What does Votto deal really mean for Reds?

At first glance, it appears like the Cincinnati Reds made a great move on Sunday when they signed National League Most Valuable Player Joey Votto to a three-year/$38 million contract.

In this day and age in Major League Baseball, locking up a player like Votto for less than $13 million per season looks like a bargain on the surface.

However, for Reds fans, this really means nothing. Votto would have been arbitration-eligible for the next three years regardless. He could not have been a free agent until after the 2013 season.

So, basically the Reds estimated what Votto would make via arbitration over the next three years and offered him a contract in that range, wiping out all his arbitration years. This all would have been much-better from the Reds’ perspective if they could have “bought-out” one of his free agent years, but it’s easy to see why Votto and his agent didn’t want to do that quite yet. Three years is still a decent amount of time and then Votto and the Reds can figure out whether they want to engage in long-term deal. (A very-expensive one, no doubt.)

So, why would Votto want to sign this recently-completed three-year deal? Simple: It protects him in the event he would have a catastrophic injury. Also, unless he continues to put up absurd seasons like he did in 2010 (.324 batting average, 37 home runs, 113 RBIs, 1.024 OPS, 16 stolen bases, 106 runs scored), Votto likely wouldn’t have made much-more than the $38 million that the Reds will be giving him over the next three seasons. If he would continue to be NL MVP each year, sure he would make more than $38 million total the next three years through the arbitration process, but why chance it? His numbers could take a subtle dip (I don’t think they’ll take much of one if he stays healthy, he is just too much of a natural hitter) and there is always the possibility of injury.

Also, this prevents the Reds and Votto from having to go through the uncomfortable process that is arbitration for the next few years. Even if the case doesn’t actually go in front of an arbitrator (and it’s really bad when it does because basically you have a team telling a judge all the things they don’t like about the player in question) you have to figure out a dollar figure that works for both sides, which takes away from other things the front office could be concentrating on. This way, the Reds know exactly what they will be paying for Votto from 2011-13.

Bottom line: I like this move, but it doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme. Hopefully Votto views it as a good-faith effort and will be more apt to sign with Cincinnati long-term when he approaches free agency. Although, the way it’s looking, the Reds will have to back the truck up (and then call in a few more trucks) if they want to keep Votto beginning in 2014. He will command something around the $25-million-per-year range and it’s difficult to imagine a franchise like the Reds paying that much for any player.

But it’s a great problem to have in many respects. The Reds have a phenomenal young player in Votto, 27, who is the reigning MVP, and they’ll have him leading their offense batting in the three-hole for at least the next three years.

By the way, The Pride Of Canada made exactly $525,000 last year in what was the best bargain in baseball. The Toronto native was a second-round draft pick by the Reds in 2002.