to be changing his stance:
Prospect has amazing spring training and wins the job: Edwin Diaz, Pedro Leon, Alex De Goti, Grae Kessinger, Shay Whitcomb, David Hensley
All of these gentlemen have played shortstop to varying degrees in the minor leagues, and nearly all have appeared at Double-A or higher, with De Goti being the only one to ever reach the major leagues (albeit for only two games).
Diaz is the only one of that group who hasn’t been in the Astros’ system before, as he signed a minor league contract in December with a spring training invite after spending eight years with Oakland.
Whitcomb, Houston’s 2020 fifth-round pick, had the loudest offensive season (.293/.363/.530) in 2021, but he’s also the only one yet to reach Double-A. .
Leon is the most famous of the group, having signed for $4 million in Cuba and representing the Astros at the 2021 Futures Game, but he seems to follow more as an outfielder and struggled mightily at Triple-A late last season. . .
Any of these guys could have a monster spring and force themselves into the mix for the starting shortstop job, but they’d have to beat another top prospect in the process (more on him later).
An “old friend” in free agency: Jonathan Villar, Jed Lowrie, Marwin Gonzalez, Robel Garcia
Lowrie has barely played at shortstop since his last stop at Houston in 2015, and he’ll be 38 in April, so he doesn’t seem like a real option, despite his relative offensive resurgence in 2021.
Garcia went 81 innings at shortstop for the Astros in 2021 but was a disaster at the plate (.423 OPS), so it also doesn’t look like someone Houston will be eager to bring back.
Gonzalez was around for a bit in 2021 as well, and the organization obviously knows him as well as any of these guys, but his best days are clearly behind him.
Villar, who made his MLB debut with Houston in 2013, appears to be the strongest candidate in this group, as a capable hitter with excellent speed and reasonable defensive chops. But would Villar feel comfortable returning to the site of the hilarious and infamous slide? It’s hard to say.
Short-Term Free Agent: Josh Harrison, Donovan Solano, Jose Iglesias, Andrelton Simmons, Matt Duffy, Charlie Culberson, Chris Owings, Eric Sogard, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jordy Mercer
None of these players are particularly exciting or ideal long-term replacements for Correa, but for an Astros team that obviously intends to compete in 2022, almost any of these guys could be a reasonable option. plug in while the organization waits for its prospects. develop.
It’s hard to imagine any of those players ordering a multi-year deal either, so there would likely be some added flexibility if one of Houston’s prospects were set to take over mid-season.
A Splash of Free Agent: Trevor Story
Now that would be quite a twist. At the start of the offseason, the Rangers seemed like an obvious landing spot for Story, a Dallas native, but the team’s monumental investments in Corey Seager and Marcus Semien seemed to negate that idea.
If Houston isn’t ready to completely break the bank to bring Correa back, could a deal for a not-so-worst star in Story make sense? I doubt it, but with Story clearly being the best shortstop still available on the market, it’s worth mentioning.
A commercial target that would not cost a fortune: Paul DeJong, Amed Rosario, Adalberto Mondesi
Although we witnessed a free agent frenzy in the days leading up to the lockdown, the trade market was incredibly quiet across the league. That will certainly change once the hot stove comes back on, and maybe the Astros could get into the mix.
DeJong looked like a rising star after his second-place NL Rookie of the Year in 2017 and his All-Star appearance in 2019, but he’s struggled a lot the past two years.
Rosario was just part of Cleveland’s haul for Francisco Lindor, but the Guardians have a ton of depth in the middle of the field that could supplant him soon.
Mondesi has always had a tantalizing talent, but has struggled to stay healthy enough to really make an impact in Kansas City. Also, top prospect Bobby Witt Jr. is set to break through with the Royals in the middle.
A commercial target that would cost a fortune: Ketel Marte
If the Astros really want to go further by replacing Correa, Marte could be a bold move, although it’s quite possible that his shortstop days are behind him.
It’s also unclear how willing the D-Backs would be to move him, despite their recent abysmal records. Either way, even if the Astros liked Marte and thought he could still play a reasonable shortstop, any deal here would cost a large sum of scouting capital on a farming system that is universally considered one of MLB’s bottom five.
It’s not the worst idea, but it seems pretty unlikely: Alex Bregman, Aledmys Diaz
During the Correa era, no player played more shortstop for the Astros besides Correa than Bregman.
I haven’t seen anyone suggest this might be a real solution, but with Bregman clearly capable of handling the position, could Houston slide him to short and determine that third base is actually an easier hole to fill , either internally or through free agency? That doesn’t seem too overdone.
Díaz, meanwhile, has been the go-to role player for Houston the past three seasons and has some experience at shortstop, but it seems the Astros prefer him in the super utility role, rather than starting every day.
The obvious answer that probably won’t happen: Carlos Correa
The reality is that the Astros’ most recent reported offer to Correa — five years, $160 million — doesn’t even sniff what the star shortstop will likely command eventually, especially considering what Seager got from Rangers just before lockdown (10 years, $325m).
That said, Correa is still available and his list of suitors could end up being shorter than we think, which could open the door for a return to H-Town.
I don’t blame Correa at all for wanting the bigger salary and publicly suggesting that such a deal will likely come elsewhere, but it’s not like he and the Astros haven’t got a damn good thing going. It looks like this book is closed, but I won’t entirely believe it until Correa shows off his new uniform at the press conference.
The obvious answer that will probably happen: Jeremy Pena
The son of former Big League second baseman Geronimo Peña, Jeremy was known during his amateur days at the University of Maine for having one of the best infield gloves in college baseball.
That trait alone pushed him onto the draft boards and eventually landed him with Houston in the third round of the 2018 draft, at which point his offensive potential was little to get excited about.
He’s since built up significant muscle and raised his offensive ceiling significantly, while maintaining his top-tier defensive chops, which propelled him into the next tier of shortstop prospects.
Wrist surgery in April cost him the first three months of the 2021 season, but that didn’t stop him from raking in Triple-A (.942 OPS with 10 homers in 30 games) for six weeks upon his return to August. He spent the playoffs on the Astros’ taxi team, taking BP and onto the field with the big league club in their pennant run. After the MLB season, he traveled to the Dominican Republic for a second straight winter as one of LIDOM’s top players for Estrellas Orientales.
Now, the Astros could choose to go in multiple directions once the hot stove resumes. However, this may well be Occam’s razor of the offseason; the best answer is often the simplest. If Correa is gone, giving the job to Peña seems like a no-brainer.
Here is! Thirty possible candidates to play shortstop for the Astros on Opening Day. If it’s not one of those 30, I’ll tip my hat to Astros general manager James Click and accept that I’ll never be a major league general manager. But I like my chances in this group of shortstops!
Jordan Shusterman is half of @CespedesBBQ and baseball analyst for FOX Sports. He lives in DC but is a huge Seattle Mariners fan and loves watching the KBO, which means he doesn’t sleep much. You can follow him on Twitter @j_shusterman_.
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