Cincinnati Reds Are Mortgaged Out the Votto


Sep 11, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto (19) watches from the dugout during a game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Great American Ball Park. The Reds won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Cincinnati Reds general manager Walt Jocketty frequently laments the fact that the franchise is handicapped by the largest payroll in their history, making it difficult to pull off, say a mid-season trade to bolster the offense. Now, the guys at have put together a couple of charts that put the Reds’ financial woes into perspective.

On Wednesday, Jeff Todd ran down the 2015 payroll obligations for all 30 Major League teams, and the Reds’ positioning is striking. When you factor in guaranteed money and expected arbitration decisions, the Reds will be on the hook for something like $125 million when Opening Day rolls around, assuming that they don’t sell off some of those “assets” in the meantime. That ranks them fifth in 2015 payroll, ahead of such big spenders as the Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers.   

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As bad as that sounds, the long-term outlook is even worse.

On Friday, Todd was back at it, this time presenting future payroll obligations for all MLB teams extending out to 2024 teams. In this metric, the Reds rank fifth in the Majors, behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Angels. Appearing on these lists is an annual rite of passage for the big-market (LA and NY) teams, and the Tigers are facing their own precipice.

Edging into this territory is disastrous for the Reds, and Jocketty’s own moves have landed the franchise in this potential payroll purgatory.  Chief among these is the deal that Joey Votto signed in 2012, which will net Votto his first of eight $20-million+ annual salaries in 2016.  That’s the year Votto will be 32, by the way.

With a $20-million team option or a $7-million buyout for 2024, Vott’s contract is the gift that promises to keep on giving. The Tigers are the only other team who already have payroll obligations on the books for 2024.

So where do the Reds go from here?

Well, it’s pretty clear that they can’t continue to escalate their salaries, as Jocketty will tell us. Bringing in young talent like Jesse Winker will help some, but the Reds need to shed some major salary if they hope to make the moves necessary to compete again anytime soon. That means making tough choices about the rotation (Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Mat Latos, Alfredo Simon) and the bullpen (Aroldis Chapman).

Something that’s not talked about much is that Reds could be best served for the long run by looking for ways to shed their biggest financial liabilities, Votto and second baseman Brandon Phillips. Both are aging, both are coming off major injuries, and both are under contract for multiple years.  The Reds tried to trade Phillips before he went 10-and-5, and it would be tough to move him now, but he’s not going to be a difference maker for a team that might bounce around the bottom of the standings during the last three years of his contract.

Votto would be really tough to move, but he looms as an absolute albatross over the next decade, and Reds’ brass needs to get creative to find a new home for him. Designated hitter seems like a role he was born to play.

The real improvement that the Reds need to make soon is in the front office. Small market teams have made great competitive strides in the last decade by embracing sabermetrics and complementing their traditional scouting and player evaluation with a focus on analytics. The Reds, though, remain locked firmly in the franchise models of previous decades, and Jocketty has shown no propensity to change his ways.  With big market clubs like the Dodgers jumping into the business of looking for market inefficiencies (see Andrew Friedman), it’s getting even tougher for the smaller guys to keep up.

The Reds won’t be able to outspend 25 other Major League teams indefinitely, and that strategy has not guaranteed them success in recent years, anyway.

No, in the future the Reds need to be smarter with their money,, and that means big changes are coming at some point not too far down the road. That is, assuming owner Bob Castellini is actually interested in winning.