If the Cubs ever liked the idea of Carlos Correa as a long-term building block in Jed Hoyer’s “next great Cubs team,” they might already have missed their chance.
And if so, they have only themselves and their business practices to thank for it.
“I didn’t want to be part of no rebuilding,” Correa told NBC Sports Chicago Monday before playing his first game in Chicago since his Astros eliminated the White Sox from the playoffs last season.
This time, he’s leading the first-place Twins against the White Sox after signing a three-year, $105 million free agent deal that allows him to opt back into free agency after this year or next.
Correa, arguably the top shortstop on last year’s historically strong free agent shortstop market, spoke in October in glowing terms about Wrigley Field and the big crowds and his teenage dreams of playing there one day when he worked out for the team before his 2012 draft day.
But the contact between him and the Cubs went nowhere — certainly nowhere near that seven-year mega-money offer that a few specious reports suggested and that team president Hoyer refuted.
“We had conversations, but there was never an offer,” Correa said. “It was just checking-in stuff. They were more in that rebuilding process. And they knew I wanted to be more in a championship-caliber atmosphere. That’s why I’m a Minnesota Twin.”
Well, that’s part of the reason. By the time MLB’s 99-day lockout ended in March and Correa had switched agents to Scott Boras, spring training camps were opening and, eventually, a short-term, high-salaried contract made sense to bridge to what many speculate is an all-but assured return to free agency this fall.
But if anybody around here thinks the upcoming offseason offers a likelier chance for the Cubs to make Correa a centerpiece of their future, they might want to think again.
The Cubs have given nothing close to an indication that they will be willing to go that large — 10 years, $300 million to $350 million? — for anybody during a rebuild that looks at least a couple years from a significant turn.
In fact, they’re giving young Nico Hoerner an extended look at the position, and he’s performing well there, so far.
That doesn’t mean they can’t choose to move Hoerner off short and go after the complete-package All-Star in Correa anyway.
But more importantly, a decision like that doesn’t mean Correa wants to sign up for whatever the Cubs tell him they have coming.
The talks the Cubs had with Correa before the lockout didn’t come close to producing traction, Correa said. And there was no contact after the lockout — when the Cubs zeroed in on free agent Seiya Suzuki for a five-year, $85 million contract plus $14.6 million posting fee.
Correa, 27, said his only focus now is on this season and trying to win in October with the Twins.
As for longer term, “If we can get something done here, I would love for this to be my long-term home,” he said of Minnesota. “If that’s not the case, we can have this conversation later.”
But here’s the thing: One of the more savvy young All-Stars in the majors already has a line on the Cubs’ initial thoughts on their rebuild and how they thought he fit.
And going forward, whether it’s the Cubs or anyone else, he said, “I always do my homework.”
And when Monday’s conversation touched on the Cubs’ record since he last checked in, well, “That’s not promising,” he said.
“I don’t know what the farm system looks like right now, where it ranks,” he added. “It’s not in the top 15, right?”
Not by most accounts.
“It’s tough. They’re going to have to sign a lot of free agents if they want to compete soon,” Correa said. “If not, they’ve gotta keep rebuilding, like the Astros did, or like the Orioles are doing. The Orioles look good. We played them last series, and they’ve got a great farm system, and I think in two or three years people are going to be talking about the Orioles.”
Those are the Orioles that clobbered Keegan Thompson last month in Baltimore.
The larger point is whether the Cubs are becoming a tougher sell to free agents than they might have been even nine and 10 months ago after the roster purge of core players, followed by promises by ownership of new spending and an industry-wide curiosity about Hoyer’s next moves.
Obviously, enough money can attract almost any free agent.
But the luster already has worn off that whole winning-culture promise borne of the recent playoff runs and 2016 championship. A big-revenue team's ownership running scared from pandemic-related losses can have that effect.
Aaron Judge and Xander Bogaerts — two more potential big-name free agents this fall — suggested they, too, might need to hear a plan and projected lineup before choosing to make a long-term commitment to a big-market team that has been willing to undergo long-term rebuilds already twice in a decade.
“If you sign the right pieces in the free agent market, I feel like you could have a very competitive team,” Correa said. “There’s going to be a lot of free agents this year that can help shape an organization.
“But it goes back to how much a team wants to spend.”