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Votto reports, issues 'winning' challenge to Reds

First baseman eager for Cincinnati to return to contention
MLB.com @m_sheldon

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- By his own accounting, Joey Votto purposely tried not to do too much with his offseason. The Reds first baseman embraced his down time.

"I tried to get fatter," Votto joked after completing his physical Sunday, when position players reported. "I succeeded at that apparently. We did all the testing, and I am fatter. I just wanted to take as much time away as I could and relax and really unwind. I felt like I needed it. Hopefully it pays off."

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- By his own accounting, Joey Votto purposely tried not to do too much with his offseason. The Reds first baseman embraced his down time.

"I tried to get fatter," Votto joked after completing his physical Sunday, when position players reported. "I succeeded at that apparently. We did all the testing, and I am fatter. I just wanted to take as much time away as I could and relax and really unwind. I felt like I needed it. Hopefully it pays off."

Votto finished in second place for the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 2017 -- a mere two points shy of winner Giancarlo Stanton. The 34-year-old Votto had arguably the best year of his 10-year career after he batted .320/.454/.578 with 36 home runs, 100 RBIs and 106 runs scored.

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But Votto was not using his idle time to bask in his own achievements -- especially since Cincinnati finished 68-94 for the second consecutive year. The club hasn't reached the postseason since 2013, and it is a long way from the days of being NL Central champions in 2010 and '12. He would like to get better as a player, but Votto noted he wants his team to get better, too.

Video: Outlook: Votto continues to display superb discipline

"It's tough because even had I won that award, it still would have felt awkward because we had such a down year last year," Votto said. "For me, I always want to do my job and play as well as I can. But ultimately, it's much better going home at the end of a work day knowing that you contributed to winning baseball. It's much better finishing a season knowing you're a part of winning baseball. That's been on my mind.

"I think we're starting to get to the point where people are starting to get tired of this stretch of ball. I think something needs to start changing and start going in a different direction. I'm going to do my part to help make that change."

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Votto could not say whether the team currently assembled in the Spring Training clubhouse was one that could bring that change.

"Guys need to get better. Guys need to grow. Guys need to just come out of nowhere," Votto said. "We need lots of help, all the way around. Hopefully that happens sooner than later. I think there's potentially a light at the end of the tunnel. I hope it happens. More importantly, I hope it happens where it's sustainable, where we get guys that stay put for a long time, become marquee names in the city and hopefully in the game in general. The only chance that happens is if there are guys that can really, really play."

Video: Breaking down the Reds' projected 2018 lineup

From 2010-13, when Votto helped the Reds reach the playoffs in three out of four years, he recognized there were the expectations from within -- and the outside -- that the team would be a contender and win.

This year, teams like the Astros, Cubs and Nationals are the ones that carry that aura.

"That's a frustrating thing when you move out of the window," Votto said. "I'll just speak about us. We kind of moved out of it in '14-ish, and the writing was on the wall. Hopefully we start it back up again in the not-too-distant future."

Cincinnati made no significant moves to add players in the offseason; the two big league contract signings were relievers David Hernandez and Jared Hughes. The club is instead counting on its young starting pitchers to grow and improve and veterans like Homer Bailey and Anthony DeSclafani to stay healthy and be successful.

Votto endorsed not splurging on the free-agent market.

"I think they made the right moves," he said. "At some point they'll sign somebody very similar to the way the Brewers did it with Lorenzo Cain or made a five-year offer for [Yu] Darvish. I think those were both wise attempts and signings. I think, at some point, we'll do something similar to that."

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Cincinnati Reds, Joey Votto