Should the Giants regret not signing Carlos Correa when they had the chance?

One of the worst indignities that Giants fans could possibly face is inching closer to reality: A Dusty Baker/Bruce Bochy ALCS might happen immediately after the Giants dismissed their manager. That’s absolutely brutal. Also, funny! Don’t forget to find the humor in it if it happens. But that doesn’t mean you’ll feel great about it.

However, there’s a way for that matchup to fall through and still feel worse. That’s because the Twins still have a shot at the ALCS, and that’s in large part because they have Carlos Correa, who is the closest someone can come to being an ex-Giant without actually being an ex-Giant. He’s 8-for-17 this postseason, with three doubles, and his defense has been outstanding. If you’re interested in a deep dive on those plays, read this Sam Miller article. The Correa plays were more nuanced and complicated than you might think.

(Mauricio Dubón having as many World Series rings as Brandon Crawford would be weird, but I’m not sure that’s an indignity. Good for him if it happens.)

So in the grand tradition of postmortem woulda-coulda-shouldas, let’s talk about the regret that the Giants and their fans might or might not have when it comes to Carlos Correa.

First, the obvious point to make: Correa didn’t have a great regular season. He hit .230/.312/.399, which is an extremely 2023 Giants line. Low average, some patience, enough power to tantalize without being nearly as impactful as you’d like. His defensive stats took a serious dip, too, regardless of which stat you half-trust. If you were frustrated by Brandon Crawford’s season, note that Correa had just a 0.7-WAR advantage over him, according to FanGraphs. The Giants wouldn’t have made the postseason with 80.7 wins, even if you rounded up. (Baseball-Reference had a two-win gap between them, so it’s complicated.)

However, there’s more to Correa’s value than decimal points. He’s, by all accounts, one of the smartest players in the game. He has an enviable drive, too, and he’s an uncomplicated baseball rat. Dude just loves baseball. Loves talking about it, studying it, getting better at it. He’s thinking about baseball right now. If he didn’t have any athletic ability, he’d be in the comments somewhere, telling baseball casuals to calm down about something, laying out his case perfectly.

Something else to consider: If Correa was on the Giants in 2023, Gabe Kapler might still be the manager. I was going to chicken out before I got that far, but Baggs said something similar to me, unprompted, so here we go. There are a lot of reasons for the Giants’ collapse in the second half, and most of it has to do with dubious talent. Correa hit .237/.331/.396 in the second half, so it’s not like he was going to propel them to 900 runs.

Still, Kapler is out in part because he let the players police themselves, and they didn’t do a great job of it. Correa isn’t a red-cheeked taskmaster, but he has a gravitas about him, by all accounts. There’s something to be said about a player who’s been there, done that, won some awards, made a mint but still keeps grinding as if every game is his last. The Giants’ clubhouse was a combination of semi-stars and solid contributors. One magnetic presence could have done wonders.

It’s also worth noting that the New York Mets were the other team that passed on Correa’s (possibly) termite-infested ankle, and they also let their manager go. It’s hard to imagine how Correa would have saved Buck Showalter’s job, but it’s a hypothetical that’s interesting to contemplate.

Correa was worth between 1 WAR and 2 WAR on the field this year, so let’s not get carried away. I wish that I could pin that sentence to the top of this article, so that it follows you down as you scroll. Seems like the most important part to consider, combined with the physical concerns going forward. He wouldn’t have gotten the Giants to the postseason with his play alone. He was not the answer, at least this season, when it comes to his on-field value. Although, it would have been swell to see what Crawford would have contributed with 30 percent less wear and tear. Might have been better for everyone involved.

Don’t forget that the Giants didn’t have much of a shot at the same, slightly more risk-averse contract that the Twins gave Correa. When he signed with the Mets before that fell through, the Giants immediately started Offseason 3.0, pivoting away from Correa and figuring out where to get non-Judge power. Didn’t work out. But don’t make the mistake of thinking the Giants could have swooped in and given Correa a six-year, $201 million contract. It was more complicated than that. If you’re wishing he was on the Giants in 2023 and beyond, you’re thinking 13 years and $350 million.

And here’s the pivot: Nah.

I hope you can tell how much respect I have for Correa as a baseball player leading up to this. Plenty. He’s good. He makes teams better. The Twins are still playing, and the Giants are Mets are not. There’s more to the story than that, but it’s an important part of the story.

Going forward, considering what the Giants need to be relevant for the next several years, Correa could have helped. But there would have been costs associated with that. The first, and most obvious one, is that Marco Luciano looks like a shortstop. Not just a guy who can hang out there in a pinch, but an honest-to-goodness major-league shortstop. With Correa in the fold, the Giants would have had to figure out Luciano’s future, whether it was the outfield or third base. It could have worked. It probably would have worked. But I’m all in on Luciano being a starter, if not a franchise player. His development is key to what the Giants can do in the near and long term.

Beyond that, consider the Shohei Ohtani market. Would the Giants feel comfortable with a (pulled out of thin air) $600 million contract for Ohtani when they’re already committed to Correa for $350 million? I mean, they should. Give me as much money as Charles Johnson, and I’m not only giving Ohtani a billion-dollar contract, but I’m paying different celebrities to carry him to every game on a litter. George Clooney, Drake, Ed Sheeran, Ariana Grande, here’s a check, please carry Ohtani to the game. Thank you.

We have to be realistic, though. The Giants shouldn’t have as many limits when it comes to spending, but they do. They’re not going to mess with the luxury tax. Contact your real estate agent for more information about Mission Rock.

Considering that Luciano is ready to take his lumps — and succeed and fail and fail and succeed in his rookie season — and that the Giants have an overall need to improve the roster, I’m not sure if Correa was the best fit for this season, or if he was the best fit for next season. With Correa, maybe the Giants are in the postseason right now, and Kapler is making decisions that look smarter and smarter as October goes on. But I’m not mad about the idea that Luciano has the clearest path possible to do the thing that he’s been preparing for.

And I’m certainly not mad that the Giants have more money to play with in an offseason where that helps. If Ohtani isn’t pitching, he’s not worth a billion dollars, but he’s not not worth a billion dollars just as a marketing tool. He’s a front-page-of-the-New-York-Times star in an era where most baseball players are front-page-of-Nextdoor stars.

Ohtani is not an idea you should get attached to. There will be 30 teams chasing him, including the Oakland A’s, who can offer him a permanent residency at the Sands, where he can blend comedy and musical theater like no other baseball player in history. (Pretty sure that hotel and casino is still there, but it’s been a while for me.)

Yoshinobu Yamamoto is most definitely an idea you can get attached to. This is the real story of the offseason. The right-handed starting pitcher from Japan had his worst season in the NPB when he was 18 years old … and by “worst season,” we mean “2.35 ERA, back in 2017.” He’s played seven seasons in Japan and had an ERA below 2.00 in four of them. He throws hard, he throws strikes, and everyone is going to want him. With Correa, the Giants are one of the normal teams bidding for him. Without Correa, the Giants have the potential to be a screw-you team, coming over the top with a ridiculous offer. You might scoff at this idea, except that’s what the Giants did for Correa. It didn’t work out for well-documented reasons, but the screw-you offer was there.

Hope you’re not tired of reading about Yamamoto. Because there’s a lot of offseason left, and he is absolutely the prime target of the offseason. The Giants need offense, and Yamamoto doesn’t help directly, but he’ll also free the Giants up to trade young pitchers for athletic hitters.

Correa is a great player, albeit one who had a disappointing regular season. But I’m not sad about the clear path for Luciano and the extra money for the Giants to spend on Ohtani or Yamamoto or Ohtani and Yamamoto. It’s working out for the Twins, but it might not have worked out for the Giants in quite the same way.

The Giants would have been way more compelling with Bryce Harper. They would have been painful to watch with Giancarlo Stanton. That’s how these big transaction-swings go.

Pretty sure that while Correa would have made the Giants better in the short term, there’s a strong chance that they’ll will be better in the long-term without him. Enjoy watching him play and wondering what could have been. Enjoy the possibility of Dusty Baker and Bruce Bochy matching wits in the ALCS.  But don’t assume Correa was the right fit for the foundation the Giants need to build. He would have made the team better in 2023, but there are contingencies to consider.

So don’t be distraught when you watch Correa do impossibly fun work in the postseason. It probably wouldn’t have happened quite like that for the Giants. You can have regrets, a few, but I’m not sure the franchise is worse off.

Check back in five years to see how ridiculous this idea is or isn’t.

(Photo of Correa during the AL Wild Card Series: Daniel Shirey / MLB Photos via Getty Images)

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