Now, we’re getting to the crux of the matter! In just 19 short days, Cincinnati Reds pitchers and catchers will report to Spring Training in Goodyear, AZ, to prepare for the 2015 season. The hard truth is, though, that no matter how many drills those guys run or what surprises camp holds, the fate of the Reds this year rests largely on the shoulders of Number 19 on our Countdown Team: first baseman Joey Votto.
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Votto is the centerpiece of the Reds organization, a status that he and the team have cultivated almost from the day he was drafted in the second round in 2002, and certainly since he made his debut in 2007. The adulation has been justified, too, as Votto has smashed the ball during his eight years in the Major Leagues to the tune of .319/.417/.533 and a 154 OPS+. Along the way, he as collected 1055 hits, among them 243 doubles and 163 home runs. For his trouble, he has contributed 35.5 wins above replacement to the Reds’ cause, including 6.9 in 2010 when he won the National League MVP award.
Votto has been one of the more valuable players in the game during most of his career, and he is about to get paid as such — after making $14 million in 2015, Votto will pull in at least $20 million in each of the next eight seasons.
And that’s where things start to get sticky.
Although Votto played in 162 games in 2013, he managed only 111 in 2012 and just 61 in 2014, when the Reds offense tanked. While Cincinnati is encouraged by Votto’s progress this off-season, distal quad strains, and quad injuries in general, tend to linger, especially in older players.
Now, Votto is not OLD exactly, but he is not young by any means, at least in a baseball sense. At 31, he is staring squarely at the down ramp of his prime, not ready for the pasture (hopefully) but well past his absolute peak. He could buck the trend and turn out to be one of those guys who squeeze out some of their best years in their early-to-mid-30s, but that doesn’t happen much these days, when every type of recovery is scrutinized so heavily.
More likely, Votto will never come close to his 2010 levels again, and even though most other mortals won’t, either, the Reds need that kind of magic to contend in 2015. The NL Central division is stronger than it’s ever been, and the Reds are rife with questions.
Can Johnny Cueto pitch like Cy Young again?
Who will fill the void left by Mat Latos (and Alfredo Simon)?
Can Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips rebound?
Will Devin Mesoraco and Todd Frazier build on their breakout seasons?
Who will handle the middle innings?
Even with all of those uncertainties, the most important question for the Reds in 2015 is, will Joey Votto ever be Joey Votto again?