Reds will build around 'cornerstone' Votto

GM Williams says players like star 1B 'only come around every so often'

March 12th, 2016

PHOENIX -- It may come as no surprise, but Joey Votto will remain "the cornerstone" of the Reds' franchise for the foreseeable future, Cincinnati's new general manager, Dick Williams, said on Friday morning during a panel discussion at the annual SABR Analytics Conference in the downtown Hyatt Regency.

"That's the plan," Williams reiterated to after the session. "You never say never, but he's a pretty good guy to build around. They only come around every so often."

Williams' disclosure came with the club in the midst of a serious rebuilding process. Since last July, the Reds have traded several core players, including Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Aroldis Chapman and Todd Frazier, and they nearly sent Jay Bruce to Toronto earlier this spring.

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Brandon Phillips was almost traded to the Nationals during the offseason, but he used his 10/5 status -- a player with at least 10 years in the big leagues and five or more consecutive years on his current team -- to nix the deal.

The Reds have eight more years to go on Votto's current 10-year, $225 million contract, plus a $20 million club option for 2024. Votto, who is heading into his 10th season -- all of them with the Reds -- will have the same 10/5 status as Phillips if the Reds don't trade him this season. He also has a full no trade clause in his deal. All of this is negotiable, of course. 

Williams was on a panel with new Angels GM Billy Eppler that was moderated by MLB Network analyst Brian Kenny. Williams' answer about Votto came during a question-and-answer session with the audience. The questions were hand-written and presented to the panelists by Kenny.

During the panel, Williams also defended Votto's approach at the plate, a topic of constant discussion during the first two days of the three-day conference.

To a query posed to the two GMs about whether either Mike Trout or Votto conceivably could be traded, Williams actually made some news.

"Joey's the cornerstone of our lineup right now, and [he] will be in the future," Williams said. "I think the contract we have him signed to is very reasonable for a small-market team, making that kind of commitment. The way salaries have gone, it looks like a very reasonable and fair contract.

"He's just such an important piece of the lineup, so I can't imagine not having him there to build around. That's my goal. I wouldn't say 'never,' but having Joey in the middle of the lineup is pretty special."

Williams was promoted from assistant general manager to GM after the 2015 season, with the incumbent GM Walt Jocketty remaining in his role as president of baseball operations.

Williams, 44, has deep ties with the Reds' organization. His grandfather and great-uncle were part of a 13-man group that bought the franchise in 1966, building the Big Red Machine and the most successful era in Reds history. That led to back-to-back World Series titles in '75-76.

Shortly after majority owner Bob Castellini and his group bought the Reds in 2006, Williams went to work for the franchise. His father, Joe, and his uncle, Thomas, are minority shareholders in Castellini's group.

Votto predated Castellini. The first baseman was picked in the second round by the Reds in the 2002 Draft and developed into a four-time National League All-Star and was the 2010 NL MVP Award and Hank Aaron Award winner.

Despite a serious left knee injury that caused him to miss 100 games in 2014, Votto's a .311 lifetime hitter with a .432 on-base percentage, and therein lies the source of the Votto controversy. He has more walks (754) than RBIs (633). He's hit 192 homers and his slugging percentage is .541.

In comparison, last season Bryce Harper of the Nationals led the Majors with a .649 slugging percentage, 42 homers and a .460 OBP. Additionally, he drove in 99 runs and won the NL MVP Award. Votto had a .459 OBP, but hit only 29 homers, drove in 80 runs and had a .541 slugging percentage. He led the Majors with 143 walks.

The traditionalists believe Votto should sacrifice some of that on-base percentage to drive in more runs. The metric group lauds Votto's penchant for getting on base 42 percent of the time he steps to the plate.

What does Williams think about this topic?

"The guy's hit .360-something on pitches inside the zone and .200 on pitches outside the zone," Williams said. "I happen to know that statistic, because I had this discussion with one of our broadcasters, who maintains that Joey is being selfish in his approach, because he's more interested in walking and getting on base at times than he is in expanding the strike zone and trying to get a runner in.

"It seems to me as being incredibly selfish if you would knowingly make yourself a hitter who is so much worse in order to chase an arbitrary statistic like an RBI. Isn't he being incredibly unselfish because he has the discipline to do what he does well? Joey knows that strike zone as well as anybody."

But the point is, with a runner on third and less than two out, that arbitrary RBI could actually help the Reds win a game rather than give them perhaps another useless runner when Votto strolls to first base.

It's a circular argument that really has no winner. But whether it's the Votto you want or the Votto you have, the real winner is the fans, because the Reds are planning right now to keep him in Cincinnati.