HOUSTON — It has been a decade like no other for the Houston Astros, whose intentional retreat into 100-loss seasons earned them the first of many wary looks from the baseball industry but also netted them a dynamic, cocksure 17-year-old shortstop from Puerto Rico.
Tuesday night, as Game 6 of the World Series turned against them and perhaps their last, best chance at a championship viewed more universally legitimate dissipated, it suddenly felt like the end.
As Carlos Correa stepped into the batter’s box in the bottom of the ninth inning, his team down 7-0 and just three outs from a winter of uncertainty, he gazed at the Minute Maid Park crowd of 42,868 and admitted snapping a mental picture.
A two-time All-Star shortstop, a linchpin of their 2017 World Series team and ultimately the defiant voice defending the Astros’ honor after that championship was tainted by an elaborate and illicit sign-stealing scandal, Correa’s postgame reflections – leaning heavily on the past tense – felt jarring.
“My time here was amazing,” Correa said in a postgame news conference, “the seven greatest years of my life. I got here as a boy, turned into a man, grew in this city, and the fans embraced me.
“This has been my home. This is my home now. So I’m grateful for everybody.”
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The future? Other than Correa and his wife welcoming their first child over the winter, it’s rather murky.
Correa indeed grew up before Houston’s eyes, famously proposing to his wife, Daniella, on the Dodger Stadium turf in the moments after winning Game 7 of that ’17 Series.
That year began a run of five consecutive trips to the American League Championship Series, including three World Series trips, but also the ignominy of baseball’s worst cheating scandal since the height of the steroid era.
The Boys of ’17 have been gradually dispersing since, from Brian McCann to Josh Reddick and finally to the first of the core stars, George Springer, who signed a $150 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays last winter.
Correa is expected to seek double that amount.
He may fall short, but still figures to land in a rent district too rich for the Astros’ tastes. They made him a pair of offers in the spring, first at six years and $120 million, and then five for $130 million, but Correa politely declined, and the Astros respected his wishes not to negotiate during the season.
And then Correa, 27, made a powerful case for himself.
He slugged 26 home runs and produced an .850 OPS, 31% better than league average. He led AL position players with 7.2 Wins Above Replacement.
And suddenly placed himself at the front of a loaded class of free agent shortstops.
The Astros have yet to go huge to retain either their drafted players – like Springer – or trade pickups such as pitcher Gerrit Cole. Their starting pitcher needs figure to outweigh retaining Correa’s thump.
And they can save tens of millions of dollars, most likely, by dropping down a notch in the shortstop merry-go-round and aiming for Marcus Semien or Javy Baez.
The Astros know the deal, and are prepared for life without their swaggering shortstop.
“Being able to play with him for the last six years has been special,” says third baseman Alex Bregman, who is signed through 2024. “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.
“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.”
Certainly, it’s not curtains for the Astros, not with Bregman, batting champ Yuli Gurriel and slugger Yordan Alvarez around a few more years, with Michael Brantley likely to hit until he turns 50, with Kyle Tucker easing into something resembling superstardom.
Another year of development should benefit playoff starters Framber Valdez and Luis Garcia. GM James Click, while still reaping countless benefits from disgraced predecessor Jeff Luhnow, has ably worked around the edges to augment the rotation and bullpen.
Yet the Astros, as they loved them in Houston and reviled them almost everywhere else, will be no more if Correa moves on. Their legacy is whatever you see in them – the undeniable dominance that made them October constants, or the underhanded rule-breaking that undermined that greatness.
That view likely won’t change once Correa is a Tiger or a Yankee or wherever he may land.
“This group is a special group,” says Correa. “I told them in the clubhouse, never take for granted what we’ve built here. Not many teams are like this. Not many teams are a family. Not many teams go out to work every single day and are successful.
“People expect greatness when you talk about the Houston Astros. They expect us to make the playoffs every year. They expect us to be in the World Series every year. That’s because of the atmosphere and chemistry that we built in this clubhouse.
“You got to keep that up for years to come, and this organization is going to be one of the greatest.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Carlos Correa moving on after Astros lose World Series to Braves?
Source: Yahoo Sports