Houston loves the stars that formed the nucleus of its championship team, but hard financial realities of Major League Baseball are looming for the Astros. The future may revolve around a 19-year-old shortstop named Freudis Nova.
Tough decisions ahead
When the Astros’ new leadership selected Carlos Correa with the first overall pick in the 2012 draft, it signified the new hope that one day, in the not too distant future, the Houston Astros would not only return to relevance but would bring the once perennially heartbroken fan base a World Series title. Correa, the freakishly athletic and hardworking kid from Puerto Rico, would then become the face of the franchise in the same way Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell were.
In the prime of Bagwell and Biggio’s career, the thought of trading away or losing either superstar to free agency was unpleasant and unthinkable. But the time is fast approaching for this possibility with Correa.
Correa, like the two HOFers before him, has etched his name in Astros lore. It can even be argued that he has already surpassed the two greats in historical importance to the franchise.
At just 24 years old, Correa is still several years from reaching his prime and, one day, very soon, may land himself a $300M contract, if not more. Considering the team’s extension for Jose Altuve last year, and the looming walk years for Cole, Verlander, Springer, and Bregman fast approaching, the Astros simply won’t have the ability to pay all, even most, of their stars.
With Correa, the Astros could soon find themselves in a Marlins-type scenario, in that they’ll have one of the best young players in the game at his position soon to hit free agency. The Astros would run the risk of not getting full market value, if anything at all, for him.
The Marlins cashed in their lone remaining lottery ticket in JT Realmuto and received a potential ace in return and a very solid catcher to boot. Soon the Astros may be able to do the same by dealing Carlos Correa.
The big difference, of course, between the Astros and Marlins, is that the Astros presumably will still be legitimate contenders but facing an onslaught of tough decisions. They will have difficulty keeping their core together while simultaneously keeping the team’s financial situation in check.
Enter Freudis Nova
This is precisely why Freudis Nova is the most important prospect in the Astros organization.
Freudis Nova signed for a little over $1M during the 2016 international signing period. Nova received high praise from scouts, likening him to Hanley Ramirez and Edgar Renteria, two of the best shortstops of the era during their prime.
With an athletic frame and above average tools across the board, Nova has already skyrocketed up lists of the Astros top prospects and his projections as an offensive threat are not too far off what Correa has produced to date.
In 2018, the now 19-year-old made his stateside debut in the Gulf Coast League, posting a line of .308/.331/.466 in 146 at-bats. He also showed enough defensively to cause scouts to believe he can stick at shortstop long-term.
Correa is set to hit free agency in 2022 at the ripe old age of 27, around the same time when Nova is expected to make his mark in the big leagues. Will the Astros be willing to extend Correa’s tenure in Houston for what ultimately could be north of what Manny Machado just received from the Padres, or turn the reigns over to Nova and his rookie salary and focus instead on extending the tenure of Alex Bregman?
Of course, there’s rarely, if ever, a thing called a “can’t-miss prospect,” so assuming a kid in the GCL will be able to adequately supplant an All-Star at perhaps the most important defensive position on the diamond in three years is, well, risky at best. Potentially, this decision will come down to hundreds of millions of dollars and which current players the organization values more.
However, let’s assume for a moment that Nova does develop by 2022 (or sooner) into the “next big thing” in the minor league system but is blocked by Correa in Correa’s walk year. Imagining a scenario where trading Correa in his prime and receiving a package that could assure the stability of the Astros MiLB pipeline isn’t as far-fetched as it first seems.
Nova’s potential — and that’s all it is at the moment — not only could affect what the Astros do with Correa but also could generate a ripple effect as to what the club is able to do with other players who will soon be hitting free agency as well.
Unfortunately, keeping the current core of Astros stars together seems impossible, and the first casualty of this reality may be the player that precipitated the Astros renaissance in the first place. And this monumental decision may also be resting on the shoulders of a 19-year-old shortstop in the Gulf Coast League.