The summer of 2022 was a busy time for Scott Boras' Twins clients Royce Lewis (knee surgery), Alex Kirilloff (wrist surgery) and Ryan Jeffers (thumb surgery). So somehow it seemed fitting that Carlos Correa, the highest-paid Twin of all time and Boras' highest-profile free agent of the winter, wound up back in Minnesota because he'd had ankle surgery.
Except for one weird detail: The surgery was more than eight years ago, and Correa says he has never been healthier.
"It was shocking to me because since I had the surgery, I never missed a game [because of it]. I've never gotten treatment on my ankle. My ankle's never hurt," Correa said Wednesday of the Giants' and Mets' decisions to back out of contracts worth in excess of $300 million when doctors red-flagged the right-leg injury, the result of an errant slide while a minor leaguer. "Going into that physical [with the Giants three weeks ago], there was no concern on my part. My body feels great. I played throughout the whole season. Never felt better."
That's what the Twins are betting on, which is why they committed $200 million over the next six seasons to the star shortstop. The team's own medical staff examined Correa before the Twins signed him to what turned out to be a one-year contract last March, did another "exit physical" near the end of the season, gathered further medical opinions as the monthlong drama dragged on, and double-checked his condition in person on Tuesday before finalizing the contract, which could be worth an additional $70 million over four more years if he stays healthy.
The result? Sign here, the Twins said.
"We feel really good about where Carlos is right now. I would say Carlos is ready to go," Derek Falvey, Twins president of baseball operations, said. "We feel excellent about how he's rolling into 2023."
Of course, his guaranteed average annual salary of $33.3 million rolls into 2028, when Correa will turn 34. The Giants, on the other hand, originally proposed a contract that extended through the 2035 season, and the Mets offered one through 2034, "very different situations in terms of the [risk] you are assuming," Falvey conceded. "… We recognize every player ages, right? You can't not factor that in."
Which is why the Twins, despite being very obvious about their eagerness to bring Correa back, utilized the leverage that Correa's failed contract negotiations provided. While their original offer in November guaranteed 10 years, Falvey confirmed, once the Mets balked, the Twins added clauses that allow them to cut ties any year after 2028 if the shortstop has missed significant playing time.
Difference of opinions
Everyone was delighted about the outcome on Wednesday, the Twins because they retain a player central to their chances of building a contender, and Correa because the team, city and teammates make him and his family feel at home in Minnesota.
Boras too was happy to keep Correa in an organization that now includes 10 of his clients, but he couldn't hide his irritation at the Giants' and Mets' sudden annulments, a product, he said, of too little hands-on research.
After the Giants raised the ankle issue, Boras said, he feared that his own experts had overlooked a serious risk of reinjury, "so I talked to four orthopedists who are involved with players in the performance of their duties daily. And they looked at this and said, 'No. This player has been functional for eight years.' As for how long he will continue to be able to play? That's an absolute medical uncertainty. Absolute."
The problem, Boras said, is some orthopedists simply make evaluations based on medical tests, like magnetic resonance imaging, rather than take into account a player's history, pain threshold and ability to adapt. "Surgeons who don't treat athletes will look at an MRI and say one thing," Boras said, "and other doctors that treat patients and look at them, they find little credence in the MRIs when they've seen dramatic performance, particularly over an eight-year span."
'Speed is not his weapon'
Still, as the uncertainty about Correa's destination dragged on, the spill he took on the field while trying to steal a base in Kansas City in September — Correa briefly lay in the dirt in pain, though he did not come out of the game, and said afterward that the support plate in his ankle had flared up — drew attention as possible evidence that the ankle is a potential problem.
Correa also rarely tries to steal bases (just eight attempts in the past six seasons) or legs out triples (only five in six years), adding to speculation that he was hiding a more serious condition, or at least trying to avoid aggravating it.
Falvey dismissed those concerns. "It's just not part of his game. Speed is not his weapon," Falvey said. "That's [the reason], more than it is his ankle."
The Twins will learn eventually whether they were correct in betting on Correa's health and ability, or if they should have been as cautious as the Giants and Mets. Correa, though, said he absorbed a much more immediate lesson during his bizarre venture into free agency.
"One thing I learned throughout the whole process is that doctors have difference of opinions," he said with a shrug. "I had a lot of doctors tell me that I was fine. I had some doctors that said it wasn't."