Baker expects Votto to handle MVP treatment well

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Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker thinks that Joey Votto, fresh off winning the NL MVP award, will begin to be treated like great MVPs of the past by opposing pitchers.

Baker, speaking on Saturday at spring training camp in Goodyear, Ariz., said he noticed some special treatment from pitchers last season, when Votto hit .324 with 37 home runs and a 1.024 OPS.

“You saw last year how they started pitching him tougher and started pitching around him,” said Baker, who guided the Reds to their first playoff appearance in 15 seasons. “It’s the same thing Albert (Pujols) has been going through for seven, eight years now. I saw Barry Bonds go through it.”

Baker said it would be key for whoever hits in the clean-up spot behind Votto – a group that could include Scott Rolen, Johnny Gomes, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips – to play well to keep pitchers from ducking Votto.

“I remember when I was a kid, 22 years old, I was hitting behind Hank Aaron,” Baker said. “Hank told me ‘No. 1, don’t strike out when they do that. No. 2 try to keep the ball off the ground because they want you to hit into a double play. And just get some singles and doubles and you’ll stop them from pitching around me so much.’”

Baker said that Votto, a patient hitter who walked 91 times in 2010, was well equipped to handle the situation.

“For a young player he has a very good idea of what he’s trying to do, and an even better idea of what they’re trying to do to him. … When is a guy throwing me bait? Is he afraid of me? That’s the one thing I know about Barry Bonds, he could recognize fear quick as anything. He was like that dog that’s barking at that postman. That dog recognizes fear.”

Seeing as how Votto hit zero infield popups while compiling his monster 2010 season, there should be plenty of fear around the NL this season.

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Padres may have more interest in Dallas Keuchel than Bryce Harper

Dallas Keuchel
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An interesting tidbit today from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, who noted that ongoing talks between agent Scott Boras and the Padres have focused more on starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel than slugger Bryce Harper. Earlier this week, there were conflicting reports on the Padres’ level of interest in Harper — MLB Network’s Jon Heyman heard the club had not ruled out another big signing after getting Manny Machado, while Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune talked to multiple sources who believed otherwise — but any agreement between the two is looking unlikelier by the day.

As for Keuchel, Rosenthal cautions that a potential deal is still a “longshot,” especially as the team has other, cheaper options in mind. The 31-year-old southpaw turned down a qualifying offer from the Astros last year and is likely angling for something north of the five-year, $90 million contract extension he rejected from the club in 2016. He’s coming off of another solid performance in Houston, where he went 12-11 in 34 starts with a 3.74 ERA, 2.6 BB/9, 6.7 SO/9, and 3.6 fWAR through 204 2/3 innings in 2018.

While Keuchel has failed to garner substantial interest around the league this offseason, Heyman points out that the Phillies are looking to establish themselves as frontrunners for the lefty — and they’re far less likely to have hang-ups about his asking price, too.