There was a flurry of excitement in the baseball world over the weekend that surprisingly had nothing to do with the American League or National League Championship Series. ESPN’s Buster Olney, who at the end of last week questioned whether or not the Cincinnati Reds would look to trade Joey Votto given his expected future salary demands, tweeted that while 2010′s NL MVP wouldn’t get shopped by the Reds, they would listen to offers.

Cue: Rampant trade rumour speculation the likes of which hadn’t been seen since Justin Upton was on the block.

Also cue: Immediate denial from Cincinnati Reds General Manager Walt Jocketty.

We haven’t talked about it. I wish that people would stop writing it. Why would we trade one of the best players in the game? We’re trying to win.

Jocketty’s response to the trade rumour is a nice reminder that baseball fans should be just as trusting of the words coming out of a general manager’s mouth as a prospective new car owner listening to what a car salesman has to say. It makes no sense for anyone on any roster to be deemed untouchable because no baseball player is so much better than every other player as to make it impossible for a team to sell their superstar for something better in return.

Or as Phil Birnbaum wrote in the comments section of a post on this very topic at The Book Blog:

To any of you married people reading this: is your spouse permanently “untouchable”?  I mean, of course, in your own mind, not publicly.

And not in the sense of, “I’d trade her for Angelina Jolie and a supermodel to be named later.” I mean, how do you consider the chances that someday you might meet someone you like better, enough to make a switch?

I can see at least five possible answers:

1.  My wife [husband] is absolutely untouchable, forever.

2.  If you forced me to think about it in a detached, rational way, you could probably convince me that my wife must be touchable, because other people who are as much in love as I am sometimes see their feelings change.  But, in my mind, she’s still untouchable and I feel uncomfortable thinking about thinking otherwise, even hypothetically.

3.  Every wife is touchable, including mine, but the chances are very small, and I hope to not ever have to make a trade.

4.  Yes, of course.  There’s a reasonable chance of it happening sooner or later.

5.  What are you offering?

The thinking here goes that it’s not so much that Joey Votto isn’t available. It’s that the asking price would be so high as to severely limit the market for his services. With only a select few potential suitors, there’s no point in making a league wide statement as to the availability of one of the best players in baseball. And just as consequences would present themselves for making such an ill advised statement about one’s own marriage, so to would an announcement affect the relationship that the Reds currently enjoy with their season ticket holders, whose renewals the team is no doubt counting on.

Matt Klaassen, writing for FanGraphs, compares Votto’s trade value to Cliff Lee’s one year ago, when he netted the Mariners Justin Smoak,  Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Matthew Lawson, noting the differences in service time, and coming to the conclusion that “there is probably at least twice the surplus value available with Votto as there was for Lee, and the Reds should be looking for an appropriate return.”

The team most often mentioned in connection with Votto has been the Toronto Blue Jays. Whether that’s merely the fantasy of those who place undue emphasis on players plying their trade in close proximity to their birth place or the legitimate desires of a team whose first baseman had the lowest wOBA among all American League regulars at his position, is anyone’s guess.

When it comes to trade speculation, the typical fan base employs two fatal flaws that often keep it from anything close to objective analysis: 1) They overvalue their prospects and players; and 2) They believe that another team’s players can be had at a discount. These two faults are even more extreme with Toronto fans after their general manager got out of the Vernon Wells business, signed the team’s best player at what looks to be a heavily discounted rate and has acquired top of the order talent from other teams in exchange for low grade prospects, positional stop gaps and relievers signed to one year contracts.

That’s why it’s important to remember that Joey Votto is neither Yunel Escobar nor Colby Rasmus. Jocketty and the rest of the Reds organization are fully aware of his value. We’re not talking about an exchange involving Kyle Drabek and Travis Snider, here. We’re talking about bigger guns, with names like Ricky Romero and Brett Lawrie as starting points.

Considering a more realistic cost, a team like the Blue Jays could only justify trading four years of Romero at $28 million (plus additional quality prospects) or seven years of a cost controlled Lawrie for Votto if they were assured of having him under contract for more than the next two seasons, which his current deal guarantees.

In acquiring Votto, a team would not only be trading for those next two years of his contract ($26.5 million), but also the opportunity to cover a chunk of his free agent years with an extension. As soon as you start considering the cost of an extension combined with the player assets that a team would have to give up, dealing for Votto isn’t the slam dunk that it first appears to be.

A potential deal becomes even more questionable when you consider the availability this coming off season of two elite first basemen in Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols. To extend the original metaphor far past the point of no return, attaining Votto is a lot like having to pay for both a dowry and the actual wedding, while other similar options are available in which one need only pay the dowry to have the wedding taken care of.

It’s the timing of Fielder and Pujols’ availability that ultimately makes Votto untouchable, not what Walt Jocketty wants or thinks is best for his team. Make no mistake, the Cincinnati GM would deal Votto in a second if it improved the Reds, it’s just that such a deal isn’t going to happen as long as a first baseman with Votto like numbers can be had on the free agent market without having to give up current assets other than money.

Comments (35)

  1. Joey Votto has less value than Adrian Gonzalez did because by 2013 you’re paying Votto almost market value (17m). People are overrating the packages it should require to land Votto if it only took Boston Rizzo, Kelly, and Fuentes for AGon.

  2. Two years of Votto > one year of AGon.

  3. One year of AGon @ 5.5m > two years of Votto @ 9.5, 17m.

  4. Parkes in my opinion one of your best articles yet.

  5. It’s actually less than 10 WAR over two years, if you’re considering $5 million / free agent WAR to come to that conclusion. Inflation.

    Also, I think you’re not giving a whole ton of credit to what the Red Sox gave up, or what the Padres thought they were getting, in the Gonzalez trade.

  6. Agreed and a fantastic insight!

    As much as Toronto fans would love to have Votto..
    I think signing Fielder to 8/180 and retaining a package of Alvarez/Drabek/D’Arnaud/Thames would be preferable… Votto and Fielder are close to the same production and Votto will likely end up costing the same after the first two years.. So essentially you’re just giving up prospects to save money and have a Canadian..

    Also on the Fielder thing, the two main competitors are rumored to the Angels and the Cubs..
    Both will have new GMs in place..

    What are the chances of a new GM wanting to lock down a massive contract the second they arrive with a club? Is it common? If I we’re a GM I would rather take my first two years (often seen as a grace period) to get my books in order..

    Just saying there is a chance the Jays are the only major suitor for Fielder…

    • First, in case you were not aware Ortiz is a free agent and Posada is finished. Both NY and Boston have vacancies at DH (Nick Swisher is not preventing NY from signing Fielder) as well as less likely suitors in Miami (with their relocation wanting to make a splash) and the Dodgers. In other words, be serious there are plenty of possibilities for Fielder. Second, this is the common mistake everyone makes when explaining why not to go after Votto: “Just get Fielder or Poujols and you do not have to give up any prospects except the draft pick”. This is NOT a grocery store. They cant just buy Fielder. This is a team whose a year or 2 away from competing (at least), haven’t made the playoffs in 18 years, will always be in tough to make the playoffs, in a city where baseball won’t get much attention and almost none from the American media. You can offer Fielder 8/200 that does not mean hes going to accept it and play here. With Votto, he would be here for 2 years and hopefully you would be competitive by then and since he is from downtown Toronto he is much more likely to accept a market value offer, you know one that is not 25% more than anyone is willing to pay him like you would have to do with Fielder.

      • Boston will pay 8/160 plus for a DH?… I don’t see it. I see them bringing back Papi. The Sox may have a new GM as well. How many new GMs are looking to sign a 180 million dollar DH when they first arrive? The only way Fielder winds up there is if the market doesn’t develop and its on a one year deal…

        New York may make a play, but I would doubt it. They have a lot more holes to spend money on than DH… Plus it looks like Montero is going to wind up at DH moving forward…

        The Dodgers ownership details are still being worked out, so who knows… But they certainly would make sense if ownership wants to spend..

        Of the three major teams you hear mentioned LAA, Cubs, and Jays.. Two have new GMs.. And the other is the Jays…

        Point is the Jays may have the most incentive to go after him.

        You’re right. He may not want to come here. Depends on what he is about and how much money plays a factor. But as Keith Law once said on a DJF podcast, “95 percent of pro athletes will go to whatever team offers them 5 dollars more than the second highest bidder.”

        Regardless of whether Fielder is interested, we will hear rumors that he is, because the Jays provide him with great leverage. Similar to Ted Lilly a few years.

      • votto is from brampton, and prince was a kid watching his dad play for the blue jays.

  7. Then what happens with Alonso? Do you keep him in LF where he’s been atrocious, or do you deal a younger, controllable player to keep Votto?

    Votto should net you a LFer, SS and 2 SPs from the Jays. Considering, IMO, that the Jays are higher on McGuire and Hutchison, I believe Alvarez will become expendible at some point.

    The 2 main things to look at from AA’s standpoint are:

    1. Can you extend Votto?
    2. Can you land Darvish or another top of the rotation starter?

    It the answer is yes to both, then you make a play for Votto, a serious one.

    • But you’re not offering a counterpoint to what Parkes is saying, which makes a ton of sense. Why trade and extend, when you can just sign. Is Votto’s value that much above Fielder’s?

      • AA has already said he’s not in a position to pay a “tax” on a player i.e. where contract years exceed their valuable ones, which is what will happen with Fielder and Pujols.

        AA has shown the ability to maintain a superior system to the point that I think a lot of players will be leaving town at the end of their contracts for players entering or still in their prime. We won’t see too many players have 10+ seasons here.

    • Jays are not higher on Hutch and Deck than Alvarez… ridiculous to think that

  8. That play would be:

    Thames/Snider, Hechavarria (you don’t trade Escobar here if you’re looking to improve for 2012), Alvarez, and one other SP out of Jenkins, Nestor Molina, or Brett Cecil.

    Reds don’t need a C, so they won’t be asking for D’Arnaud.

    Romero/Darvish/Morrow/Hutchison/McGowan
    Escobar/Johnson/Bautista/Votto/Lawrie/Encarnacion/Lind/Arencibia/Rasmus

    Makes a nice starting line up for a 5 year run at the post season.

  9. Save money, Canadian, and not having to pay Fielder’s Rita MacNeilesque body for about four very risky years.

  10. If the Reds are looking for an elite starting pitcher in return for Votto, I think it’s highly unlikely that a trade will get done. There just aren’t any elite starting pitchers that General Managers are willing to part with, and that includes the Jays and Rickey Romero.

    If a deal happens it will either be for either:
    1. 2 elite prospects, plus most likely a 3rd high potential high risk prospect
    2. A 2nd tier major league starting pitcher plus prospects.

    Things to consider from a Reds prospective:
    - The Reds currently have 2 stud prospect catchers in their system, therefore probably don’t have much interest in D’Arnauld or Arencibia
    - They want to give the 1st base job to Yonder Alonso, so wouldn’t be looking for a 1st baseman in return (so this eliminates Adam Lind going back)
    - They have a glut of OF talent in Drew Stubbs, Chris Heisey, Jay Bruce, Juan Francisco and Todd Frazier, so it’s unlikely they would want an OF in return (no thank you for Travis Snider)
    - Their biggest positions of need include SS, 3B and P.

    Also, there is no chance the Jays would be willing to part with Brett Lawrie given fan reaction and his performance. Therefore I think the most likely trade scenarios that match 1 & 2 above would look something like the following:

    1. Votto for Brandon Morrow, Henderson Alvarez and Adeiny Hechavarria
    2. Votto for Deck McGuire, Henderson Alvarez and Adeiny Hechavarria (plus let’s say Joel Carreno)

    • I think if AA can get away with keeping Morrow, McGuire and Hutchison, he will. Jenkins and Molina are probably arms he’s more likely to deal. I like adding Alvarez in that mix, I’d rather have guys that can control 4 pitches or more, even at the expense of a couple of MPH on the FB. Hutchison has a plus FB, even if it isn’t thrown as hard as Alvarez.

      Are the Reds just throwing Alonso in LF just to get his bat in the line up? I thought they were light in LF. Guess not.

      3B they don’t need someone high impact right now as long as Rolen is under contract. Maybe someone a year or so away to replace Rolen when he retires makes more sense. Maybe we trade EE back to the Reds, LOL.

      • I was responding to all aspects of the comment; “Save money, Canadian, and not having to pay Fielder’s Rita MacNeilesque body for about four very risky years”

  11. Romero isn’t going anywhere, but maybe AA can use his magical powers to convince the Reds that Morrow is more like a young Verlander than A.J. Burnett and center a package around Morrow, Lind (or an equivalent 3rd party return), Thames, McGuire and another pitching prospect. Then sign Darvish to replace Morrow and away we go.

  12. Tools_of_Ignorance:
    You only save money until JoeyJoeJoe commands 20-25mil annually. Plus he’s older than Prince, with not as many awesome seasons on his baseball card. Yes, Prince is a much, much, larger man, but his numbers are incredible. Pujols is older than Joey, but he’s just so damn good.
    Either of those guys for only money and no prospects/roster players/assets is a damn fine deal…better than trading for Votto or anyone else.

    PS: Who gives a fuck if Joey Votto or anyone is Canadian? Just field a winning ball club, regardless of birth certificates.

    • attaining Votto has nothing to do with maple boners. It’s about getting an MVP in their prime, and prime only. Not in their declining years, like you’d be stuck with Fielder and Pujols.

      • I was responding to all aspects of the comment; “Save money, Canadian, and not having to pay Fielder’s Rita MacNeilesque body for about four very risky years”

  13. sexist analogy is sexist.
    wife != property.

  14. unless the jays are willing to give up one of: bautista, romero or lawrie, i doubt this deal gets done this offseason…unless, they pull in a third team. if the rays want a bucket of jays prospects, i could see them moving shields to cinci. i also think this scenario is unlikely, but more probably than agon v.2.0. the reds will want an overpay from a team losing out on fielder/pujols, as the angels panicked last year after missing the big FA boat. it seems to me, very unlikely that aa will silently assasinate himself this offseason.

  15. I see the evolution of a talented writer at hand.

  16. It’s amazing to me that you can write with such confidence that “names like Ricky Romero and Brett Lawrie (are) starting points.” Because you were so right that Brandon Morrow was a starting point for Colby Rasmus, right?

    While you are correct that Colby Rasmus had a “defect” (in the eyes of STL), you fail to properly acknowledge Votto’s defect (in the eyes of CIN): his contractual status. If CIN believes that they cannot afford Votto long term, then he will necessarily become touchable soon enough. And if they want to maximize the return, it will be sooner rather than later. They will take the best offer available and what is the likelihood that anyone offers something like Romero or Lawrie as the centrepiece?

    My best guess is he is moved at the 2012 deadline if the Reds are not contending and they try to get as close as they can to a Teixiera-like haul (of prospects).

    From AA’s side, it likely doesn’t make sense to include Romero or Lawrie to add Votto. If the goal is to add Votto to contend in 2012, trading core players off the roster is counterproductive. Prospects are probably his currency and if he doesn’t like the price he will likely shop elsewhere or wait until he likes the price.

    I agree with your general point on the fatal flaws of fans; however, you go too far the other way. Looking at the recent history of impact players traded (Greinke, AGon, Lee etc), it seems highly unlikely that a TOR package would be headlined by Romero or Lawrie. And based on what we’ve seen from AA, that type of package seems pretty much impossible, which may very well mean AA shops elsewhere or plays the waiting game.

    • When did I ever say that Morrow was a starting point for Rasmus?

      • It was during a podcast around the time of Rasmus-mania. The three of you were discussing “realistic” trade possibilities.

        Point being, the general sentiment of Morrow/Romero as starting points was incorrect in regards to Rasmus. I am sure you can acknowledge this now.

        I don’t think you can look at the history of these types of trades and suggest a Lawrie or Romero headliner as realistic. Doing so is disingenuous.

        Your hyperbole is an ineffective tool to shut down the admittedly parochial segment of Jays fans that feel they have property rights to their native son Joey Votto.

        • Settle down. Read the comments in the FanGraphs piece. I’m hardly alone in my opinion.

          • I suppose it’s too much to ask for a thoughtful dialogue and counterargument to the criticisms I have raised.

            I’d like to congratulate you for finding a group of like-minded people to share your opinion.

            I suggest you calm down if you take this personally.

  17. Does nobody consider that, despite his streaky-ness and unfriendly SABR-stats, that Adam Lind would likely have some value to smaller market clubs based on his team-friendly contract, and ability to play a not-horrible calibre of Defense at 1B?

    Teams like Tampa, Oakland or Arizona might be willing to trade a pitcher to TOR, which could be shiped to Cincy. (Or kept to free up someone like Romero or Morrow) It could even become a premier pitcher if a few prospects were added.

    A 3 team deal seems to be the only scenario if the Jays hope to add Votto.

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