Will Joey Votto be Coming to Toronto?

You knew it was going to happen, and frankly, we have no choice in the matter! As soon as statements were made by prominent baseball writers that the Reds may not be able to afford Joey Votto long term, we have to speculate as to whether or not Alex Anthopoulos will step up and make the Reds an offer they can’t refuse. The Jays and Reds have matched up for a deal in the recent past when the Jays sent Scott Rolen there in return for Zach Stewart, Josh Roenicke, and Edwin Encarnacion. Is there another deal to be made between the 2 clubs?

In my humblest opinion, the deal is there to be made. It all depends on each side and their willingness to get the deal done. The Reds could stubbornly hold on to Votto and watch him walk as a FA, much as the Brewers will likely do with Prince Fielder. The benefit for the Reds would be that they never have to deal with the “look at what we got back for Votto” questions and they’d also get what should be 2 top picks as he will definitely be a Type A FA. Also, they could hope that Votto signs a team friendly deal if he’s happy with the team, much like Ryan Braun has done with the Brewers.

However, will Votto come down in price enough for the Reds to afford him? I sincerely doubt it. He’s already set to make $17 million in 2013, so anything less than that moving forward is very unlikely.

Meanwhile, Alex Anthopoulos has voiced his unwillingness to overspend on the free agent market. I don’t think he’s overly enthused about the prices on the market, and he may be wary of bringing in players who have career years the very year they’re set to become free agents, only to watch them under-perform thereafter. He has also shown a propensity of targeting Canadian players. The premium in Votto’s case is that he actually hails from Toronto itself, making him a possible hometown hero the likes of which the Jays have never had!

To top it all off, Votto is in the prime of his career at 28 years old and still has a long fruitful career ahead of him.

Ok, so let’s assume that there’s interest on both sides of the equation for 1 second. How do the Jays and Reds match up for a deal?

The one thing the Jays have to deal which no other team can offer the Reds is a comparable first baseman that offers both pop and a core of the order bat in Adam Lind. Not only would he help maintain a strong lineup for the Reds, but he also comes with a very affordable salary: they can elect to keep him at a cost of $8 million or less through 2016 with an average salary of just over $6 million from 2012 through that point. He has shown a tremendous glove at 1B and better range than anyone expected, and he is well liked in the clubhouse.

When your offer begins with Adam Lind, the other team has to listen, don’t they?

Obviously, the struggles Lind has had – hot and cold streaks – will worry the Reds and they’ll want more value out of the deal. While Votto has had an OBP over .414 over each of his last 3 years, Lind has a high of .370 over that span – for example. So, what else could be in the works?

Just about anything. When you have one of the top 3 systems in all of baseball, you can simply ask the other GM, “what is it you’re interested in the most?” and see whether or not you’re willing or able to come to terms based on that conversation.

With Lind on board as a “we remain competitive in 2012″ piece for the Reds, it seems plausible that a deal could be struck between these 2 squads. What remains to be seen is whether or not other teams bid higher, whether or not the Reds and Votto himself are interested in having a deal made, and what “other costs” may be included on the Jays end. I do have one more note, however.

One thing that may go unnoticed is the extension that Votto recently signed. Right after Jay Bruce and Johnny Cueto signed extensions taking them through arbitration years and buying out some free agent time, Votto signed a deal simply buying out his last arbitration eligible years. Why? Well, this tells us that either the organization didn’t like the price Votto placed on his free agent years, that Votto wanted to test that market, or that the Reds were unsure about their budget going forward from that point (post-2013). In any of those cases, the result seems to be that the Reds and Votto will likely part ways, whether it be this off season, during 2012, during 2013, or after the 2013 season. It is possible that they could come to terms on an extension before then, but it does seem unlikely after the perfect – and cheapest – opportunity passed them by when he signed his latest contract in January 2011.

Would Adam Lind be as good “protection” in the lineup for Jay Bruce as Joey Votto would be? Definitely not. However, he would be an above league average first baseman for the Reds through 2016 who should be cheap enough to allow them to resign pending free agent second baseman Brandon Phillips, making their lineup better at that position. If not there, the Reds would have more money to spend elsewhere.

I’ll attempt to answer some of the questions people may raise about making such a deal (on the Jays end of things).

Why deal so much talent for Joey Votto and make the lineup more expensive when we have Lind locked up cheap through 2016?

  • Answer: if you’ve listened to Alex Anthopoulos speak, he has said over and over again that the Jays want to have the best possible option at each position – when possible. Is Votto a major upgrade over Lind? Yes. Not only does he hit for higher average and get on base more often, but he takes a ton of pitches, something AA has decided to put an emphasis on. The Red Sox and Yankees have always shown more patience at the plate, thus the long games they play. The Jays have said they’d like to get better in that area. With Brett Lawrie, Joey Votto, and Jose Bautista in the core of their lineup, they’d get plenty of lengthy ABs which would wear down opposing pitchers.
Would picking up Joey Votto hamper the Jays chances at other “Investments”, such as the international or free agent markets?
  • The Jays have said over and over again that they’re willing to increase payroll. They simply are looking for the right investment. When you’re talking about filling your corner positions on the diamond with 2 Canadian super stars that would become an extremely marketable duo, I don’t think there’s a doubt in anyones mind that the Jays would get more than their money’s worth if they acquired Votto and signed him to an extension. Even if they extended Votto to a 6-year $150 million contract, they’d still have a budget that sits well below $80 million per season. Yeah, the Jays can afford Votto, and much more than that.
What about the “other” piece or pieces the Jays would have to include?
  • Even if the Jays had to include a starting pitcher and a prospect, for instance, in return for Votto, they’d still be better off for it in the long run. Why? Well, let’s say they wind up dealing an arm like Brett Cecil and a highly rated prospect for him. The Jays have a glut of pitching coming through HiA and AA that is ready to get tested at a new level. Deck McGuire could make the jump to the Jays from the beginning of the season. Drew Hutchison doesn’t seem far off either, and neither does Chad Jenkins. Offering the Reds an arm – or two depending on the prospect chosen – seems to make some sense then, doesn’t it?
What about the highly ranked 1B prospects the Jays already have in house (David Cooper and Michael McDade in particular)?
  • With all due respect to all Jays 1B prospects, none of them are likely to ever accomplish half of what Joey Votto can do for the Jays. That’s on and off the field, of course. He’s a leader, a player of MVP caliber, and a hometown player, none of which can currently be applied – or foreseen – from Cooper or McDade. If anything, as the Red Sox showed when dealing Rizzo in a package for Adrian Gonzalez – they both become great trade pieces. At worse, they can compete for the DH spot and be great depth pieces in case of injury.
How would the lineup look with Votto inserted in place of Lind?
  • Since Votto is used to hitting 3rd and would see more fastballs if placed there, it makes sense to have him hit in that spot. As great a player as he is, he can’t hit 50+ HRs like Bautista can. Therefore, the lineup should be Votto 3rd and Bautista 4th if a deal were ever struck. Making the lineup something in the sorts of: Yunel Escobar – Brett Lawrie – Joey Votto – Jose Bautista – Edwin Encarnacion or new DH if let go as a Type B FA – Colby Rasmus – Eric Thames – J.P. Arencibia – Second Baseman Signed or promoted (could be moved up depending on who it is).

To this point, I have always been a “it’s never going to happen” guy when it comes to bringing Votto to Toronto. However, having read recent reports about the situation the Reds are facing, it is the first time I see it as a slight possibility. As slight as it may be, it does seem plausible, and the Jays definitely have the goods to get it done if they so chose. Will they make a stab at it? Only Alex Anthopoulos knows for certain. What I can tell you is that when he’s zoned in and wants a player, he gets it done. You don’t have to look any further than the 3 team deals to get the Roy Halladay and Colby Rasmus deals done to know that if there’s a way, Alex will find a way to get it done. That, more than anything, is why I believe there’s a real chance Joey Votto could wear a Jays uniform at some point in 2012.

What are your thoughts on a possible Jays deal for Votto?

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