It's been a week since I posted a response to the absurd rumor of a possible Joey Votto (+) trade for Jose Bautista between the Reds and Blue Jays. In that week, the "trade Joey Votto" drumbeat hasn't died down; if anything, it's intensified. And I still have things to say about it. Lucky you.
Okay, the rationale that some are proposing for such a trade goes like this: the Reds have Yonder Alonso ready to take over first base if Votto is traded. Votto is signed only through 2013, whereas Bautista is signed (essentially) through 2016 for what's considered a reasonable amount for a player of his recent caliber. When Votto's contract is up after 2013, the Reds are unlikely to be able to afford what he'll command on the open market. Trading him now allows them to get an elite player in return, whom they'll control longer, and it'll solve the gaping hole they have in left field without significantly harming them at first base.
Admittedly, it makes a certain amount of sense when you look at it in black and white. But it just doesn't hold up when you look at it closely. And here's why:
* First off, Joey Votto is not just the best player the Reds have; he's the best player they've had in years. Ken Griffey Jr. was, unfortunately, a shell of his former self for most of his years in Cincy. You'd have to go back to Barry Larkin or Eric Davis to find anyone who comes close. If you're serious about winning, you don't trade Joey Votto. You build around him and try to make the most of the years in which you have him.
* Jose Bautista has had an amazing season and a half, starting at the beginning of the 2010 season and running through this year's All-Star break. But he was in the league for six years before that and was a nobody. So who is this guy? You have to wonder where he came from, and where he's headed. He's not someone I'd feel comfortable paying the high price of Joey Votto for, I'll tell you that much. If you make that trade and get the pre-2010 Jose Bautista, you've made a terrible, terrible mistake. On top of that, he's going to be 31 before next season starts; not terribly old, but old enough that it's more likely his skills will decline instead of increase. Votto, who will be 28 next month, is just rounding into his prime.
* Sure, Yonder Alonso is ready to play first base for the Reds in the event that Votto is traded. But he looked absolutely dreadful in left field this past weekend in Chicago, and word is that he's below average defensively at first base as well. So was Votto when he came up, of course, and he's put in a ton of time and effort to get much better. Will Alonso do the same, and is he even capable of getting that much better? Question marks. Sure, it looks like he'd be a great bat to have in the lineup, but this isn't the American League, and he needs to be able to field a position.
* I might also mention that Alonso, if I've read his contract details correctly, can become a free agent after next season. So if you trade Votto because he's likely to leave after 2013 and go with Alonso as the first baseman, you have to deal with his contract even year sooner. And no, it's not going to take the same money to sign him that it would Votto, but still, there are no guarantees that the Reds could/would re-sign him.
Update: John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer informs me that Alonso is not, in fact, a free agent after 2012. However, the information I found online (here and here) says that he is. So that last paragraph may or may not be accurate; I'm not sure.
Personally, I don't think the "ZOMG, HE'S ONLY SIGNED THROUGH 2013!!!1!!" argument is all that compelling anyway. That's two full seasons AFTER this year. You want to tell me that in two years the Reds won't have some other kid knocking on the door to play first base in the event that Votto leaves?
Look, I understand the argument that if he's going to leave anyway you might as well get something in return. So if the Reds are having a crappy season in 2013 and trade him before the end of the year, so be it. But you don't trade one of the league's best players if you're serious about winning. Sure, try to get Bautista--or someone--but do it to complement Votto, not to replace him. That's how you're going to make the team better.
And really, if I can go off on a little tangent,, this whole situation demonstrates why baseball needs a salary cap/floor situation. All else being equal, there should be no reason why any Major League club should be unable to afford to keep a player if they are inclined to do so. Sure, sure, capitalism, the open market, I get it. But what baseball needs to realize is that the product it's selling isn't the individual teams; it's the competition between those teams. Franchises like Cincinnati, Kansas City, Oakland, and Pittsburgh are playing by different rules than New York (take your pick), Boston, and Philadelphia. Obviously, the smaller market teams can win on occasion, but rarely with consistency, and never with continuity. And there's no margin for error--one bad contract can cripple the team for years. It's not healthy for teams in those markets, and I don't think it's healthy for the game in general. But maybe that's just me.
Edited for clarification: What I mean is this...let's say that the market decides Joey Votto is worth $25 million per year when his contract is up. Team A says "Oh, $25 million...we could do it, but it would limit us being able to put a team around him"; Team B says "$25 million? Chump change. Sign here, Mr. Votto." Assuming neither team is saddled with ridiculous contracts elsewhere, that doesn't make for good, honest competition.
But getting back to the Reds...I feel like I should reiterate that there's no indication that the Reds have actually discussed trading Votto for Bautista or for anyone. And it's not a foregone conclusion that the Reds won't be able to sign him to an extension. It's sheer conjecture all the way around. I do think there are going to be some trades made this offseason, though. It'll be interesting to see who ends up coming and going.
And if they do happen to trade Votto...well, I'll be disappointed, sure, but part of me will also be excited to see how the new guys (whoever they may be) benefit the team. That's just how you have to roll with baseball. My wife Brandi watches most of the games with me, and a couple of years ago she was upset that they had traded a player she really liked, and she told me she was done with the Reds. My response? "Baby, you married the Reds."