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World Series 2021 – Why Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa is made for October




And the 2021 Astros are his team. The 27-year-old shortstop is on a mission to win another World Series as the leader of an often maligned Astros’ organization while the clock ticks to his free agency.

So don’t expect him to back down now that the Atlanta Braves struck first with a Game 1 win on Tuesday night. If you see Correa pointing at his wrist after a big hit in Game 2 — as he did against the Red Sox in the last round, sparking an ALCS controversy — you’ll understand why.

“When the playoffs start, [my teammates] always tell me it’s your time,” Correa told ESPN during the ALCS. “I love this time of year. When I point at my wrist, it’s not to disrespect anyone. I’m just saying it’s ‘my time’ of year.”

He can back it up: In six postseasons, Correa has belted 18 home runs and compiled an .868 OPS. But beyond the homers and the flashy celebrations, a newer version of Correa has emerged — a team leader who will defend his team publicly and call them out privately.

“He can sit there, in front of a group, and ask individuals, ‘Are you ready to go with me?’ because they know his answer is yes,” explained Kendall Graveman, who joined the Astros in a midseason trade from the Mariners. “That’s the vibe he gives off.”

With his Astros in the World Series for the third time in five years, Correa is more than ready for one more chance to show off his leadership and on-the-field skills. And after seven years with the team, in what could be his final days wearing orange and blue, his stature in the clubhouse is clear.

“He is super intelligent,” longtime teammate Alex Bregman said. “He works extremely hard. His only goal is to win. He has a plan, executes his plan and helps other guys do the same. He is a leader.”

STANDING NEAR THE Fenway Park visitor’s dugout while his team prepared for a pivotal ALCS Game 5 meeting with the Red Sox, Correa’s voice began to crack and his eyes started welling up while explaining what being in this role for the Astros means to him.

“It’s actually hard for me to talk about this,” he said. “It’s about how much I care about every single individual in that clubhouse. I love every single one of them. I treat them like family members and there is nothing I wouldn’t do for my family.”

It’s been a long road to get here. Correa started on the Astros as a 20-year-old rookie in 2015, one of the young upstarts on a team coming out of a long rebuild. In only his second year on the team, Correa’s legacy with the Astros changed forever: with the sign-stealing scandal that shook baseball when it was uncovered two years later.

The fallout cost former manager AJ Hinch and former GM Jeff Luhnow their jobs. The players were never punished, but Correa and the other three Astros hitters remaining on the 2021 roster have felt the wrath of the court of public opinion. Correa says that the treatment that he and his teammates have received has forced him to grow up quickly.

“With everything that we went through, I felt like I had to step up, make sure we’re more together than ever,” Correa said. “Everything that’s happened on the road has just brought us closer.”

While some Astros players have shied away from addressing criticism related to the scandal directly, Correa has leaned in to defend his teammates at every opportunity. When White Sox pitcher Ryan Tepera insinuated the Astros were still cheating at home earlier this postseason, the shortstop responded by reciting the team’s MLB-leading .780 road OPS this season.

“I speak by facts,” Correa said. “Some people speak on emotion; I want to talk on facts and numbers. If you’re going to talk bad about our team, make sure you have the story right.”

The Astros are regularly the subject of hostile chants across the league, but Correa sees their latest run as an opportunity to change the narrative. It’s as close as any Astro will publicly admit to being motivated to silence the critics by winning without a hint of scandal.

“That was the bad part of our story,” Correa said. “Now we have to be better and fix our story and finish with a happy ending.”

SINCE 2017, CORREA has remained one of the best shortstops in the league. And as he has matured as a player and as a leader in the Astros clubhouse, his impact has only grown.

For manager Dusty Baker, who has managed other veteran clubhouse presences such as Derrek Lee and Max Scherzer, it’s not lost on him what it means to have a great player setting the example for his teammates.

“I learned that from Hank Aaron, that you want your best player to be your best leader,” Baker said. “Most of the time, it’s not. It does make it so much easier on the manager because he takes a half-dozen or 10 guys with him.

“If your best player is not a good leader, they can take you down the wrong road. Carlos is in the great category.”

This year, that’s been true on and off the field. Correa has set a career high in home runs and WAR and is an All-Star for the first time since 2017. And as he’s guided this team through their first season back on the road in front of fans still frothing about the 2020 revelations, he’s been equally important in the clubhouse.

Graveman recalled several nights on the road where players would gather in catcher Martin Maldonado‘s room to talk about that night’s game, Correa often leading the conversation.

“He’ll break down the game and talk to guys one-on-one,” Graveman said. “Just saying things like ‘We need you to win,’ is a big deal. When a leader says that, that’s special because you really believe it. I’ve seen it on multiple occasions.”

THERE WAS ONE moment in the ALDS in Chicago that Correa and his teammates say illustrates his leadership evolution in Houston.

In Game 4, as center fielder Jake Meyers lay on the warning track after crashing into the Guaranteed Rate Field wall in an attempt to take a home run away from Gavin Sheets, Correa sprinted into the outfield.

Just that — running from the infield to check on an injured teammate — is not something Correa would have done a few years ago, he said.

But his actions after he got there were just as important. Meyers had jammed his left shoulder — his throwing arm — during the sequence, but he wanted to stay in the game. As Baker jogged from the dugout — he would later claim it was a “long run” — it was Correa who took charge of the situation.

“I asked him how he was doing,” Correa recalled. “He said he was 50%. I told him 50% wasn’t good enough for me.”

Meyers came out of the game.

“In the moment when it happened, Carlos really showed a veteran, captain-esque move there, letting me understand there it’s not about me, it’s about the team,” Meyers said. “But I also know he cares about me.”

Correa and his teammates both acknowledge that his on-field leadership has been a work in progress in his seven years in the league.

“I’ve seen him grow up,” Astros bench coach Joe Espada said. “He’s authentic. There’s empathy. There’s compassion. That’s what a leader is all about. But he does it with respect.”

AS WALK YEARS go, Correa’s is about as good as it gets. According to Baseball Reference, his WAR (7.2) led all position players. His .850 OPS is right in line with the best shortstops in the game, and this was his best defensive season yet. His game sells itself — and Correa, a free agent for the first time in 2021, is ready to take advantage.

“Whatever team wants to win I want to be part of it,” Correa said. “I want to be part of an organization that wants to go in the right direction and rebuild in the right way and win championships.”

While the Yankees and Mariners remain among the teams associated with signing Correa, an unsolicited mention of the word “rebuild” should have fans in Detroit and Chicago, among other cities, salivating. The Tigers employ former Astros manager A.J Hinch while the Cubs are currently void of stars, and Correa recently recalled how much a pre-draft workout at Wrigley Field meant to him.

Correa has become more fluent in the sabermetric world and has made it clear that he will be using that information to analyze his potential suitors in the same way that interested teams will be evaluating him.

“I see a lot of teams out there that have a lot of talent but don’t have information,” Correa said. “That’s what I’m going to bring. The analytics tell you so much but at the same time you need guys that have done it to help you to learn the right ways. I’ll bring that to another team.

“I get on the websites and start looking at numbers and comparing. I enjoy that in my free time,” he continued with a smile. “Some people like Tik Tok, I look at numbers.”

The Astros attempted to sign Correa to an extension last offseason, offering him a six-year, $120 million contract, but fell far short. And it will likely take a lot more to sign him now. Just one year after Houston just let George Springer walk, the team could see the same happen with another All-Star in 2021.

“We’re going to work with Correa after this is over,” Astros owner Jim Crane said during Houston’s postseason run.

For now, Correa said, he has other things on his mind.

“When the offseason comes, I will think about all that other stuff, but right now, the main focus is helping this team win a championship,” he said. “That’s all I think about.”

He ended a long conversation about his organization, his adopted city and especially his teammates — to whom he may be saying goodbye in short order — with a message.

“My love will never run out for all of them,” Correa said.

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MLB Players Association to make counteroffer to league in Monday meeting



The Major League Baseball Players Association plans to make an in-person labor proposal to the league on Monday, sources told ESPN, countering MLB’s offer last week that did little to loosen the gridlock that has gripped the sport after the league locked out the players Dec. 2.

Should the players’ offer do little to advance the negotiations that thus far haven’t yielded any substantive progress, the scheduled start to spring training in mid-February will grow that much unlikelier. And the longer discussions on a new collective-bargaining agreement last, the more they jeopardize Opening Day on March 31.

The gap between the players and league remains significant, with the union seeking major financial gains in a number of areas and owners trying to hold firm with what they currently pay in salaries. Other issues players have said remain a priority include anti-tanking measures and fixing service-time manipulation.

Any concessions players make in their offer could provide a roadmap to the negotiations. Before implementing the lockout, the league asked the union to drop three areas of discussion: earlier free agency for players, salary arbitration after two years instead of three and changes to the revenue-sharing plan. The union did not agree to the condition when presented with it Dec. 1, and the league left the bargaining table, locking out the players hours later.

Forty-three days later, the league returned to the union with an offer that included paying players with two to three years of service based on a formula, slight modifications to the draft lottery it previously had proposed and a mechanism that would reward teams with draft picks when top prospects who started on opening day rosters win awards.

The proposal did little to entice players, who after losing financial ground during the previous labor agreement want to make gains this time around.

News of the MLBPA’s expected counterproposal was first reported by The Associated Press

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Robot umpires at home plate moving up to Triple-A for 2022, one step away from major league baseball



NEW YORK — Robot umpires have been given a promotion and will be just one step from the major leagues this season. Major League Baseball is expanding its automated strike zone experiment to Triple-A, the highest level of the minor leagues.

MLB’s website posted a hiring notice seeking seasonal employees to operate the Automated Ball-Strike system. MLB said it is recruiting employees to operate the system for the Albuquerque Isotopes, Charlotte Knights, El Paso Chihuahuas, Las Vegas Aviators, Oklahoma City Dodgers, Reno Aces, Round Rock Express, Sacramento River Cats, Salt Lake Bees, Sugar Land Skeeters and Tacoma Rainiers.

The independent Atlantic League became the first American professional league to let a computer call balls and strikes at its All-Star Game in July 2019 and experimented with ABS during the second half of that season. The system also was used in the Arizona Fall League for top prospects in 2019, drawing complaints of its calls on breaking balls.

There were no minor leagues in 2020 because of the pandemic, and robot umps were used last season in eight of nine ballparks at the Low-A Southeast League.

The Major League Baseball Umpires Association agreed in its labor contract that started in 2020 to cooperate and assist if commissioner Rob Manfred decides to use the system at the major league level.

“It’s hard to handicap if, when or how it might be employed at the major league level, because it is a pretty substantial difference from the way the game is called today,” Chris Marinak, MLB’s chief operations and strategy officer, said last March.

MLB said the robot umpires will be used at some spring training ballparks in Florida, will remain at Low A Southeast and could be used at non-MLB venues.

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Tampa Bay Rays say split-season plan with Montreal rejected by MLB



ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays‘ proposed plan to split the season between Florida and Montreal has been rejected by Major League Baseball.

Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg announced the news on Thursday.

“Today’s news is flat-out deflating,” Sternberg said.

The idea of playing in both the Tampa Bay area and Montreal has been discussed over the past several years after attempts to build a new full-time ballpark locally failed.

Montreal had a big league team from 1969, when the expansion Expos began play, through 2004. The Expos moved to Washington and became the Nationals for the 2005 season.

The Rays’ lease at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, where the team has played since its inaugural season in 1998, expires after the 2027 season.

Since Sternberg took control in October 2005, the once-struggling franchise has been a success on the field but not at the box office.

Despite reaching the World Series in 2008 and 2020, the Rays have annually ranked near the bottom in attendance. The Rays averaged about 9,500 for home games last season, 28th in the majors and ahead of only Miami and Oakland.

St. Petersburg mayor Ken Welch feels a new stadium in his city remains a possibility. Governmental officials have been working on a redevelopment plan for the Tropicana Field site.

“We are working with our county partners and city council to put together the best plan possible, which will work in conjunction with my planned evolution of the Tropicana Field master development proposals,” Welch said in a statement. “With this collaborative approach, I am confident we can partner with the Tampa Bay Rays to create a new and iconic full-time home for Major League Baseball in St. Petersburg while also achieving historic equitable economic growth.”

Sternberg said the team will definitely explore options in the Tampa Bay area.

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