Is It Time to Free Joey Votto?



2017 will be Joey Votto’s age 33 season.  Including the 22 million dollars he will earn this season, Votto is owed approximately 190 million dollars through 2024 (his age 40 season).  When he signed this contract/extension with the Reds, both he and the team likely envisioned their future together very differently.  As it has played out, the Reds have seldom contended for a post-season birth and Votto is one (maybe even the only) piece left of what once looked like a perennial contender.

It is a little surprising that a team that fancies itself a contender for 2017 or 2018 has not taken the plunge and made a deal for Votto.  He would likely have the most value to an American League team with deep pockets.  Such a team could slot Votto in as a first baseman now and slowly move him to designated hitter as he ages.  I suspect that an interested team may not have to give up nearly as much for him as one might expect due to his contract cost and length.  What contender wouldn’t want the type of production that Votto is capable of as recent as this past year (check out my last post which focuses on his incredible second half of 2016)?

It would be tremendous if Votto was one of the few players that played for a single organization for his entire career.  There is something special about a player of his caliber staying with one team like Kirby Puckett, Cal Ripken, or Tony Gwynn.  However, if the Reds are eventually going to look to move him as part of a complete rebuild or prolonged youth movement or if Votto is going to one day ask to play for a team that has World Series aspirations, now is the time to make a deal.  Possible destinations?  The Blue Jays, Red Sox, Mariners, or even an NL team like the Nationals.

Votto’s contract is creeping towards the point where the natural aging process will make it difficult for him to produce at his currently elite level.  Each passing year that the Reds hold on to Votto will make an eventual trade less likely and/or the return the Reds receive less impressive.   When his hitting skills finally erode the money owed and the years remaining on his deal may make the last years of his deal painful.  Thus, a current contender should take on Votto now, enjoy his production for the next few years, and hope that his aging curve is slow and gentle through 2024.

An interested playoff quality team should also consider adding Votto now because the new CBA has narrowed the places ownership can spend money.  As a result, owners will likely spend more liberally on free agents.  What currently seems like a steep price for Votto during the 2020 through 2024 seasons may ultimately be less of a bitter pill to swallow, especially if a move for Votto pays immediate dividends for the team acquiring his services.

Votto is a difference maker.  Teams with a need at first base and/or designated hitter who think they may make a playoff run need to take a long hard look at themselves and decide if they are serious about competing for a title.  If they are, they need to make a deal for Votto.

Photo credit: Getty Images.

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