(Photo by Associated Press)
Will the Reds trade Joey Votto? Obviously, if they decide to do so, he would become a natural target for the Mariners, a cheaper and just as talented (or arguably more talented) alternative to free agent-to-bePrince Fielder. I almost included “younger” until I looked it up, and discovered that Fielder is actually eight months younger than Votto. But while Fielder will be on the open market right after the World Series, Votto is signed for the next two season, at $9.5 million in 2012, and $17 million in 2013, after which he would be eligible for free agency.
I give Dave Cameron credit for the being the first one I saw floating the Votto to Seattle possibility as a serious alternative to Fielder back in mid-September. Buster Olney of ESPN chimed in this week, quoting a high-ranking National League executive saying, “They’re not going to be out there shopping him, like they’re going to dump him. But they will listen. I don’t think they think they can keep him.” Olney theorizes that if the Reds come to the conclusion they can’t afford to give Votto a market-value contract after 2013 — and based on the contracts already given to Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez, and the ones about to be bestowed upon Fielder and Albert Pujols, the target number will likely be in the $22 million to $27 million range — they will have to make a hard choice. Olney writes: “If the Reds don’t believe that they can pay him, history tells us that the best window to deal him is between now and July 31, 2012. If they wait, his trade value will drop significantly, as it did with Fielder as he neared free agency.”
The growing speculation of a Votto trade scenario caused Reds GM Walt Jocketty to speak out today. He “emphatically” denied he would listen to offers and told the MLB.com reporter, Mark Sheldon, “We haven’t talked about it. I wish that people would stop writing it. Why would we trade one of the best players in the game? We’re trying to win.”
I’ve been hesitant to weigh in on the Votto trade scenario because I have never had the sense that Votto is really, truly going to be available this offseason. Obviously, it’s in Jocketty’s best interest to deny, deny, deny, both to appease Reds fans and to perhaps get teams to sweeten their eventual offers. And there is precedent for star players being traded at a similar point in their contracts (most recently, Zach Greinke). And the Reds have a possible first-base replacement in Yonder Alonso. But the Reds would face a huge PR backlash if they traded the 2010 MVP with two years to go on his contract. And here’s a factor that I don’t think is insignificant: The Reds are watching a team in their own division, the Brewers, advance to the doorstep of the World Series on the strength of their decision to not trade Prince Fielder under similar circumstances. Instead, they chose to go the opposite route — load up on talent for his walk year and try to win it all.
That has to be an enticing option for the Reds, who like Milwaukee have had precious few postseason opportunities in recent years. They did win the division in 2010, and have a lot of talent in the organization. I’m not saying they’re not going to trade Votto, but just that it would surprise me if they did it this winter. I’d say it’s much more likely they start with Votto on the roster, try to win in 2012, and re-assess at the trade deadline if they’ve fallen out of contention. Right now, they still have four windows to trade Votto: this offseason, the 2012 trade deadline, next offseason, and the 2013 trade deadline. Yes, the package they can demand theoretically is higher if they deal him sooner, but I still think Votto would command a high return even if he’s dealt down the line.
Cameron is well aware who would almost certainly have to be the centerpiece of a Votto trade from the Mariners’ standpoint: Michael Pineda. And Brandon League might end up being a part of it, too. I’m curious to know if you would be willing to see the Mariners part with those two in a package to land Joey Votto.