Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Reds hope to avoid repeating history with Votto deal

Courtesy of

by: Scott Eddy
Staff Writer

Reds fans everywhere have had plenty to buzz about this week – the arrival of Opening Day, Aroldis Chapman being sent back to the bullpen, the trade of Juan Francisco to the Braves.

Oh, and Joey Votto signing the fourth-largest contract in the history of Major League Baseball, a deal that will keep the former MVP in a Reds uniform for the remainder of his career.

The mammoth agreement has drawn tremendous reaction from both sides – a deal reported to be a 10-year extension worth $225 million has the ability to create opinions.

Many are calling the move a potentially devastating signing for a small market team, comparing Votto’s contract to the signing of Ken Griffey Jr. over a decade ago. While there are certainly reasons to have reservations about the Votto deal, a Griffey comparison isn’t really applicable.

Griffey at his introductory press conference in '00
Cincinnati inked Griffey to a nine-year, $112.5 million deal in 2000. We all know how that turned out. The Reds never made the playoffs with Griffey, and often failed to field competitive teams. Griffey broke down under numerous injuries and was a shell of the player he was when he arrived in Cincy by the time he was traded in 2008.

As a Reds fan, I have almost a natural pessimism sometimes about the team’s decisions, so I understand the hesitation many fans have about the Votto deal. However, don’t use Griffey as an example to pan the contract. First and foremost, the Reds are in a much better situation today than they were when Griffey signed, both on the field and in the front office. While the Reds were coming off a magical 1999 season and certainly “won” the trade with Seattle to bring Griffey to town, they did have to trade perhaps their most explosive player that year, Mike Cameron, to get the deal done.

Back then, the Reds were a team full of aging players who were much closer to retirement than their peak years, and had several key positions filled by players were simply weren’t very good. The 2000 Reds had the likes of Steve Parris, Elmer Dessens and Pete Harnisch as the anchors of their staff. That trait never changed while Griffey was in town – the rotation was consistently horrific and the bullpen was little better. The organization’s minor leagues were ranked (with good reason) near the bottom of all teams year after year as the team failed to develop its own talent.

Further, Cincinnati had Carl Lindner as its owner. Lindner, outside of the Griffey deal, was a Scrooge when it came to money and never showed much of an interest in putting a winner on the field.

Today, the Reds don’t need to buy a bunch of free agents to put a winner around Votto. They already have a core of young talent locked down for the foreseeable future. The team has at the very least a formidable starting rotation with Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, Chapman (should he return to starting as the team says), Mike Leake and Homer Bailey all under team control for several years. Of the current core, only Brandon Phillips is eligible to leave via free agency, which is a topic for another column. More major league ready talent seems to be not far off as a number of impressive prospects appear to be primed to at least be big league contributors in the next year or two to perhaps replace Phillips and Scott Rolen. I can’t imagine the Reds would have made this contract with Votto if it meant trading away its other stars.
In the front office, Bob Castellini is an admitted baseball fanatic. While he wants to see a return on his investment as any businessman would, the Votto deal should erase any doubts that may have still existed – he is more consumed with building a winner than he is in making a profit. That’s an argument no one could have ever made about the Lindner regime.

Joey Votto
Votto hoisting his 2010 NL MVP plaque
Are there reasons to worry about the Votto deal? Sure there are. I’m against signing anyone to a deal that will pay a player the type of money Votto will be making at age 37, 38 and 39. The margin for error for Cincinnati with this kind of contract is much less than it would be with say, New York or Texas. Even if the team obtains a much more lucrative TV deal in the next few years, it won’t be nearly the type of money that the major market teams are getting. If Votto proves unable to sustain the numbers he has posted in recent years for at least the next six to seven seasons, or if his past depression issues resurface, the Reds are in real trouble.

For me, the deal is too rich for a couple of reasons. For one, Votto’s reported deal is longer and more lucrative than the nine-year, $214 million contract signed by Prince Fielder over the winter. Fielder was on the open market while Votto has two years left under team control, and Prince was unlikely to get anywhere near that type of deal until Tigers owner Mike Ilitch got impatient and forced the deal through.

A contract along the lines of Matt Kemp would have been much easier to swallow. The Dodgers star signed an eight-year, $160 million agreement last November. We now live in a world where $160 million seems like a bargain, folks. Still, it would have been potentially even more damaging to let Votto walk. The Reds are still rebuilding their relationship with the fan base after years of not showing a commitment to winning. After the past off-season and this news, there’s no more questioning the Reds’ commitment to building a winner.

And that’s the best thing that can be said about the Joey Votto contract.

Be sure to follow Scott on Twitter (@scotte97).

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