The Reds have had plenty of stars don a Cincinnati uniform. Johnny Bench, Frank Robinson, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Barry Larkin and Ken Griffey Jr., among others, have all called the Queen City home.
For much of the past 15 years, no one has been a bigger star in the city than Joey Votto. An on-base king, Votto has won an MVP, a Gold Glove and six All-Star appearances. Per Baseball Reference, he ranks in the franchise’s top 10 lists in WAR (fourth, 64.4), on-base percentage (second, .409), slugging percentage (sixth, .511), hits (fifth, 2,135), doubles (second, 459), home runs (second, 356) and walks (first, 1,365).
But his 17-year run in Cincinnati could be coming to an end. On Saturday, the Reds declined his $20 million club option, instead paying him $7 million to buy him out of the final potential year of his contract. President of Baseball Operations Nick Krall made it clear in the statement: if Votto is looking for regular playing time, Cincinnati won’t be the place for him.
“At this point of the off-season, based on our current roster and projected plans for 2024, as an organization we cannot commit to the playing time Joey deserves,” Krall said in the statement. “He forever will be part of the Reds’ family, and at the appropriate time we will thank and honor him as one of the greatest baseball players of this or any generation.”
— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) November 4, 2023
On paper, the decision makes sense. The Reds will enter the 2024 season with a young, crowded infield that will feature two players capable of playing first (Spencer Steer and Christian Encarnacion-Strand). That’s not to mention the team already has three players who could play second (Jonathan India, Matt McLain and Steer), four players who can play shortstop (Elly De La Cruz, Noelvi Marte, McLain and Steer) and four players who can play third base (Marte, De La Cruz, Steer and Encarnacion-Strand). That is a lot of young players who figure to see regular playing time.
Where could Votto find himself playing in 2024? Here’s what you need to know.
Joey Votto landing spots
Houston gambled on a veteran first baseman last year, signing Jose Abreu, and for the most part, it didn’t work out. Abreu struggled to a .237/.296/.383 slash line with 18 home runs in 141 games. Abreu is still signed through 2025, but there could still be some room for the Astros adding another experienced bat to take the load off the 36-year-old Abreu.
Votto and Abreu could form a natural platoon that also helps to take some of the pressure off each other. Neither batter had overly strong platoon splits — Votto was actually slightly better against left-handed pitchers than righties despite being on the same side — but a timeshare could still see some positive results from both players.
The other option would be to have Votto be the primary designated hitter and have Yordan Alvarez play left field full time. Alvarez’s defense in left is certainly not ideal, but he can play the position well enough, particularly at home in front of the shallow Crawford Boxes.
This is the clear, most obvious fit if he does not come back to Cincinnati. Votto was born and raised in Toronto and has talked in the past about the possibility of playing for his hometown team. He grew up a Blue Jays fan, and though he has said it was no longer his dream to play for Toronto given his extensive career in Cincinnati, it could still make a lot of sense for him to return to Canada to finish out his playing career.
Then there’s why it makes baseball sense for Votto. The Blue Jays had Brandon Belt as their left-handed first base option in 2023, and he’s headed for free agency. If Votto is looking for regular playing time, he could head to Toronto to fill the Belt void at first base and designated hitter.
And in joining the Blue Jays, Votto would also be signing on to a team with not only playoff aspirations, but World Series aspirations. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. would likely handle primary first base duties, but Votto could spell him at the position and provide some power at designated hitter and take the pressure off his glove.
San Diego does not have a clear answer at first base. Garrett Cooper posted a sub-100 wRC+, and Ji-Man Choi did little offensively when he was on the field. Jurickson Profar also had a down year, and even Jake Cronenworth didn’t play up to his usually reliable standards.
Signing Votto could make a lot of sense for a win-now team like the Padres. San Diego is clearly going to keep the focus on competing in 2024, and having a veteran first baseman of his caliber could make a lot of sense to add some length to the lineup. It was one of the clearer weak spots in 2023 — no team had fewer home runs from first base than San Diego’s 12.
Of the destinations on this list, San Diego probably would clear some of the bigger boxes for Votto. He might see more playing time here than any other, and the Padres still have a chance to compete for a title, even in the vaunted NL West.
Krall did not necessarily rule out a return of Votto to Cincinnati. He said just that the team couldn’t offer him regular playing time.
“It would be tough to have [Votto] as just a pinch-hitter bat off the bench with the way our roster is constructed right now,” Krall said, according to MLB.com. “I respect whatever he wants to do next. If he plays in another uniform, that’s going to be tough to watch. If we don’t have that playing time here for him, then I understand why he’d want to do that as well.”
The playing time likely won’t be there for Votto in 2024, though there still should be some opportunities for him between designated hitter and first base. Of the Reds’ infield options, Votto would be the only left-handed bat (De La Cruz is a switch hitter, but he’s entrenched at shortstop) and he still provides plenty of power. There’s also the value in having a veteran hitter like Votto around a young team, particularly one filled with batters that could stand to improve their strike zone awareness.
If Votto decides he’s comfortable returning to a limited role, coming back to Cincinnati would appear to be the most-likely destination. But that’s far from a guarantee.
New York pretty much always has need for a left-handed hitter. The goal will certainly be Shohei Ohtani. But Votto could be an option as well.
The biggest obstacle for New York will be playing time. Anthony Rizzo is a left-handed hitter at first base, and Giancarlo Stanton is essentially limited to designated hitter at this point in his career. But neither Rizzo nor Stanton had particularly great seasons in 2023, and with the Yankees, there’s always room for improvement.
This is perhaps one of the bigger longshots on the list, but it’s still a potential fit if the Yankees come up short on Ohtani and decide they still need to add a left-handed swinging hitter. Votto could certainly take full advantage of that short porch in right.
Source : ESPN.com