Monday, April 9, 2012

What small market woes? Front office continues to buck the trend

Votto, seen here promoting his new cereal, will
likely be the face of the franchise for a long time now
The Cincinnati Reds front office continues to buck the trend. After a rather inactive offseason leading up to the 2011 campaign, it's been anything but that for 2012. In fact, you could even make a strong case that they've been as trigger-happy as Yosemite Sam in regards to all the moves they've made in the last few months.

It all started back in mid-December. The club finally acquired the top-of-the-rotation starter they had been seeking when trading for Mat Latos. The trade to send Edinson Volquez, Yonder Alonso, Brad Boxberger and Yasmani Grandal to San Diego in exchange for Latos not only followed through on their promise to add an elite starter to go alongside Johnny Cueto, but it also signalled that the team was serious about winning.

Just a mere week later GM Walt Jocketty was at it again. This time sending Travis Wood and minor leaguer Ronald Torreyes to Chicago in a swap for left-handed reliever Sean Marshall. Unlike the Latos deal this one was a bit more unforeseen. However, the aggressive acquisition of Marshall reiterated the club's "all-in"mindset heading into the new season.

Then came the most shocking move of all in January. The Redlegs swooped under the radar and signed free agent closer Ryan Madson to a one-year, $8.5 million deal (with a club option for '13). The baseball world was stunned. Not only had the darkhorse Reds emerged as the suitors for Madson's services, they did so at a price well below what many thought was possible. Again, the franchise was making no doubt about their intentions to win in '12. Unfortunately, we'll never see how Madson would've fared this season, but the move was still a bold one.

After agreeing to terms with OF Ryan Ludwick just a few days later, there still remained two major hurdles left on the team's to-do list -- decide what to do with the likes of Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips. And such are the financial woes of a small market team like Cincinnati. Unable to keep its star players, unable to keep the fans happy and incapable of fielding a winning team. Except this time that wasn't the case.

Rumors began flying of a possible contract extension with Votto last Monday and by Wednesday it was official. The Cincinnati Reds had done the unthinkable. They had locked up their star player for ten more years to come and thus, dodged the potential of losing him in free agency a full two seasons before he was eligible. The new deal, which adds an additional ten years to the two years left on his current contract, is the longest guaranteed contract in major league history. That doesn't include the team option for 2024, when Votto turns 41.

The news of Votto's extension was openly embraced by the majority of the fanbase, but still a small minority voiced concerns. Aside from the astounding length and size of the extension, some fans worried what this accord with Votto might mean for the fan-friendly Phillips. In their eyes, the decision had been made. The Reds were casting their lot with Votto in the long-run over the versatile, but slightly older Phillips. Again, the team guilty of penny-pinching in the past continued to buck the trend.

The Reds had already prolonged the decision with Phillips by picking up his one-year, $12MM team option last October, but even they knew it was just a temporary fix. After ongoing negotiations to reach a long-term extension failed to yield any results over the winter, the likelihood of Phillips remaining in the Queen City beyond '12 was beginning to look more and more grim. But on the heels of the Votto signing, and on Opening Day at that, Jocketty tossed yet another proverbial curveball to Reds country. He thwarted conventional wisdom by stating that he was confident an extension with Phillips would be reached within a week. As John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer put it, for Walt to say something like that it must mean the 'ink is drying'.

For a Reds fan the news of this week is almost surreal. While I thought it was completely plausible to retain either Votto or Phillips, I honestly didn't expect the Reds to be able to afford keeping both. They're obviously banking on increased revenue streams from a new TV deal, higher attendance, and so on, but that's a topic for another day.

But for right now we're left to make sense of all that has happened over the past few months. The notoriously, conservative Reds have turned into a Donald Trump-like player in the market and I can't help but be glad for that. For too long the ownership seemed content with mediocrity, relishing in whatever the bottom line may have read at season's end. But Bob Castellini and this regime seems different. They're making a concerted effort to win utilizing all the resources they have at their disposal. They're side-stepping the limitations that a small-market team is supposed to be shackled by, even if it means venturing into uncharted waters. Even if it means bucking the trend.

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