In the wake of the Twins' promise to pay him $200 million over the next six seasons, Carlos Correa repeated several times that he was happy to focus on baseballs, not contracts, from now on.

But the Twins' focus was on another kind of ball.

"It's a little bit of a crystal ball question as to what happens in the future," said Derek Falvey, the Twins president of baseball operations, regarding the health of Correa's surgically repaired right ankle. "… We don't have a crystal ball to know that."

Nobody does, of course, and that uncertainty is what makes sports so compelling, and sports executives so nervous. Yet the Twins' most expensive free agent ever is also one of the most predictably productive players they have ever signed — or so it seemed before the Giants and Mets, spooked by a surgeon's best guess at that future, backed away from even more lavish long-term contracts.

"There's risk in everything we do," Falvey acknowledged at the press conference welcoming Correa on Jan. 11. "I've had a situation where a player had [a potential injury risk] and it never came to pass. And I've had a situation [where] it did come to pass."

He pointed out that he negotiated a trade for Padres pitcher Chris Paddack last spring, for instance, despite medical evidence that the righthander's elbow might require surgery. Five starts after joining the Twins, Paddack experienced elbow pain, and soon after underwent Tommy John elbow surgery that will keep him out of action for much of 2023.

"We had knowledge of [the potential for injury], but how would that progress? Could be a year. Could be two years. Could be longer," said Falvey, who two days after signing Correa also agreed to a three-year, $12.5 million extension for Paddack that factors in his injury absence. "So there's always a varying level of risk."

Correa said he found rumors about his condition to be ironic, even humorous. "When people were speculating, I was running sprints. I was working out. I was taking ground balls. I was hitting. So it was funny to me, all this speculation [while] I'm feeling great," he said. "One of my goals is to hopefully one day be in the Hall of Fame, and to do that, I've got to play good baseball for a long time."

So do the Twins — and far more than any player they have ever acquired, there is reason to believe he will succeed. The team has signed ultra-accomplished players in the past, former All-Stars like Paul Molitor, Jim Thome, Nelson Cruz and Josh Donaldson, and they have signed plenty of young players, too.

But Correa might be the first to be both.

“Now that he knows what his future holds and he can truly settle into a great place, this is going to give him an opportunity to take his career to the next level.”
Rocco Baldelli

The former Astros shortstop, a Gold Glove fielder with a career .836 OPS who three times has received down-ballot AL MVP votes, turned 28 two weeks before the 2022 season ended. When it was over, Correa had registered 5.4 wins above replacement (WAR) — the all-encompassing statistic that attempts to calibrate a player's production at the plate, in the field and on the bases. It was the fifth time in Correa's eight-year career that he posted a WAR above 4.0, which is roughly considered All-Star level. (Fifty MLB players reached that mark in 2022, for instance.)

Path to Cooperstown?

Since 1900, only 72 players have produced five or more 4.0-WAR seasons before turning 28, and 44 of them are enshrined in Cooperstown — all-time greats like Ruth, Gehrig, Aaron, Cobb, Bonds and Griffey. Five of the non-Hall of Famers were still active in 2022: Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Mookie Betts, Francisco Lindor and Correa.

Even better news for the Twins: The 31 players who had more than five such seasons before turning 28 averaged 5.3 more 4.0-WAR seasons over the remainder of their careers.

Correa's combination of age and ability is rare, in other words. His career total of 39.5 WAR, as calculated by Baseball Reference, already ranks 20th among active MLB players, and and had it been compiled completely in Minnesota, would place sixth in Twins history behind only Rod Carew, Harmon Killebrew, Joe Mauer, Kirby Puckett and Tony Oliva.

"Now that he knows what his future holds and he can truly settle into a great place, this is going to give him an opportunity to take his career to the next level," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "This is a fantastic moment for him, and this is going to free him up to really show us what he's capable of, because as great a player as he is, I have no reason to believe there is not plenty more there to this guy."

Perhaps so, with a caveat that will be linked to Correa for the rest of his career: "As long as he stays healthy."

Taking precautions

But the statistics, and Correa's playing habits, offer the Twins some confidence there, too. Whether his serious ankle injury, suffered during a minor league game in 2014 when a spike snagged third base as he slid in with a triple, still bothers him, Correa has clearly been managing his play to avoid aggravating it.

How? By avoiding risky baserunning plays, namely stealing bases and stretching doubles into triples.

“One of my goals is to hopefully one day be in the Hall of Fame, and to do that, I've got to play good baseball for a long time.”
Carlos Correa

Correa hasn't stolen a base in nearly four seasons, and his failed attempt last Sept. 24 at Kansas City — after which he briefly laid in the dirt in pain — was only the eighth time he tried in the past six seasons. Of the 63 major leaguers who have as many plate appearances as Correa in those six years, only one has tried to steal a base less frequently: Trey Mancini, who has attempted three steals.

And triples, the root cause of Correa's busted hopes for a $300 million contract? His one triple for the Twins gave him a total of five since 2017, a total greater than only four big-leaguers of the 63 players who have played as much, all of them notably slow — Cruz, Justin Turner, Aaron Judge and Matt Olson.

"It's a decision I had to make. Every time you steal a base, there's a greater risk of injury, right? The tag can take you out, hitting the base, you can twist your ankle, break your hands," Correa said in April. "It's higher risk for little reward. I realized that I'm more valuable offensively and defensively than I am trying to steal bags."

Now that there's a fixed price on that value, the Twins undoubtedly agree. Lacking a crystal ball, they are betting $200 million or more on it.