HOUSTON — As Carlos Correa was announced to the crowd at Minute Maid Park with one on and none out in the bottom of the ninth inning Tuesday night, the Astros shortstop received a slightly louder ovation than one might have expected with the home team trailing 7-0 and down to its final three outs in an elimination game.
But there was the recognition of something bigger — that a homegrown star, who had more than honored the status that accompanied him as a former No. 1 overall pick — may well have been taking his last at-bat in an Astros uniform.
Turns out, Correa had the same thought.
"It was the only thing going through my mind, to be honest," Correa said after Atlanta won its first title since 1995 with the Game 6 victory. "A lot of feelings, mixed emotions. I spent seven years with this club. Yeah, it was going through my mind for sure."
Correa, 27, is set to hit the market as the player most likely to get the biggest payday as a free agent this offseason. Of course, that is contingent on the details in whatever new collective bargaining agreement is reached between Major League Baseball and the Players Association. The current CBA expires Dec. 1.
It is expected that just a handful of teams truly will be in on the bidding for Correa, who could command a figure similar to the 10-year, $341 million deal Francisco Lindor signed with the Mets. After all, a healthy Correa has been considered by scouts, players and executives alike as Lindor's equal, and by some even slightly better because of his arm.
The Yankees, in need of a shortstop, could be one of those clubs, though it isn’t yet known if managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner will give the go-ahead to general manager Brian Cashman to offer a contract of that nature, whether it be for Correa or one of the other big-name shortstops on the market: Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Trevor Story, to name a few.
The Yankees have plenty of other areas to address, so it’s not a sure thing that whatever budget Steinbrenner gives Cashman will be spent on shortstop. The trade route is a possibility to fill any of those needs, which also includes starting pitching, first base and perhaps outfield.
Still, the substantial talents possessed by the 6-4, 220-pound Correa will at the very least give any team looking for help at short reason to consider him. In addition to the obvious abilities at the plate, there’s the superb play in the field, highlighted by one of the best arms of any infielder in the sport.
Though his status as one of the faces of the Astros sign-stealing scandal makes him Public Enemy No. 2 among Yankees fans — Jose Altuve by far holds the No. 1 slot, and it’s not close — rest assured that same fan base would welcome Correa to the Bronx with open arms.
Talk to Astros insiders and they’ll say Correa handled the aftermath of the scandal as well if not better than anyone in the organization, both in his public comments but, more important, in the clubhouse.
Whichever team signs him — and it can’t be ruled out that Astros owner Jim Crane makes a significant offer — will be getting a battle-tested player, on the field and off it.
"I want to say thank you to Jim and [general manager] James [Click], the whole organization, for respecting what I said in spring training," Correa said. "Once the season started, I wanted no part of talks or negotiation, and they respected that. Now that I'm a free agent, we'll have a conversation and see how that goes."
Third baseman Alex Bregman, who debuted with the Astros in 2016, spoke with Correa following Tuesday’s loss.
"After the game, just thanked him for leading this team," Bregman said. "Being able to play with him for the last six years has been special. He's one of the smartest baseball players in the world, and he's one of the hardest working. He eats, sleeps, and breathes the game. It's been honestly amazing to play with him. I really hope we can sign him back because I think we've got a good shot at continuing to do this for a long time if we do."