Trade rumors swirl about MLB stars every offseason. Nary a day goes by between Game No. 162 and the start of spring training when we don’t hear an interesting idea about a big name on his way to a new uniform—it’s part of what makes the offseason fun.
So far this winter, the most intriguing source of speculation has been Joey Votto. The reigning NL MVP hit .306/.416/.531 with 29 homers, 103 RBI, and 6.9 fWAR (6.5 rWAR). He’s unlikely to win the Senior Circuit’s top honors again, but he was the league’s best first baseman for the second year in a row.
The Reds might not be actively looking to unload their best player, but they’ll at least listen to offers this offseason. Votto has two years and $30 million remaining on his contract before he hits free agency, and in the likely event that Cincinnati won’t be able to retain him beyond 2013, he could be traded now so the Reds can maximize their return and open up a spot in their lineup for Yonder Alonso.
Could Votto be headed for Cleveland? The short answer, of course, is no. But the idea isn’t as crazy as it sounds.
For starters, Votto fills an obvious need for the Indians: first base. Matt LaPorta may be the answer in 2012 (it’s too soon to give up on him completely), but after two consecutive seasons of playing significantly below replacement level there’s no guarantee that he’ll be a useful contributor next year. Shelley Duncan could be an adequate solution and Carlos Santana will see time there too, but this may be the most glaring weak spot on a team that doesn’t have too many holes—plugging in a stud here .
What’s more, the Indians could definitely use a big boost like Votto would provide. They enter 2012 as underdog contenders—they’ve got a good shot at making the playoffs, but it’ll take a little improvement for them to get there. Most of that can probably come just from good health (knock on wood) and further development from the youngsters, but no one on the depth chart is likely to produce as much as Votto will. And as contenders, the marginal value of a win to the Tribe is much higher than it was the last couple winters—he wouldn’t have made the difference for Cleveland this year, but had he been on the team, the Tigers’ 15-game AL Central lead would have at least been down to single digits.
In addition, Votto’s contract lines up well with the older class of the team’s core. Taking on the $30 million he’s owed through 2013 would be a huge commitment, but it would at least be concentrated over the time when it would do the most good: with Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo, and Ubaldo Jimenez all slated to hit free agency after 2013, the next two years represent the Indians’ best chance to win a championship in the near future. Adding Votto would up the odds significantly.
Of course, the chances of Votto moving upstate are slim to none. If the Reds really aren’t looking to trade Votto (the team’s denials could just be posturing to drive up his value, or not wanting to prematurely alarm fans) their asking price would be exorbitant, and Cleveland wouldn’t be the only ones in the bidding; even if the Indians could produce a satisfactory offer that wouldn’t completely destroy the farm system, at least one of the other 28 teams—perhaps a club that could afford to lock him up long-term—would probably be willing and able to put together a better package. And even if the price wasn’t too high to get him, his $19 million salary in 2013 might be more than a small-market team could afford.
Don’t get your hopes up, Tribe fans: there’s almost no chance the Indians get Votto. But he’d be a perfect fit in Cleveland, and there is at least some slim possibility that a deal could work. I’m not saying the Indians could realistically pull off a trade for Votto—let me clear about that—but the idea isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds.