Correa’s return gives Twins roster an encouraging boost

The Twins won't start spring training for another month, but their roster is suddenly looking complete.

Outlooks change that quickly when Carlos Correa decides to stay in Minnesota.

The star shortstop seemingly ended his turbulent free agency Tuesday by agreeing to his third deal of the offseason, this one for at least six years, $200 million. His first two agreements with the Giants and Mets fell through when the standard physical examination revealed concerns about the 28-year-old's right ankle, which he injured and had surgery on in 2014 as a minor leaguer.

The World Series and Gold Glove winner spent the 2022 season with the Twins, opting out of the two final years of that contract — each worth $35.1 million — to again seek the big-money, long-term deal he couldn't secure during the lockout. And while Correa perhaps didn't intend on being with the Twins for the long term, his impact said otherwise.

He almost immediately became the Twins' most vocal leader, often seen mentoring young players like fellow Puerto Rican Jose Miranda or brainstorming with franchise player Byron Buxton. Twins manager Rocco Baldelli also often spoke of the example Correa set with his work ethic.

On the field, he also delivered. He brought consistency and excellence to a position where the Twins have lacked stability. And at the plate, he produced 64 RBI and 22 home runs with a .291 batting average. He played his best offense in the final months of the season, hitting .355 in September and October.

There's still time for the Twins' front office of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine to orchestrate more deals: A team can never have enough pitchers, for example. But with Correa's return, plus other offseason signings, the Twins' lineup has depth, which is necessary if anything close to the number of injuries endured in 2022 reoccurs.

Jorge Polanco can continue his duties at second base. Kyle Farmer, whom the Twins snagged from Cincinnati in November, will likely play third base with Luis Arraez and Miranda once again splitting duties at first base with occasional fill-ins at third. The designated hitter spot will also allow the Twins some flexibility with numerous players likely rotating through it.

The Twins also locked in a catching tandem with Ryan Jeffers and new face Christian Vazquez, who joined on a three-year deal in December. Joey Gallo, also a December free-agent signee on a one-year deal, is a former Gold Glove winner in right field. Buxton's health is always an issue, but Max Kepler, Nick Gordon, Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, Gilberto Celestino and Kyle Garlick give the Twins plenty of other outfield options.

Pitching-wise, the Twins starting rotation should be largely healthy to start the year. It includes Sonny Gray, Joe Ryan, Kenta Maeda, Tyler Mahle and Bailey Ober and/or Josh Winder. The bullpen will feature Jhoan Duran, Jorge Lopez, Griffin Jax, Caleb Thielbar and possibly A.J. Alexy, acquired Tuesday from the Nationals.

Correa's deal, though, is for as many as 10 years with possible extensions. So his presence will almost certainly cause some roster shifting in the future. The Twins have Royce Lewis, their former top prospect whose back-to-back season-ending ACL injuries have derailed his MLB career so far. Lewis played one game in center field this past season to accommodate Correa also being in the lineup, then injured his knee and had surgery that will keep him out until midsummer at best. Correa reportedly indicated he was willing to switch to third if his deal with the Mets had cleared, so that could potentially come to fruition once Lewis is back.

On the shortstop pipeline is Brooks Lee, the Twins' first-round pick in 2022 who ascended to Class AA in his first minor league season. Should his timeline continue to accelerate, the Twins could have three first-round shortstops — Correa went No. 1 in 2012, Lewis No. 1 in 2017 and Lee No. 8 last year.

But that is truly a future Twins decision. For now, they can hope Correa and company end a two-year playoff drought in 2023.