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.
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.