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The case for Joey Votto as a Cincinnati Red in 2024

Advocating for the return of the future Hall of Famer.

MLB: OCT 1 Reds at Cardinals Photo by Rick Ulreich/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Cincinnati Reds opted to pay Mike Moustakas $22 million to not play for them after the 2022 season. The Reds previously opted to pay Shogo Akiyama $8 million to not play for them during the 2022 season.

That’s $30 million to the chin for a pair of guys who, combined, gave the club 142 and 184 games previously in their careers with an ugly 57 OPS+ (Shogo) and 83 OPS+ (Moose). We haven’t even reached the topic of Wil Myers, who was paid $7.5 million for his efforts during the 2023 season before being released mid-June during an atrocious campaign of his own.

I’m no advocate of throwing money in the incinerator, even when it’s someone else’s. When it comes to the Reds, we know full well that there is a very limited amount of it out there in the first place, and advocating for automatic toilet-flushes with what little there is only further complicates their precarious situation. Still, it’s hard to process the Reds paying $7 million to Joey Votto for the 2024 season and not asking him - for just a little bit more - to actually suit up and play for them.

The decision on Votto’s $20 million option for 2024 will likely be a swift one, if left to its own previously litigated contractual clause. The Reds are not going to pick that up, not with Votto’s surgically repaired shoulder/arm causing him to play in a diminished role when playing at all. But with the $7 million already on the books and a roster that’s otherwise comprised of inexperience and right-handedness, it’s pretty obvious that the Reds should be in the market for a left-handed slugger for at least a platoon role somewhere on the market this winter, anwyay.

The club, as currently comprised, consists of a) a ton of right-handed hitters and b) left-handed hitters who don’t play infield. Even the thumpiest lefty they’ve got on roster right now - Jake Fraley - hasn’t been able to play more than 380 PA in any of the five seasons he has spent on big league rosters thanks to a laundry list of various injuries.

The Reds regular infield for 2024 is not set, by any means, but is flush with good options. Healthy versions of Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Matt McLain, Elly De La Cruz, Spencer Steer, and Noelvi Marte made waves as rookies, and all of them can play all over the infield. Add-in Steer’s ability to cover corner outfield positions, and that’s a burgeoning wealth of talent, even if it’s all right-handed (when Elly isn’t hitting lefty). I didn’t mention Jonathan India there, either, as we wait and see how the Reds handle his role with the club this winter, though his current presence obviously augments that infield glut even more.

Tyler Stephenson is around to catch again, too, and will also hit - you guessed it - from the right side of the plate. There have been early rumblings of a reunion with pending free agent Luke Maile to pair with Stephenson behind the plate, and a quick glance at the free agent options at catcher suggests that might be a good thing to get out of the way quickly. (Speaking of which, cruise this list and let me know when you find a lefty hitting option behind the plate who’d make sense to carry...)

From Votto’s perspective, the things he might be prioritizing for playing another year at age 41 would likely be a) the chance to win and b) a path to playing time. The Reds, for all the foibles they’ve been through for decades (and at the trade deadline this year) certainly look to be in the best position they’ve been in for years to actually put wins on the board next year, so that shouldn’t be too hard to sell to Votto. And while I have highlighted the need for a lefty bat over and over again already, Votto need look no further than the 2023 Reds to see a path to playing time despite the presence of CES and Steer as 1B options.

By that, I mean, he need look no further than the injury ledger. India missed tons of time, as did McLain and Fraley. On top of that, the Reds insisted upon carrying a trio of catchers for a huge portion of the year, yet PA were still plentifuly for the non-Casali components of the active roster during that span. If healthy (and producing at even a non-peak Votto rate), his return to this roster with no other massive additions would leave a door open to 450-500 PA, at minimum.

The Reds won’t be breaking the bank to chase Cody Bellinger, the top left-handed hitting option on the free agent market not-named Shohei Ohtani, who they weren’t going to be able to afford even before his elbow injury put his free agency in flux. Is paying Votto $7 million as a sunk cost, taking the heat that will come with letting him walk away, and then paying the added cost to bring in Joc Pederson, or Michael Conforto, really that much of a step in the right direction on any of the Reds paths this winter?

Barring a major trade, they’re pretty much the next best lefty-hitting options with pop out there, unless you’re in the mood for a Jesse Winker reunion. Such is the state of left-handed hitting on the open market.

$2-3 million more guaranteed, perhaps with some incentives for PA thresholds hit, and bringing Votto back for a year that would be more than just a retirement tour seems to have some legitimate weight to it, I’d suggest.