On August 25th of 2020, the Cincinnati Reds were nearly halfway through their abbreviated, pandemic-shortened campaign. Through 28 of the team’s 60 games that regular season, they were, and Joey Votto owned a .647 OPS as of that day.
We know he got benched. We know he completely overhauled his swing. We know he mashed to the tune of a .941 OPS the rest of the way that year.
Votto’s resurgence soaked into the full 2021 season, thank god, but it wasn’t the linear, meteoric rise we’d all hoped for. While his start to 2021 was mercifully more potent than the year before, he was still sitting on a .789 OPS after a 1 for 11 start out of the All Star break. The next week brought his epic home run streak, however, and he mashed to the tune of a ridiculous 1.091 OPS over the season’s final 65 games.
Joey Votto will turn 39 years old in less than two months, and for now, he’s the owner of an even .700 OPS in 67 disappointing games for the disappointing Reds this season. There is precedent for him turning a corner mid-year and running rampant against opposing pitchers in the heat of the summer sun, and I sure as hell hope that’s what we’ve got in store for us to watch during yet another dismal Cincinnati season. That said, he’s dug himself a much, much deeper hole so far this year than he did last season, and his revamped approach at the plate looks as if it might need another large tweak to maintain.
This may seem like a hyper-focused look at Joey Votto, left-handed hitter for the 2022 Cincinnati Reds, and it is - Joey Votto, who’ll turn 40 next year and owns a .700 OPS this year, looks like he’s the only guy on the roster right this minute who’ll be hitting left-handed for the 2023 Cincinnati Reds, too.
Tyler Naquin is a free agent at season’s end, and has already had his name pop up in trade rumors that will persist until the August 2nd deadline if he’s not dealt well before that. Mike Moustakas, meanwhile, has been so incredibly bad at the plate that getting his contract off the books Shogo-style will be the priority both now and every minute between now and Opening Day 2023. And if you peruse the rest of the active roster right now, you’ll find no other lefty bat on it.
Peruse further to the 40-man roster, and you’ll find a smattering of lefty bats that you probably don’t want on the active roster. Max Schrock and TJ Friedl are the cream of that crop, for reference, with precious else anywhere else having hit lefty with aplomb in the middle or upper minors.
I still don’t know what the Cincinnati Reds have in mind, to be quite honest. In their deals over the last winter, they didn’t just prioritize prospects, they prioritized young prospects, something they backed up in this week’s MLB Draft by leaning hard into perhaps the youngest 1st round pair of selections in history. That all points to a rebuild that’s still years away from coming to fruition, something that is odd given the preponderance of rookie and sophomore talent that has cracked the big league roster in the last two seasons and has since been left hung out to dry. They’ll get one last chance in the next two weeks to augment that group with a haul for trading Luis Castillo, but if they choose to go young in the return there, too, the writing is pretty clearly on the wall that 2023, much like 2022, will be an experimental year where they focus on learning what they’ve got more than they do on the win column.
The simple solution for finding lefty bats and trying to win games in 2023 would be to, y’know, spend some money signing some, or at least trying to acquire players who have proven they can do so. Money, however, seems to not be flowing at all in the Cincinnati ownership coffers, as we’ve watched play out so miserably so far this year. So, how they address this roster imbalance with that non-competitive set of priorities will be a damn interesting conundrum to watch.
It was brought up last night when I hopped on The Riverfront podcast again, with plenty of head-shaking the response to the situation that this owner and front office has put forth. The idea even popped up that in stripping down the obligations on the payroll - and a Moose-expungement further stripping things down - the club might be in the best possible position to get put up for sale. One can dream, after all, but if that’s not the endgame to which the Reds are barreling at this moment, it’s hard to figure out just what it is they’re aiming to do with this roster for the upcoming season unless it’s this - that they’re once again punting while selling us all on the idea that at some point down the road they’ll finally, finally figure it out.
Either that, or Joey’s going to have to do it all by himself for a full 162 games of hotness, not just a rebound in the second half.