Why Carlos Correa is the boldest shortstop swing the Cardinals can take


Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports

Dan Buffa, Special to the Jewish Light

Do you worry about the past or keep your eyes focused on the future?

That’s the question for the St. Louis Cardinals when their shortstop search hits the desk of Carlos Correa this winter. While the Houston Astros shortstop is blasting his way through another postseason, competing in another World Series, his name is already circling the upcoming free agent market. If Corey Seager’s name isn’t sitting at the top of the prestigious pile of available shortstops this offseason, Correa sits right next to him.

On paper, he’s a baseball freak. Correa polished off a season where he produced a 5.8 fWAR for the Astros-the third time he’s finished a season with a mark of 5 WAR or greater. He’s only 27 years old, and would automatically change the Cardinals lineup. While Marcus Semien may be the modest pick, Correa gives you all the tools a team asks for in a shortstop: power bat, middle lineup presence, and a very capable fielder.

Don’t overlook the defense. Correa saved the Astros 21 runs at shortstop in 2021, including 156 plays made outside the zone. By comparison, Paul DeJong made 95 plays outside the zone for the Cardinals in 2019. The difference is that Correa saves a lot of runs at his position each year, instead of just doing it for one year. A gold glove is shiny and all, but defensive runs saved means just as much to a team.


But it’s the bat that should look like a pastrami sandwich to the Cardinals. Correa averages 29 home runs and 35 doubles per season, including a career slash line of .277/.356/.481. His 131 OPS+ is 31 points above average, and he owns an .829 OPS (.800 is very good) with runners in scoring position for his career. And for those people worried about his ability to hit away from Minute Maid Park, keep an eye on his career .827 OPS on the road (.847 OPS at home). In a nutshell, he’s the real deal offensively–someone who can bang a double, crush a home run, draw a walk, and essentially do some damage.

So, where’s the spice in the equation? It lives around the fact that Correa was a part of those trash can-banging, cheating Astros teams from 2017-18. It would take a fool to look beyond his connection and benefit from those sign-stealing coaching staffs, especially in 2017. That year, he finished with a .941 OPS. However, if you look a little closer, one should be aware of something else.

During the 2018 season, when the cheating was still a big deal with that team, Correa had one of his worst seasons at the plate, hitting only 15 home runs and putting up a .728 OPS. The 2019 season, when no signs of illicit cheating were found by investigators, saw a big rebound for the shortstop. He hit 21 home runs in only 75 games and finished with an OPS of .926.

What about 2021? .850 OPS with 26 home runs, 34 doubles, and a .485 slugging percentage in 148 games played. It’s one thing to attach the player to a cheating team and understand he benefited from the help in some capacity, but he didn’t require the sign-stealing to be a great player. Once the music stopped in Houston, Correa kept hitting.

He fits the Cardinals needs to a tee, with the only real nitpick being he’s a right-handed hitter, something St. Louis is stocked up with in their lineup. But you don’t fret with a guy who hits more baseballs to center than he pulls to left (via Fangraphs), and someone who covers all the bases and checks each box for a team in need. As much as the pitching staff for the Cardinals looks like a need, their shortstop production is an actual need.

St. Louis has been without a real difference maker at shortstop-with the exception of DeJong’s very good 2019 season-for quite some time. David Eckstein was never an elite talent, and Edgar Renteria only scratched that service a couple of seasons while playing at Busch Memorial Stadium. Correa, like Semien, gives the team that hard-hitting and above-average defender all in one body. Unlike Semien, he has been doing it for seven seasons at one position, the most important one for an infield.

I don’t have much faith in DeJong finding his way again, at least as an everyday shortstop. When you’re struggling to compose a .200 batting average, no one will go looking for your services. Edmundo Sosa is an exciting young player, but lacks the years of service and offensive output to assure the team he can perform for a full season. Like Tommy Edman, Sosa is more of a Swiss Army Knife for this team. Edman doesn’t fit the bill either, even if he can take some reps at short. With an OPS that has a hard time staying above .700 for weeks of the season, he’s an underwhelming shortstop candidate.

Correa is the opposite, and he’s showing it in the playoffs. He helped Houston beat up the Chicago White Sox in the NLDS. Last year, he hit six home runs in 13 postseason games. Imagine him taking four at-bats in that wildcard game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and you may get a different box score. Those are the things you can’t overlook, those make-or-break moments where the Cardinals couldn’t produce a big hit.

Correa won’t be cheap, as he is projected to command $26 million per season in a deal that should stretch to 4-6 years–but upgrading in a big way never comes cheap.

Pitching is always a need, but the Cardinals’ No. 1 need this winter should be finding their shortstop of the future. If they pass, it will be a mistake. Correa may be a bolder swing than others, but he fits the bill nicely.