The Reds Need to Bring Joey Votto Back Next Season

Despite his meager batting average, Votto is actually having a great year at the plate. And the young Reds respond to his leadership.
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This week, Reds first baseman Joey Votto made an appearance on Jayson Stark’s podcast to discuss a wide range of topics. (You can listen to the full episode here.) It was the latest in a series of fascinating conversations with the Reds legend, and Votto pulled no punches. Among the topics discussed: His future, and where he sees himself next year.

“I’ve been a Cincinnati Red my entire career,” he told Stark. “I have nothing but pride wearing this uniform. I would love to finish my career in a Reds uniform. But there’s only so much control I have over that.”

Expect this conversation to continue in the months ahead. The Reds hold a team option on Votto for next season; if they choose to exercise that option and bring him back in 2024, they would owe him $20 million. If Cincinnati chooses not to exercise that option, they would be required to pay Votto a $7 million buyout amount. So what it comes down to is this: Will Joey Votto be worth $13 million to next year’s Reds?

Some of you will look at Votto’s paltry .211 batting average and decide that the game has passed him by. Or perhaps you’ve seen a few games lately and think he’s striking out too much. It’s true, he’s whiffing at the highest rate of his career. These are the tell-tale signs of an aging Hall of Famer, right? Father Time is undefeated, after all.

But what if I told you that Votto had a higher home run percentage this year than Shohei Ohtani, Aaron Judge, and Max Muncy? In fact, at his current rate, Votto would be on pace to hit 54 home runs over a full season. That’s the eye-catching stat, but no matter how you slice the numbers—unless batting average is your thing—he’s having a pretty good year with the bat.

Let’s start here: Votto’s OPS+ is 118, which means he has performed roughly 18 percent better than the average hitter. On the Reds, only Will Benson and Matt McLain have higher marks. If you’re into even nerdier stats, you’ve come to the right place! Votto’s wRC+ is 116, and his wOBA is .355. If those numbers mean nothing to you, I’m very proud of you right now for having an actual life. But trust me, they’re pretty good! It’s not elite, and certainly not up to the standards Votto posted at his peak—but they’re perfectly acceptable. And they’re identical to the wRC+ and wOBA of Cincinnati’s leading home run hitter, Spencer Steer.

If we want to get even nerdier—and I really don’t, so I’ll keep this brief—Votto’s average exit velocity and barrel percentage are both still good. Each is the second highest of his career, or since Statcast became a thing in 2015 anyway. Votto’s average exit velocity is 91.4 mph; that leads the team, even higher than Elly De La Cruz’s 91.2.

For his part, Votto says he sees plenty of improvement ahead as he works back from last August’s surgery to fix his left rotator cuff and bicep that was far more involved than originally anticipated. “Each and every day, my swing is getting better,” he told Stark. “It’s entirely a byproduct of this injury, but I can see it in the video, I can see it in the data, but most importantly I’m starting to see it in the results on the field, which is what it’s all about. Now, as I sit here, a month away from being 40, I’m confident I can do it. I feel like it’s in my control.”

Votto, of course, has little control over Cincinnati’s decision whether to pick up his contract option for next season. It’s clear, however, that Votto has had an impact on this year’s young, energetic Runnin’ Redlegs. And they’ve had an impact on him, as well. Recently, Bally Sports aired a feature that touched on how De La Cruz, McLain, and Benson have helped Votto turn back the clock.

It’s more than just the backwards cap and untucking his jersey after games like Elly, celebrating on the field and urging everyone to have a Fresca. Votto is leading by example, too. “He’s out there during BP,” said outfielder TJ Friedl, “diving back into bases, and then it shows in the game, taking extra bases, being aggressive.”

In 2009, Votto was a 25-year-old in his second full season in the big leagues when the Reds acquired veteran third baseman Scott Rolen from Toronto. As Rolen was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this summer, Votto talked extensively about Rolen’s impact on his career. “I loved playing with him,” Votto said via Instagram. “I learned so much. If any player is lucky enough to have a role model and a teammate like him, they’re as lucky as it gets. I shaped my career, my effort, my work in his mold.”

Rolen mentored that team of youngsters in 2009 into the club that would win two division championships in the next three years. Wouldn’t it make sense for Votto to perform a similar role for the current crop of Reds prospects?

Votto made clear to Stark how he’d like for everything to shake out after this season. “My jackpot is winning a championship with the Reds,” he said. “So the idea of glomming on with another organization to win a ring … that doesn’t appeal to me. If I speak it out loud: Going to another team to chase a ring, it only means so much to me.”

At the moment, the Reds have precisely one player (Hunter Greene) under contract beyond this season. GM Nick Krall has done a remarkable job of clearing the books of any expensive assets. The Reds can absolutely afford to bring Joey Votto back next year, and they should. In this world, $13 million is well worth it for a player who can provide leadership as the kids begin to mature.

And besides, Votto still bangs! Tell me you wouldn’t love to see him break the all-time franchise home run record (he’s 34 homers away from Johnny Bench’s total of 369) while leading Cincinnati to its first division title in a dozen years. He’s the greatest Reds player of all time, after all.

Pick up his option now, Reds. It’s the right move.

Chad Dotson helms Reds coverage at Cincinnati Magazine and hosts a long-running Reds podcast, The Riverfront. His newsletter about Cincinnati sports can be found at chaddotson.com. He’s @dotsonc on Twitter.

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