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A Defense of the Joey Votto Contract Extension

The Reds signed Joey Votto to a 10-year $225 million contract extension, keeping him in Cincinnati through the 2023 season. The risk is great. The commitment is astronomical. The back end could end up being an albatross. This is a bitter pill, but the Reds probably had to swallow it. Votto would have hit free agency perfectly in 2014. Assuming an expected career progression, his value would have skyrocketed.

For the one percent, cash will be plentiful. The Yankees’ commitments drop from $207m in 2012 to $118m in 2013 to just $75m in 2014. The Red Sox also fall from $169m to $107m in 2013 and $94m in 2014. To that beloved duo we can add the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Dodgers new owners did not pay $2.1 billion for the club. They paid for the club and the right to create a regional network in 2014. That network could resemble YES for the Yankees, bringing in around $300m per year in revenue, just from subscriber fees. LA just needs a team good enough to generate the demand. With a middling farm system, better players must come from without. Their present $100m payroll drops to $42 million in 2014. Even accounting for a generous, longterm deal for Kershaw, the Dodgers still should be throwing around silly money. Their present $100 million commitment could double.

Money will be available, but to spend on only a few high quality players. The 2013 and 2014 free agent classes are lean. Look at the contracts Pujols and Fielder signed, with each other on the market and without the “big two” getting involved. Votto might have been the only impact bat in his prime to come available for two years. He would have gotten a deal at least as good as the one he signed, potentially better. The closer that reality became, the greater his leverage. The Giants faced a similar dilemma with Matt Cain. If the Reds wanted to keep Votto, they had to sign him to an incredibly generous contract and soon.

The right baseball move in a vacuum would have been to let Votto leave, or shop him in a slow hitting market next winter. It’s logical, but could the Reds really afford to do that? Their business goal must be to maximize the competitive potential of the current team (fire Dusty, you fools) and parlay playoff success plus star power into a better local television deal in 2016. The best way to do both is with Votto in a Reds uniform. The “face of the franchise” may not exist in competitive terms, but it does when you’re trying to make money.

Votto’s contract may be an unbearable burden over the second half of the deal, though I would agree with Dave Cameron that getting an undervalued Votto the next few years softens that blow. The Reds should, theoretically receive more payroll flexibility from a national television contract as well. The extension comes with some nasty repercussions, but if Cincinnati makes a few playoff appearances, enhances its revenue stream and sends a career Red to Cooperstown it will be worth it.

[Photo via Presswire]

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