Focusing on just the 2014 chapter of Joey Votto's career is tough.
It's like writing the "Do They Know It's Christmas?" portion of Paul McCartney's biography. Sir James Paul McCartney, that is.
Votto's most recent season was painful. Physically painful for him, as his quad and knee or not knee and just quad hampered his power and balance to the point of visible discomfort and frustrations. Mentally painful for the cerebral nature of his hitting, as his lack of base prevented him from sitting back on pitches and driving them to right field as in his previously dominant years. Psychologically painful for all nose-breathers, as the questions of his toughness pitted sense and sensibility against the constant berating from the hard-headed and stubborn.
The 2014 Cincinnati Reds tried to play 5/8ths of their season without their best player, a transcendent hitting talent, and they got their butts kicked in historically awful offensive fashion. Yet the narrative created by many prominent local media members was less about a team losing one player and falling completely apart and, rather remarkably, more about why that one player wouldn't play hurt to magically make things all better.
Indeed, 2014 was when the portions of the media that are wont to ostracize their own stars finally stuck their claws into Votto in much the same ways they've done to Adam Dunn and Jay Bruce, among others.
From 2009 through the end of 2012, Joey Votto and averaged 40 doubles, 26 dingers, 90 ribbies, 90 walks, 110 strikeouts, and 596 plate appearances per season, putting together a .321/.429/.565 (.994) line that should make you all drool. For some context, the 26 dingers would've merely been the 7th best the NL could offer in 2014, the 90 ribbies 8th, and the 40 doubles a meager 4th. However, his rate stats would have won him the 2014 NL batting title (Justin Morneau won with .319), the 2014 non-existent OBP title (Andrew McCutchen at .410 was best), and the coveted fictitious 2014 NL slugging title (Giancarlo Stanton at .555 topped the senior circuit).
Unfortunately, that was all pre-2014 Votto, a player as unique and talented as we've ever seen in Reds country, and one whose excellence even he may not be able to replicate going forward.
The Reds' 1B began the season in rather normal Vottonian fashion, as he hit .280/.438/.462 with 4 dingers and 24 walks through the 27 games he played in through the end of April (starting in each one, of course), but after an 0 for 3, 3 strikeout game against the San Diego Padres on May 15th, he landed on the 15 day DL for the first time on the season. At the time, he was hitting just .257/.410/.449.
Twenty-three games later, Votto returned to action from his left quad injury and immediately put together a 9 game hit streak that led to 6 Reds' wins and returned optimism, but both Votto's health and the optimism around the season soon withered. Number 19 would hit just .188/.316/.271 with nary a dinger over the next 14 games (57 PA) while showing visible winces and reactions to his ailing knee, and he was eventually sent back to the DL after another 3 strikeout game on July 5th. Despite prolonged rehab and constant assurance that he'd be back at some point in the lost season should he reach the appropriate level of strength, that game proved to be his last of 2014, his 62nd and final contest of what was undoubtedly a hugely frustrating campaign.
His final stats: .255/.390/.409, 6 dingers, 16 doubles, 23 RBI, 47 BB, 49 K, 272 PA, 127 OPS+, career lows in each and every category.
The question now becomes whether we'll ever see MVP-level Joey Votto again, and even having to ask the question is assuredly frustrating. Joey will turn 32 years old near the end of next season, and there's plenty to suggest that his best days would be behind him even if his left leg hadn't given him as many issues as it has in recent years. Were it not for the $213 million he's guaranteed to make between now and 2024, it's something we'd bypass entirely to focus on whether he could put together even a .290/.400/.460 line to turn the 2015 Reds back into contenders.
But we're a fragile, fallible folk. Joey Votto's 2014 season made us yearn for how ridiculously good he was just a few years ago while simultaneously having nightmares about what the Cincinnati landscape will look like in 2018. Just mentioning Votto now sends Reds fans everywhere into an impromptu "what if" wormhole that's a very dark, dingy place.
To me, that all misses the point. No, Joey Votto likely never would have been worth the quarter-billion bucks he was signed for even if he had been healthy until he was 40. And no, he'll likely never be worth it now that his left leg has set him so far back. At this point, neither of those is really arguable.
But that tremendously discounts the fact that the Reds have a guy signed for a decade that will be worth a huge portion of that. The vast majority of it, even. Having a guy be worth $175 million over that time means you overpaid, but it means you have a player who puts up $175 million worth of production for a decade! It doesn't mean someone's worthless, and while Votto will never again be anything near a bargain, he still has everything it takes to be an elite player in this game. 2022 Votto may be a part-time DH, but that doesn't instantly mean that's his 2015 destiny.
He'll be back in 2015, he'll be odd and cerebral, he'll surely have at least a handful of announcers label him "mercurial" again, and he'll knock the snot out of baseballs so often that the RF wall in GABP will need replacing.
And he'll be better than almost any other player playing baseball in doing it, because that's who Joey Votto is.