The mid- to small-market baseball star story generally goes something like this.
Young prospect develops in team’s system. Prospect breaks out when he gets regular playing time with the big league club. Prospect becomes an All-Star, lifting the playoff hopes of both team and city. All-Star becomes one of the best in the game at his position. Team can no longer afford to keep All-Star and deals him to another team before the trade deadline or after the season. All-Star becomes a free agent and signs a massive long-term deal with a big-market team.
Well, it appears the Cincinnati Reds have decided to buck the trend.
The Reds signed All-Star first baseman Joey Votto to a 10-year, $225 million deal that will keep one of the game’s best young hitters in Cincinnati through 2023, according to reports from ESPN and USA Today. Votto will also receive a full no-trade clause, according More importantly, the contract signals a dedication to building around Votto and not letting homegrown talent leave for another ballclub.
But what does investing that much money in a single player mean for the Reds?
The 28-year-old Votto followed up his 2010 National League MVP campaign with a 28 home runs, 103 RBIs and a .309 average last season — a year in which the Reds’ payroll was $75,947,134 — good for 19th in the majors. Their average player salary was $2,531,571.
Needless to say, Votto will be pulling in a hefty chunk of Cincinnati’s entire payroll for years to come (20-25 percent including the final two years on his current deal), which could limit the team’s ability to go after high-priced free agent pitchers and hitters to build around its star. But if the Reds wanted to keep Votto around, they had no choice with Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder sending the market for elite first basemen through the roof by signing their respective deals with the Angels and Tigers earlier this offseason.
So the Reds went all in on Votto, banking on his health and continued production and the allure he’ll provide for fans and future free agents. Cincinnati also expects to have a fat new television contract in place in the next four years, which should boost payroll constraints.
“If they’re even talking about it, to have it get this far in talks, shows a huge commitment from ownership,” Reds outfielder Jay Bruce told the Cincinnati Enquirer when asked about the potential deal on Monday. “Joey is a cornerstone player. The fact that he’s interested in staying shows that he thinks the team is committed to winning.”
Coupled with San Francisco’s move to sign All-Star pitcher Matt Cain to a six-year, $127.5 million contract on Monday — the largest ever for a right-handed pitcher — the Votto deal bookended an offseason marked by record-breaking contracts and long-term investments in stars.
Now the Reds have to hope their investment in Votto pays off.