Ever since Joey Votto won the 2010 NL MVP award, it seemed like Reds fans were counting down the days to his departure. The Reds weren’t going to pony up the money Votto so clearly deserved, and Votto, for his part, seemed OK with the idea of spending the second half of his career in another city.
So much for that idea.
The Reds on Monday gave Votto the fourth biggest contract in big-league history and the biggest to go to a non-free agent. The reported 10-year, $225 million extension is actually going to be added to his previous deal, which pays him $9.5 million this year and $17 million in 2013. All told, the Reds have committed to him for $251.5 million through 2023, his age-39 season.
It’s an incredible commitment and a giant risk, given the number of years involved. Votto is one of the game’s best players now, but there’s no telling whether he will be five or eight years down the road. On the plus side, he is pretty athletic for a first baseman and he’s not someone who figures to have to finish his career as a DH. Yet there’s certainly little reason to think he’ll be anything close to a $20 million-$23 million player from age 34 on.
Given that they controlled him for two more years anyway, the Reds went too far overboard here. Matt Kemp, a similar talent with a less consistency in his track record, recently signed for $160 million over eight years and he was just one year away from free agency, not two. Ryan Braun’s odd five-year extension (for 2016-20) with the Brewers was worth $105 million, or $21 million per year. The Reds topped both those deals in years and salary in order to get Votto done.
Of course, this wasn’t just about on-field performance. This was about TV money and having a superstar in the fold as they seek to negotiate their next deal. Locked at in those terms, maybe it was worth it for the Reds to to be so bold. That’s really the only way a 12-year commitment makes sense.
On Monday, Baseball America reported that MLB is prepared to expand to Portland and Montreal. We talked about that at length yesterday. One of the most common responses to that piece has been “Portland? Really?”
There’s good reason for that response. Baseball-to-Portland has been talked about for years, but there has never been any real traction. Past initiatives have failed, significant public funding for a stadium seems to be a political impossibility and, heck, Portland wasn’t even interested in keeping its Triple-A team, turning its stadium into a much more successful soccer venue and not missing the Beavers all that much.
It would seem, however, that the reports are not mere speculation and there is a genuine baseball-to-Portland initiative afoot once again. From the Oregonian:
On Tuesday, former Trail Blazers broadcaster Mike Barrett confirmed to The Oregonian/OregonLive that he is part of the Portland group.
“I am officially involved with a campaign to bring Major League Baseball and a stadium development to Portland,” Barrett said. “There is also a formally organized, sophisticated and seasoned management group running this initiative. We will keep you fully apprised of any/all developments as this project progresses.”
One guy — a broadcaster no less — saying he’s part of a group is not exactly a major needle-mover, of course. But it does contrast with past Portland initiatives that have been well-publicized grassroots affairs. While those may have been more broad-based and while their public nature may have provided some refreshing transparency, the simple fact of professional sports ownership in the 21st century is that well-monied groups who play things close to the vest are more likely to make waves. We’re in an age when technocratic hedge fund-type guys make things happen in this arena, not in an age when flamboyant public personalities do.
None of which is to say that baseball in Portland is a lock or that expansion anywhere is a short term proposition. It’s just to note that, yeah, there is a bit more going on, it seems, than just pointing at a map and saying “yeah, a team would make sense here.”