If the widely reported information is true, Carlos Correa’s lower right leg is the reason the Giants don’t have their franchise shortstop of the future. It’s the reason Correa isn’t the fourth-highest paid player ever and the reason his massive deal with the Mets is apparently in limbo.
The calendar has turned since the Giants landed Correa on a 13-year, $350 million deal and then decided not to execute it because of a difference in opinion in the medical review process Now over two weeks since the Mets thought they capitalized on San Francisco’s decision, they are reportedly considering walking away from their 12-year, $315 million deal with the two-time All-Star.
The remainder of the MLB offseason rotates on Correa’s ankle, which he fractured in 2014 and got surgically repaired.
Only the Mets and Giants know the exact details of Correa’s foot and ankle, and both of them have been alarmed by what they saw.
HIPAA laws prevent both the Giants and Mets from disclosing certain medical information, making it difficult to know exactly why Correa’s injury has them so spooked. But there are a certain set of facts about the injury to consider.
The injury occurred in 2014, when Correa was a 19-year-old prospect. It happened on a slide into third base and was described as a lower right leg injury. He underwent surgery to address fractured right fibula — the outer and usually smaller of the two bones between the knee and ankle — and ligament damage.
The surgery involved installing a metal plate. Last September, Correa got up slowly after a slide and later told reporters that contact to his plate made him feel a “numb” and “vibrating” sensation.
Correa waited for the discomfort to calm down but remained in the game. In his eight MLB seasons, the shortstop has spent considerable time on the injured list but never with an ankle or leg injury. He’s dealt with thumb, rib and most commonly back issues.
Beyond those facts is the development that something in Correa’s medical review, as it reportedly pertains to his lower right leg, scared the Giants out of their deal and has brought his Mets pact to the brink of negotiations.
Dr. David E. Oji, Stanford Medicine orthopedic surgeon, hasn’t examined Correa — and wouldn’t be able to comment on him specifically if he did — but is qualified to provide some clarity on what might be going on. Oji specializes in foot and ankle surgery as well as sports medicine.
The main takeaway is one that doesn’t solve any mysteries: if treated correctly and rehabbed effectively, ankle fractures like Correa’s typically don’t cause long-term issues.
“Most patients do very well,” Oji said. “Most do go back to their respective sport and activities and usually stay pretty healthy for a very long period of time.”
Based on the nature of Correa’s leg injury, Oji said his procedure likely involved both the plate and a method called tightrope fixation. The latter repairs damaged ligaments and holds them in the appropriate position, Oji said.
The plate vibrating incident is easily explainable. Since there isn’t much tissue around the ankle, it’s common that patients with surgically inserted plates in the area can experience irritation with direct pressure.
“Any time of a contusion, especially sliding into a base or even if you hit the side of a table, that can cause quite a bit of pain,” Oji said. “Because it’s literally just the skin, a little bit of soft tissue, then the plate.”
It’s possible, but unlikely that Correa’s chronic back issues are related to the ankle procedure, Oji said. Another potential but improbable issue, Oji said, is that Correa’s surgery altered the position of his ankle and caused instability in the ligaments.
The latter hypothetical, though, would lead to significant discomfort. Since Correa hasn’t hit the injured list because of his ankle, Oji’s suspicion level is low for that outcome. Either Correa has an incredible pain tolerance, or his ankle is correctly positioned.
The main long-term concern for ankle fractures is arthritis in the joint.
“Especially after a traumatic injury like that, an ankle fracture, you could develop arthritis,” Oji said. “And that could lead to chronic pain, decrease in function and decrease in athletic abilities.”
But even arthritis is rare and typically doesn’t arise until many years down the road. Correa’s injury happened when he was 19; he’s now 28 and in his athletic prime.
“We do know that it takes many years for ankle issues to arise after an ankle fracture,” Oji said. “So typically it’s a very long timeframe. I wouldn’t necessarily expect arthritis to form after only eight years — unless there were problems related to the surgery or infection or things like that, which again I don’t know.”
The Giants, Mets and any other team interested in Correa must weigh the risk of how he’ll perform for at least the next 10 years, when he’s in his 30s. That’s standard for star players who are signing long-term deals more frequently than ever now.
There’s no exact science for predicting when an athlete’s body might break down. Oji said the medical community still isn’t particularly good at projecting out future orthopedic issues because there are so many variables to factor in.
When the Giants agreed to sign Correa, they did so after approving his medical records that are approved by MLB. But a more extensive physical examination on Dec. 19 raised enough alarm to spike the 13-year deal the next day — the day Correa was supposed to be introduced at Oracle Park.
Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said the team’s brass was “totally unified every step of the way as (the situation) unfolded.”
Now the Mets, more than two weeks after similarly signing Correa, still haven’t executed their deal even after owner Steve Cohen and agent Scott Boras publicly commented on the signing.
Correa’s lower right leg has become the most mercurial limb in the sport.
“Without looking at the exact record and looking at the current x-rays, it’s hard to know what the apprehension is with the teams,” Oji said.