The Reds Are “Willing to Listen” to Trade Offers for Votto, But Their Timing is Lousy

And now, a brief break from our round-the-clock coverage of Front Row Amy’s boobs.

While the baseball world is focused on the playoffs, Buster Olney dropped this juicy little tidbit on Twitter over the weekend:

Buster Olney Rival executives getting signals that the Reds won’t shop Joey Votto — but that they are fully prepared to listen to offers.

Call me a skeptic if you want, but I tend to believe that when a reporter of Olney’s caliber drops the update only on Twitter and not in a longer column (although that might be coming) it suggests that he doesn’t have the utmost confidence in the assertion.  That being said: HOLY SKYLINE CHILI!  The Reds might trade Joey Votto!!!!!

The obvious question here is why would the Reds be willing to trade away one of the brightest young stars in the game?  You’ll surely here some finely polished obfuscation about the move being necessary because the team needs to create a spot for Yonder Alonso to play, since he has turned out to be a trainwreck in the outfield.  That is what the Reds would like you to believe, but like any move in pro sports, we all know this is motivated by money.

Being a smaller market club, the Reds have serious budgetary concerns.  This coming season, Votto will earn a perfectly reasonable $11.5 million, but in 2013, his salary jumps to $19 million and then he hits free agency.  Therein lies the Reds’ motivation.  With the team already establishing that Votto deserves to earn nearly $20 million per year, they know that he is two seasons away from being too expensive keep unless they want to commit a quarter of their payroll to one player for the next decade.  Trading Votto now gives Cincy their best chance at getting a massive bounty of prospects in return.

There is one slight problem with this whole plan… the timing of it.

Normally, you’d think teams would be falling all over themselves to trade for a 28-year old former MVP, but given the free agent market this winter, the Reds aren’t likely to see a bidding war break out for Votto’s services like they probably hoped because Votto isn’t even the best first baseman available and possibly not even the second-best due to the presence of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder on the free agent market.

So, ask yourself, if you are a general manager, what would you rather do: sign Pujols or Fielder to a long-term mega-contract or trade a bounty of prospects for Votto and then hope that he will sign a very similar mega-contract extension before he hits the market in 2013?

Call me crazy, but if I’m spending $20+ million a year on a guy over six or seven years, then I would prefer to not have to forfeit several of my top prospects for the privilege of doing so.  It isn’t that Votto isn’t worth it, it is just that teams have other options.  That unto itself makes this a buyer’s market for elite first basemen and that is before even looking at the teams that have real interest and means to acquire one of those guys.  SPOILER ALERT: there aren’t very many teams.

While the Reds are motivated to move Votto because they worry about being able to afford him, they need to remember that there are a small number of clubs who can foot the bill that they don’t seem to want to pay.  That short list gets even shorter when you take into consideration roster needs.  A bidding war just isn’t a bidding war without the Yankees or Red Sox involved, but with Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez respectively installed at first for the next several years for those clubs, the two biggest spenders of them all are already out of the running.

Even with the most optimistic of projections, the market that Votto, Fielder and Pujols are competing for consists of the Cardinals, Cubs and maybe the Blue Jays, Nationals, Rangers, Angels and Orioles.  That’s a best case scenario of seven teams for three players.  If the Angels and Rangers decide their incumbent solutions at first base are sufficient and the Nationals, Blue Jays and Orioles all decide that those three sluggers are simply too expensive, then there literally won’t be enough opening to accommodate all three players, which will almost certainly mean that the Reds will be left holding the bag.

That actually might not be the worst thing for the Reds.  The Votto market might not be very strong now, but by merely waiting until mid-season could open things up considerably.  By then, injuries will have struck certain clubs and the desperation to win will have set in and Votto could actually be a in more demand than he would ever be this winter.  Obviously Votto’s price might be supressed a bit by being a few months closer to free agency, but if a team feels he will be amenable to a contract extension, then that effect could be mitigated.

Whatever the Reds decide to do, it certainly sounds like they are setting the stage for a Votto trade at some point in the next year, after all, this rumor started bubbling up several weeks ago too.  He may be great but if Cincy is convinced they can’t afford to keep him beyond 2013, then a trade is inevitable, even if the market is as strong as it could be. 

Enjoy him while you can Cincy fans.

About Garrett Wilson

Garrett Wilson is the founder and Supreme Overlord of and editor at The Outside Corner. He's an Ivy League graduate, but not from one of the impressive ones. You shouldn't make him angry. You wouldn't like him when he is angry.