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Joey Votto’s contract in context

Yet another way to appreciate his greatness

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Chicago Cubs Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t know about you, but I will likely never tire of reading headlines that go something like “Here is how Joey Votto is good” or whatever. A lot of things haven’t gone so great for the Reds in recent years, but boy oh boy has he been so so right. He is the roaring oil drum trash fire around which we switchyard bums all warm our hands through this cold, dark winter.

And hell, we have a tag here at Red Reporter that says “We Love Joey Votto.” That’s because we do. And we write about it a lot, because we do love him so very very much. So here is yet another “We Love Joey Votto” blogpost.

Way back a long time ago (2011-12 and thenabouts) when the Reds were good, we talked a lot about the “Votto Window.” With his arbitration eligibility running out, it was important that the Reds make the necessary moves to surround his generational talent with enough complementary pieces to ensure that the opportunity wasn’t wasted. Personally, I didn’t have much hope that the team would lock him up with a big contract extension. In December of 2010, the Red Sox traded for Adrian Gonzalez and subsequently signed him to a seven-year extension worth $154 million. In December of 2011, the Angels won the titanic Albert Pujols bidding war with an offer of ten years and $240 million. The next month, the Tigers gave Prince Fielder $214 million for nine years. The market for first basemen like Votto was incredibly clear and it sure seemed to me that it was far too much for the Reds to keep up.

But the Reds did sign him. In April 2012, he got a ten-year, $225 million extension. I was so all up ons about it that I could hardly sit still. To me, that was the day the Reds franchise became president.

Watching the World Series this year, I was particularly impressed by the Dodgers young 1B, Cody Bellinger. He is only 21 years old and had a wild Series. He set the record for most strikeouts in a World Series with 29. He Golden Sombrero’d in two different games, and K’d three times in yet another. He also crushed eight extra-base hits. But most noticeably, to me anyway, was that he wasn’t Adrian Gonzalez.

Gonzalez was left off the Dodgers’ postseason roster. He spent most of this season on the disabled list with a back injury, but when he did play, he was putrid. In just 252 PAs, he had an OPS of just .642. He was valued at -1.2 WAR, easily the worst season of his Hall-of-Very-Good career. He will probably be released by the Dodgers this offseason with $22.4 million left on that big contract he signed with the Red Sox way back when because Bellinger is clearly the present and future.

Albert Pujols was even worse this season. He posted -1.8 WAR with just a .672 OPS. Unfortunately for the Angels, he never went on the DL like Gonzalez did. They still own him $114 million over the next four years. (Also, perhaps my favorite stat of all time is that Pujols is your all-time MLB leader in GIDPs with 362.)

Prince Fielder was actually the most valuable of the three this season. He didn’t play because he retired after last season due to devastating injuries. Still, his 0.0 WAR was better than the sub-replacement that Gonzalez and Pujols were doing.

And then there is our Joey Votto. 2017 was perhaps the best season of his career thus far. He OPS’d 1.032, leading the league. He was intentionally walked 20 times, leading the league. He regular-walked 134 times, leading the league. His OBP of .454 led the league and, most impressively, he started in all 162 games.

Among his cohort of first baseman, Votto has been by far the best and most durable. Massive long-term extensions like the four of these guys received are inherently quite risky. Players get hurt. Players get old. Players lose power. These guys can’t be their peak selves forever.

Except for Joey Votto.