Joey Votto on the Blue Jays would be perfect
8 months ago
It’s all about perspective.
On Monday morning, The Athletic’s Jim Bowden tweeted out that the plan is for Canadian first baseman Joey Votto to retire as a Cincinnati Red, unless…
The most interesting part of this tweet is that Votto would consider being traded to his hometown Blue Jays if the Reds are out of the playoff race. We’ll go over this more in the contract section, but keep this in mind.
In terms of fit, you may be saying “well Brennan, the Jays don’t need another first baseman, they have Vladimir Guerrero Jr, and Brandon Belt to back him up.” While that is true it’s all a matter of perspective.
Let’s dive into the numbers, his contract, and how I think he fits.
How good is future Hall of Famer Joey Votto in 2023:
I don’t think it’s unfair to say that out of any current players in the league, Votto may be one of the only locks to make the Hall of Fame. For his career, he has slashed .297/.412/.513 in 8504 plate appearances and has accumulated 57.9 fWAR in his 16-year career. For first basemen since 1900 with 5000+ plate appearances, Votto’s 57.9 fWAR ranks 26th overall, beating out 2023 Hall of Fame inductee Fred McGriff.
However, what about recent times? At the end of the day, Votto is in the twilight of his career, so it’s unlikely that he puts up a considerable amount more.
Last season, he slashed .205/.319/.370 with 11 homers in 376 plate appearances. It’s worth noting that his season was derailed by injuries, so what about in let’s say 2021? Just two seasons ago a 37-year-old Joey Votto slashed .266/.375/.563 with 36 homers in 533 plate appearances.
Rotator cuff surgery is no joke, and the 39-year-old may end up being a shell of his former stuff, but his skill set of taking walks, limiting strikeouts, and hitting for average holds up.
It wouldn’t be surprising if Votto plays much better than his career lows in 2022, but at the end of the day, it may be the contract that will turn the Jays off of him. Votto is set to make a base salary of $25,000,000 in 2023, with a luxury tax hit of $22,500,000, which will surely place the Jays into the next penalty (12% surcharge on the overages).
There are also a few notable clauses in his contract. The first one is that he has a team option for the 2023 season. If Cincinnati (or Toronto) declines this team option, there’s a $7 million buyout. So even if the Reds eat a ton of money, or the Jays could somehow match the salary, they could be on the hook for the buyout money unless the Reds send money for the 2024 season as well.
The second, and more fascinating aspect of his contract is his full no-trade clause, meaning that the Reds would need to have his permission to trade him to any team. This is why I find the Jim Bowden tweet interesting. He wants to finish his career as a Red, but if the contending Blue Jays see a fit for him, he would consider waiving his no-trade clause.
Is there a fit:
I can think of two instances where Votto could be fit for the Jays. Let’s start with the most obvious.
It’s pretty clear what the plan is for the Jays regarding first base. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will get the majority of the playing time at first. It makes sense, as he recently won the American Gold Glove for the position. The Jays also signed Brandon Belt at the beginning of the new year. While he’ll mainly play DH, he’ll also likely be the backup first baseman.
What’s more, is that they also have a few players on the 26-man roster who can fill in for the position. Cavan Biggio did a great job at first base in 2022, and Whit Merrifield has played some first base in his career. You also can’t forget about Spencer Horwitz, a prospect in the upper minors with a plus hit tool.
However, if Brandon Belt spends significant time on the injured list, and you want a natural first baseman with a track record, Joey Votto could be your guy.
As a pinch-hitting specialist:
Let’s pretend for a second that you are Joey Votto. You’re pretty much a lock for the Hall of Fame a few years after you retire, but you have never won a ring. You have all the money in the world, as you’re 10-year, $225 million dollar contract will be coming to an end at the end of the season.
The only team you’ve ever played for is not good in 2023, but your hometown team, the Toronto Blue Jays, is a contender. If you were Joey Votto, would you take a significant reduction in playing time to potentially win a ring? It’s happened before.
Fellow Canadian Matt Stairs was the Blue Jays designated hitter to start the 2008 season. At the waiver trade deadline, the Blue Jays sent him to the Philadelphia Phillies, a playoff team, where he spent the majority of the season pinch-hitting.
He finished the season with the Phillies slashing .294/.316/.706 with two pinch-hit homers in just 19 plate appearances (appearing in 16 games). Stairs only had five plate appearances in the playoffs with the Phillies, but one was a home run in a pivotal moment in the National League Championship Series, which put the Phillies up 3-1 in the series. They went on to win the World Series that season.
That begs the question, would Joey Votto take a reduction in play time to have the same opportunity? I have no idea, but if Joey Votto is your big bat waiting on the bench as Matt Stairs was in 2008, your team has plenty of depth to go all the way.
As nice as it sounds, it seems quite unlikely that Votto doesn’t finish his career in Cincinnati. The way I read that Tweet is that he doesn’t want to be moved, but if certain circumstances are met, he would think about a trade to Toronto, and Toronto only.
For the Jays, the most likely way that Votto fits is if a first baseman is injured. Say Belt’s knees continue to be a problem in 2023, maybe the Jays want to bring an experienced first baseman in Votto?
The pinch-hitting idea could work as well, but there are plenty of questions to go along with this hypothetical. Do the Reds eat a portion of his contract? Do the Jays mind adding $7,000,000 if they don’t accept the club option? Is Votto fine with a reduction in playing time? Is Votto even any good after rotator cuff surgery?
It’s an interesting idea and bringing the hometown Votto to chase a championship would be awesome, but it at best looks like an outside chance of happening.
As always, you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @Brennan_L_D.
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