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Imagining a Joey Votto for Edwin Encarnacion trade

It probably won't happen, but does it make sense?

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

A true win-win situation is a rare thing. A decision that can benefit both parties involved is a terrific outcome, but it's incredibly hard to pull off in practice.

Is it possible that the Toronto Blue Jays and Cincinnati Reds could have a true win-win decision on their hands?

In particular, would it make sense for both teams if Toronto re-signed Edwin Encarnacion and then traded him to Cincinnati for Joey Votto? Admittedly this is an unlikely scenario, but why don't we allow our minds to consider "what if" for a few moments? What if Toronto and Cincinnati could pull this off? Would it truly benefit both teams?

Before we ask "what if," I want to make a few things clear:

  • First, I don't actually want the Reds to trade Joey Votto. I don't want to imagine a Joey Votto-less Reds team.
  • Second, I really just wanted to stress that first point. Let's keep Joey Votto in Cincinnati.
With that caveat in mind, what would the benefits of this transaction be for both teams?

Edwin Encarnacion is currently a free agent. Toronto has offered him a qualifying offer, but it's almost certain that he will turn it down. The latest rumors are that Encarnacion has been meeting with other teams, but Toronto is still optimistic that they could get a deal done. He's publicly stated that he would like to remain in Toronto. That's at least one factor in their favor.

Encarnacion is reportedly seeking a 5-year deal worth $125 million. On the other side of this hypothetical trade, Cincinnati still owes Joey Votto $172 million over the next seven years (or $192 over eight, club option). This is a quick assessment of what the financials could look like in this trade, but how do these two stack up as players?

Career Stats

Votto .313 .425 .536 .961 157 221 730 157
Encarnacion .266 .352 .498 .850 124 310 942 126

Let's also take a second to compare these two since Encarnacion's transformation into one of the premier power hitters in MLB (2012-2016).

Votto .312 .443 .512 .965 162 102 329
Encarnacion .272 .367 .544 .912 146 193 550

Both sets of statistics show Votto as the better overall hitter, although Encarnacion has closed the gap in the second set of numbers. Encarnacion does have a clear advantage over Votto in traditional stats like HR and RBI (which would appeal to a certain segment of the fanbase).

So we have potential financial details in mind, and a comparison of these two at the plate. Using this data, why might each team consider doing this?

Why the Blue Jays would do it

Simply put, this is a team in need of some kind of change. They've made it to the postseason in each of the past two years. Ultimately they've come up short in the ALCS twice. They're still projected to have a strong lineup, and the addition of Votto could be just the kind of spark they need.

Aside from the fact that Votto would be an overall upgrade at the plate, he could come to Toronto as a returning Canadian hero. While the Jays fan base clearly loves Edwin, you can imagine how excited they would be to have the home town player come back and help them get over the ALCS hump.

This would be the biggest return of a Canadian star since...

I'm not entirely sure why we don't call him Joey "the Hitman" Votto yet. It's perfect.

Not only would Votto provide Toronto with the benefits mentioned above, but he would give the Blue Jays a little more flexibility over the next few years. Votto would likely be in the field more than Edwin has the past few seasons, and this opens up some new options for Toronto. The possibility of using Votto as a DH down the road could also help prolong his career and value. This would be especially beneficial if his defensive decline continues.

Why the Reds would do it

There are two factors that could make this an appealing deal for Cincinnati. The first is that it would save a rebuilding team a significant amount of money. The Reds are hopeful they can compete again in 2018, and that projection might be optimistic. Even if they are competitive at that point, Joey Votto will be thirty-five and probably less productive than the past few seasons. When the Reds enter their competitive window again they would be paying Votto a significant amount of money into his early 40's. That doesn't sound like they kind of move that helps a team looking toward the future.

Let's say that Encarnacion received a five-year $125 million deal from Toronto. That's still significantly less than the Reds owe Joey Votto. Again, Cincinnati stands to pay Votto $172 million over the next seven seasons or $192 over the next eight.

This trade could save the Reds $47 million without the option and $67 million if the option gets picked up. It also means that Encarnacion's contract would be up when he is 38/39. Those two to three years of increased financial flexibility could be a major factor in aiding an up and coming Reds team. As we've seen over the past few years, it's the final years of a major contact like this that can really be a drain on a team's resources while receiving diminished production. The Encarnacion timeline would fit the Reds situation better.

There's another reason this particular deal makes sense for the Reds. Joey is a beloved player (by most of the fanbase), and it's hard to imagine a trade involving him would be welcomed warmly by many. One of the things that could help smooth those issues over is if Cincinnati received a former player in return that fans remember fondly. This specific trade would be more palatable to the fan base, especially because some would welcome the aspect of Encarnacion's game (dingers) that they feel like is missing from Votto's.

Why it won't happen

1) Dave Dombrowski (or someone like him)

Currently MLB Trade Rumors lists the Red Sox as the team projected to sign Encarnacion. Their best guess at a potential contract is 4-years $92 million. That's less than Encarnacion is asking for, and many analysts are skeptical to the idea that he can get a fifth year. However, we've seen how quickly contract offers can escalate in free agency. Just last season Chris Davis of the Orioles signed a 7-year $161 million deal (admittedly he's several years younger than Votto or Encarnacion).

It's very possible a contending team could get desperate and overpay Encarnacion. If that happens Toronto is likely out of the running considering they're also deciding what to do with Jose Bautista.

2) Can Edwin play first full time?

Since arriving in Toronto Encarnacion hasn't played 700 innings at first in any season. Most assume he will sign with an AL team, and eventually become a full-time DH. For this trade to happen it would require him to become a full-time first baseman, and it's pretty unlikely that would happen.

However, in the opportunities that he had in the field this season he wasn't bad. By DRS (0, 0) and UZR (1.6, 1.7) he's been an average first baseman over the past few seasons. Obviously that could decline as the wear and tear of being in the field more wore on him, but he might not be the defensive liability some assume he would be. Votto's still expected to be better in the field, but fans aren't sure what to make of his 2016 stats yet. Once again age also comes in to play. The Reds could move Edwin off of first in 4-5 years while that estimate gets stretched a few additional years for Votto.

3) Does Encarnacion want to play for a rebuilding team?

At this point it's unlikely Edwin wants to be a part of a rebuild. He's been so close to the World Series the past few seasons, and he knows this is likely his final contract. With contending teams in hot pursuit (e.g. Boston) it's likely he'll go where he can to try and win a ring.

As mentioned at the start of this article this is an unlikely scenario. But there are still a few reasons why this might make sense for both teams. I'm glad to have Joey Votto on this team, and I hope he ends his career with the Reds. However, the reasons listed above at least give me pause to consider if a deal like this would be beneficial for the franchise.