CINCINNATI - There are two primary schools of thought regarding the monumental contract extension agreed upon by Joey Votto and the Cincinnati Reds Wednesday. They are:The Reds are proving to their fans that they mean business, that a small-market team can and will spend what it takes to keep their best players and compete, both financially and between the white lines, with the moneybag behemoths of baseball. Or ...The Reds are out of their Midwestern minds, and they'll come to rue the day they made the commitment that will keep Votto in Cincinnati red through 2023 or, if the club exercises its option, 2024.
Which school you attend depends, I suppose, on whether or not your glass is half full or half empty.
Thursday was Opening Day at Great American Ballpark, when positive thinking is the rule, and just one day after it was announced that the Reds' slugging All-Star first baseman and once (and, perhaps, future) MVP will receive upward of $200 million between now and 2024.Owing to that optimism and the good feeling provided by a sunny (but a little chilly) Opening Day Reds win, seldom were heard any discouraging words about the team's hopes for 2012 and beyond, and there were only cheers for Votto, who performed admirably in the 4-0 win over the Miami Marlins.But have you thought about where you'll be in 2023? Heck, my crystal ball hasn't peered past Tax Day.
We can say with absolute certainty, though, that Votto, in 2023, will turn 40 years old, will be earning $25 million and will not be nearly the player he was in 2010, when he won his National League Most Valuable Player award. It's not often that the Reds throw the dice (and dollars) around like this, much less find themselves breaking new ground in baseball's financial realm. But if history is to be our judge, the Votto deal is risky business at best and a franchise-strapping albatross at worst.There's no question that Votto, now in his prime at 28 years old, is one of the best (if not the best) players in baseball, and that if any of them deserve to be so richly rewarded, it's the quiet left-handed slugger from Canada who, before Johnny Cueto's first pitch was thrown Thursday, shook hands with first-base umpire Ted Barrett and Miami Marlins first-base coach Gary Thurman, wishing them both the best at the start of a new season.
Votto's likeable if you're a fan of the game and downright lovable if he happens to be batting in the middle of your team's lineup and playing Gold Glove-worthy first base. Both of those virtues were on display early on Opening Day, when Votto's bloop single in the first inning was the only hit as the Reds scratched out a run, and later when he made a dazzling scoop of a throw short-hopped to him by Reds third baseman Scott Rolen.I'm guessing Votto will still be likeable and humble in 2023, but I can say with great certainty that he won't be worth $25 million, not even considering the inevitable inflation that takes place between now and then. More likely, the Reds in 2023 - and perhaps for several years before that - will wish they had that money to spend elsewhere.Kudos to Cincinnati for the generous statement made in the Votto extension, at least for the hope it provides Reds fans today and in the near future. But haven't we seen these good intentions turn bad before?At the twilight of soon-to-be-Hall of Famer Barry Larkin's career, the Reds wanted to trade the shortstop and get something of value, but Larkin exercised his no-trade option and remained with the club. Then, rather than opt for free agency or retire, Larkin asked for an end-of-career contract from the Reds, who, mostly in the name of good public relations, obliged and signed him for several unproductive years at a price they could not afford.Then there was the Ken Griffey Jr. fiasco, the signing of a superstar coming home, with a contract to match. How'd that turn out, Reds fans?
The Reds aren't the only team in such a predicament. The Twins signed still-youthful catcher Joe Mauer, fresh off an American League MVP season, to a huge long-term deal, rather than let him slip away to a big-market team. Since then, his production plummeted, he's been bothered by injuries and his future might be at first base, where he's far less valuable than if he was a hard-hitting catcher.The cautionary tale extends to baseball's haves. Do you realize the Yankees will be paying Alex Rodriguez $30 million in 2017, when he'll be 42 years old? Injuries and a drop in production have already set in there, and will likely only get worse, and even the cash-rich Bronx Bombers will suffer for it.The Angels' 10-year offer that Albert Pujols recently accepted? The jury's still out on that, of course, but I'd be surprised if the most-feared hitter in baseball isn't already at the start of a slow and steady decline which, in 10 years, will look awfully ugly.With Votto's contract in the books, the Reds are essentially saying that the time is right, that Votto will be the cornerstone of a Reds' resurgence, that they'll build a title contender around him now and worry about 2023 in ... well, 2023.Maybe it's a good idea now, but they'll regret it later.Reach Nick Scala at 304-348-7947 or firstname.lastname@example.org