Is Votto Passing the Star Torch to Suarez?

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One of my favorite things so far this baseball season is watching Joey Votto and Eugenio Suarez dance. And, if we’re being honest, Reds baseball has been kinda fun lately. They aren’t going to recover from that start, but they’ve been playing .500 ball for more than a month now, and I can suddenly imagine them winning in the not-to-distant future. Part of how they might win is linked to that image of the team’s two best players dancing.

Joey and Geno represent different phases in recent Reds history. Votto became established just as the Reds became competitive (the two are strongly related) and is the only holdover from that recent run still on the team and performing at a high level (sorry, Homer). Suarez is the first piece of the new puzzle to fall into place. He’s young and playing at an all-star level. The question is, can he be for the next playoff window what Votto was for the last playoff window?

Joey Votto is great. He is, at this point, clearly the best first baseman in Reds history. The only real question is, when his career is over, where he will rank among the greatest players in franchise history like Bench, Rose, Morgan, Robinson, and Larkin.

But Votto is also 34. And while he still likely has an excellent season or three left in him, we’re past the point at which he should be counted on as a star-level player for the long term (he might be a star until he’s 40, of course, we just shouldn’t count on it). Nearly every winning team needs a genuine star, and the best candidate on the roster is Eugenio Suarez.

Suarez is young and good. Last year, during his age-25 season, he posted 4.0 Wins Above Replacement. That’s all-star level production from a player who is still three seasons away from his peak. It was also the 25th best season by a third baseman in Reds history. Votto, by comparison, was good for 4.6 WAR in his age-25 season. Pretty close. It’s still early in the current season, but even with the injury, Suarez is on pace to have one of the 10 best seasons a third baseman has ever had for the Reds. And he’s still only 26. Without the injury, he would likely be on pace for something like 6 WAR, which is when you generally start getting mentioned in MVP discussions.

In fact, just as Votto is clearly the best first baseman the Reds have ever had, there’s at least a fair chance Suarez ends up as the Reds’ best third baseman ever. Though, in fairness, the competition isn’t that steep. He’s already 14th in franchise history in WAR at third. And it would be at least a little shocking if he doesn’t pass Chris Sabo (17.9 WAR) for third place late next season or early in 2020. After that, it’s Tony Perez and Heinie Groh. Perez accumulated 28.2 WAR at third before moving to first. Groh spent some time at shortstop but was at third for the overwhelming majority of the time it took him to accumulate his 42.0 WAR with the Reds.

And Suarez? He looks like a five-win player who currently has 7.6 career WAR for the Reds and is 26. If he simply maintains his currently level of play (not unreasonable for a player of his age), he should break 30 WAR during his age-30 season. That takes him past Perez and a few seasons away from Groh.

That’s extrapolation, of course, and we don’t know how good he will be, but the question I wanted to answer with this column is whether or not he could be the star the Reds will need. And the answer is: absolutely.

But it’s not just about his performance. He’s quickly become a fan favorite. His public demeanor is fun and easy going—whether he’s teaching us salsa dancing during rain delays, dancing with Votto, or blowing giant bubbles at third, he’s extremely likeable. He’s also shown a dedication toward improving his game, reportedly listening to Votto’s tutelage enough to boost his on-base percentage about 50 points during the last two seasons and working so hard at defense that he went from being one of the worst in the league at the hot corner to one of the best in less than a season.

Baseball players, like everyone and everything, are subject to the passing of time. I am looking forward to watching Votto finish out his career as one of the best players to ever play in Cincinnati, but I’m also looking forward to seeing if Suarez can be for the next competitive Reds team what Votto was for the last one.

Jason Linden is a contributor to Nuxhall Way, Redleg Nation, and The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @JasonLinden.

 

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