Reds’ Votto an enigma

Ask any Cincinnati Reds fan you know for their thoughts on first baseman Joey Votto and you are likely to get a variety of answers.

“He is a sure-fire hall-of-famer,” one might say.

“He has seen his better days and not worth the money he is being paid,” is another reply you might hear.

The usually cash conscious, small-market Redlegs rewarded Votto back in 2012 with a mega 10-year, 218-million contract extension that they hoped would keep the Canadian-born slugger in a Cincinnati uniform for his entire career.

After injuries cost him the bulk of the 2014 season, Votto made the Reds look like their money was well spent as he strung together three consecutive great seasons from 2015 thru 2017, averaging .320 with 31 home runs and 90-plus runs-batted-in per season all the while leading the majors in on-base-percentage.

Votto narrowly missed winning the second Most Valuable Player award of his career in 2017 after battng .320 with 36 bombs and 100 RBIs to go along with a major-league best .454 OBP.

Halfway through the 2018 campaign, things suddenly began to change for the Reds first baseman and at the midway point in the 2019 season Votto has yet to rediscover his old self.

In 129 games since the All-Star break of 2018, Votto has compiled less than spectacular numbers as he has produced just 11 home runs and 39 RBIs while batting a mediocre .272.

This season Votto is batting .271 with eight home runs and just 22 RBIs.

First-year Reds manager David Bell has moved Votto to the number two spot in the Reds lineup from the three-hole which he occupied over the past 10 years and even led him off a bit early in the season which could account for part of the low RBI total. However, 18 other first basemen –and 178 players across Major League Baseball — have hit more home runs than Votto.

For example, Detroit Tiger first baseman Brandon Dixon, who served as Votto’s back-up last season, has homered 11 times and knocked in 32 runs in just 179 plate appearances this year.

The 2019 Reds, who were supposed to be a strong offensive team but have struggled to score runs for much of the season, need a rebound by Votto in the worst way.

The Cincy organization must hope that Votto’s struggles are temporary as they went through a similar situation earlier in the 2000s when an aging and suddenly injury-prone Ken Griffey Jr. failed to live up to the huge contract he signed with the club after they brought him home to Cincinnati in a trade with the Seattle Mariners.

Big market teams like the Dodgers and Yankees and Red Sox have the resources to overcome a large contract that doesn’t pan out but the small market Reds have to make every dollar count.

The most troubling part of Votto’s deal is that he is still owed $100 million from the club over the next four seasons with a club option for a fifth. The deal will take Votto into his 40s.

What options do the Reds have?

Actually, not many, as Votto has a full no-trade clause in his contract that he would have to agree to waive if the Reds decided to put him on the market.

Trouble is, not many teams would likely be willing to pay that kind of money for a player that potentially could be on the decline

A couple of possibilities if the Reds did decide to try and move Votto would be to his hometown of Toronto, where he would obviously be a huge draw as he has been one of the best players to come out of Canada since Larry Walker, or to Montreal, if the proposed deal to share home games between Tampa and Montreal comes to fruition.

Toronto has several top prospects in Vladimir Guerrero Jr,. Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio among others, but it seems highly unlikely that they would part with that kind of talent without expecting the Reds to cover a portion or the majority of Votto’s salary.

More than likely the Reds will hang on to him and cross their fingers that the past year has just been a fluke and not what they can expect over the balance of the contract.

After four seasons of failing to win 70 games, the 2019 Reds seem on the verge of turning things around and a return to glory by Votto in the second half would go along way to returning the Reds to the postseason.

Mike Morrison is a sports writer for The Marietta Times. He can be reached at 740-373-2121 ext. 533.

COMMENTS