At 12:43 Pacific time this afternoon, I contributed to a conversation in The Ringer’s MLB Slack channel by saying I’d take Carlos Correa over Bryce Harper for the rest of this season. At 1:09 Pacific time, the Astros announced that their star shortstop would miss six to eight weeks after tearing a ligament in his left thumb on a swing against the Mariners on Monday night.
First things first: The Astros will be fine for the next six to eight weeks. At 62–31, they have a 15.5-game lead in AL West, and as no other team in the division has a winning record, they should coast to their first division title since the Killer B’s prime of 2001; FanGraphs rounds their current playoff odds up to an even 100 percent. Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel should return from injury soon, starter Charlie Morton just returned to strengthen the rotation, and the other most notable presence on the team’s disabled list is middle reliever Will Harris. With utility bat Marwin González continuing to crush the ball and third baseman Alex Bregman an experienced shortstop, they have multiple options to fill Correa’s position for the next two months. Perhaps if González moves to short on a regular basis, they’ll add a corner outfielder at the trade deadline, but they’re a practical playoff lock regardless and needn’t worry about stumbling down the stretch.
The problem for Houston will come if the injury and post-surgery recovery last any longer than the forecasted eight weeks. As is, missing that amount of time would give Correa just two weeks to remove any rust and get back to full speed before the playoffs. And while Mike Trout has hit just fine this past week in his return from a similar injury suffered in late May, it stands to reason that Correa would need an adjustment period after undergoing surgery on a body part responsible for gripping his bat and controlling his swing. If he follows Trout’s recovery timetable, there won’t be an issue, but a less effective — or entirely absent — Correa in the postseason would stymie Houston’s league-best offense against improved competition as the Astros pursue their first World Series title.
Moreover, it just hurts to lose a player of Correa’s caliber from the national baseball landscape. This season has delivered overlapping waves of superstar injuries: Trout was hurt for the first time in his career; Freddie Freeman missed two months; Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard suffered long-term injuries; and fellow young shortstop Trea Turner has been out since late June with a broken wrist.
Besides Trout, Correa might be the best of that injured bunch — and of any possible bunch of baseball players. Just last week, Ben Lindbergh predicted that Correa would establish himself as MLB’s second-best position player in the season’s second half, behind only Trout, and FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron placed Correa first — ahead of Trout — on his annual trade-value list. The 22-year-old just started in his first All-Star Game, and his .320/.400/.566 slash line would scream “MVP candidate” from anybody, let alone a viable defender at the toughest position on the diamond.
The only shortstops this young who have posted numbers in the same ballpark as Correa’s this year are Rogers Hornsby and Alex Rodriguez. Losing Correa for the rest of the summer is a bummer for baseball fans, but a two-month injury shouldn’t derail Correa’s career from following in those players’ illustrious paths — and for the Astros, there’s no better time to lose a superstar than when they already have a 15.5-game division lead.