The Reds locked up Joey Votto for 3 years and $38 million, buying out his arbitration years. Much has been written about whether it was a good deal for the Reds or for Votto, and I think the consensus is that it was a fair deal (and one more in line with Slyde's expectations than my own in a past FanPost). In my mind, however, the most newsworthy piece of information about this contract is the fact that it only buys out Votto's arbitration years. What does that mean? Let's look at the options...
- Votto and the Reds simply want to avoid arbitration. This is basically the position that both sides are taking. There was a lot of talk about "cost certainty", and while it is true that the contract shifts the risk of underperforming from Votto to the Reds, there's more to that angle. Neither side wanted to go into arbitration where the team would have to pick apart a great player with arguments based largely on questions surrounding his make-up, questions which arose in the aftermath of the time he missed a couple of years ago after the death of his father. Surely Votto wouldn't be long for Cincinnati if the team showed that kind of insensitivity, but Votto cleans house in arbitration otherwise. It's a no-win situation for both sides. Avoiding arbitration was smart, but was it the reason the deal didn't buy out at least one free agent year? I'd put the odds at 10%.
- Votto doesn't really want to play in Cincinnati. Votto has denied that this is the case, but if it is the case, what's he going to do? He's not going to say, "I don't really like it here," knowing that he's going to be around for three more years. The fans would let him have it. As far as I'm concerned, this is still on the table.
- Votto really wants to test the free agent market, and he wants to do it while he's still young enough to cash in. This is probably the most likely scenario. Again, there's no incentive for him to say that he wants to know what he's worth, as that would just spark cries among the fanbase that he's greedy.
Those are the options I see. So what is the implication? Well, if either option 2 or option 3 are truly the reason why the deal was only for 3 years, you can bank on Votto being gone when the deal is up. That's pretty discouraging, considering that I only gave the first option a 10% chance of being the real reason for the three-year deal. If he just doesn't like playing in Cincinnati, he bolts. If he is looking for money, he's sure to find more of that elsewhere than in Cincinnati. The only real hope, then, is that the Reds showed him some respect by not dragging him through the mud in arbitration, and he appreciates it enough to consider staying in the long run.
Given that I don't believe that option 1 is likely, what does first base look like for the Reds down the road? Well, the fact that Votto didn't sign for a longer deal, may in fact be the reason that the big acquisitions this off-season were Fred Lewis and Edgar Renteria. The one clear trade chip that the Reds possess this winter is Yonder Alonso. If Alonso is going to have to be the first baseman of the future though, then he's not really a trade chip at all. What do you do with him for the next three years though? Honestly, I'm not sure how many options Alonso has left. I'm sure he can play in the minors next year. Maybe he can be sent down one more time after that. If he's only got one option year remaining, maybe he rides the bench next year. Alternatively, the Reds could still trade him, and the first baseman of the future would likely be someone not currently in the organization. If he's got two option years remaining, it would be easy to see the Reds take two years of Votto and then trade him in the off-season to make room for Alonso (and shed some of the money on the back end of Votto's deal). It won't surprise me at all if the 3-year contract that Votto just signed really means that he's only playing in Cincinnati for two more years.
Of course, it could be worse. We could be looking at the Cardinals' mess at first base right now. :-)