The Bug

In my recent post on Joey Votto’s Hall of Fame chances, there was some interesting discussion. However, much of it got bogged down in the debate over whether or not Votto’s contract is “too much” of the payroll. While I get where people are coming from with this, there’s a problem in the logic and I want to try and lay out an argument here. So stay with me.

Point 1

Any good team (except possibly the Yankees and Dodgers) HAS to develop much of its own talent. This talent comes at a discount during the first six years. Where that talent plays will, naturally, shift around quite a bit. Given that, worrying about what percentage of the payroll is tied up “in the starting rotation” or “in the outfield” or wherever else is irrelevant. The purpose of free agency and extensions is to fill holes where there is no new talent or equivalent value available in the organization. Those spots will ALWAYS take up a disproportionate amount of the payroll. Even on bad teams with low payrolls. That is how free agency works.

Point 2

Long contracts aren’t necessarily a bad thing. I don’t think anyone saw the Reds becoming bad this quickly. Fans would have rioted if Votto had been allowed to reach free agency. But do you think you could sign a player of Votto’s caliber for 4 years/$100 million? No way. You’d probably have to pay him between $35 and $40M a year in a contract that short. Instead, a longer deal allows the Reds to defer a huge portion of the payout to a time when salary inflation means that he will be overpaid by much less.

How real is salary inflation? Very. And it’s fairly easily to calculate using the salaries and production levels of players past their sixth year. Using Votto as an example: During his rookie year, he produced 3.6 WAR. At the time, that would have been worth $22.4M on the open market, meaning 1 WAR was worth about $6.2M. Last year, Joey Votto produced 5.0 WAR, which was valued at $39.8M on the open market. Placing the value of 1 WAR at about $8M. That’s 29% inflation in 9 years. So, no $25M in 2023 is not what it was in 2014. At all. It’s more like $17M in 2014.

Point 3

In terms of yearly payroll, we shouldn’t be focused on how much payroll is tied up in one player, but rather if the money doled out in extensions and free agent contracts is, in fact, providing AT LEAST market value. This should be obvious, but year to year, about half the teams will get more value than they pay for from those contracts and about half will get less than they pay for. $8M/WAR is an average, after all. So let’s look at the players the Reds have on the books for 2017 who are past their 6th year and what can reasonably be expected of them.

Joey Votto
2017 Salary – $22M
Worth it? Barring injury, there is no question.

Homer Bailey
2017 Salary – $19M
Worth it? If he pitches a full season, probably (this is a big “if”). That’s only about 2.5 WAR in terms of value.

Brandon Phillips
2017 Salary – $14M
Worth it? Almost certainly not. Phillips provided enormous surplus value early in his contract, so it balances out — but purely in 2017 terms, this isn’t a good one.

Special Category:
Devin Mesoraco & Raisel Iglesias – $7.3M & $4.2M, respectively.
Worth it? Neither of these players has passed year 6 yet, but Mesoraco signed an extension and Iglesias was an international signing. In hindsight, the Mesoraco signing is bad. No way he’d make this much in arbitration. Iglesias, however, will be worth significantly more than his salary if he pitches even half a season this year.

In total, the Reds will have $66.5M invested in these players in 2017. That should purchase about 8 WAR on the open market. What value can they expect?

Best case: Votto: 7 WAR, Bailey: 4 WAR, Phillips: 2 WAR, Mesoraco: 4 WAR, Iglesias: 3 WAR (assuming he’s locked into the bullpen)

Worst case: Votto: 3 WAR, Bailey: -0.5 WAR (comes back briefly, pitches poorly), Phillips: -2.0 WAR (plays all season, badly), Mesoraco: 0 WAR (doesn’t play), Iglesias: 0 WAR (shoulder injury).

Best case? Reds get 20 WAR for the cost of 8 WAR. Worse case? They get 0.5 WAR for the cost of 8 WAR.

Most likely? I’d say something like this: Votto: 4.5 WAR, Bailey: 1.0 WAR, Phillips: 0.0 WAR, Mesorac0: 0.0 WAR, Iglesias: 1.5 WAR. That’s 6 WAR for the cost of 8. So, not a good deal.


Overall, the Reds are unlikely to get their money’s worth from their expensive players next year. But even in the worst case scenario, Votto earns his paycheck. He simply isn’t the problem. The problems are thus: Phillips is at the end of a longterm contract (everyone knew he’d be overpaid at this point). Bailey got hurt. Mes got hurt. That’s it.

Put it another way: The Reds won 68 games last year. With a never-injured Bailey and Mes, they win what? 76? If you just won 76 games and have the farm system the Reds have, you feel pretty good. That’s when you hit the free agent market to fill your holes (probably pitching and outfield). In hindsight, maybe they should have traded Bailey and Mes and spent that money on Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake (or Todd Frazier, if you haven’t let that one go yet). But that’s hindsight.

Everyone knew the Reds would eventually hit a low point as players aged and we had to wait for new guys to develop. We didn’t know it would be this low, but the depths they’ve fallen to have NOTHING to do with Votto or his contract and everything to do with the Reds, sadly, picking the wrong other guys to keep around.

Sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug. Such is life.

Jason has been a fan of the Reds since he was born. He really had no choice in the matter. He has been writing at Redleg Nation for a few years, and also writes and edits at The Hardball Times. His debut novel, When the Sparrow Sings, is available now and concerns baseball, among other things. You can find more information at jasonlinden.com.

Join the conversation! 67 Comments

  1. Good perspective. People need to start really doing the math as you suggest. Joey will be Joey and that’s a good thing. Plus, is it possible that his working with Billy Hamilton raised his WAR just a little? I think that’s what we saw.

    Oh, and if BP is going to give us zero or negative WAR, then release him (or get a bag of balls) and move on.

  2. Very nicely summarized. I remember the Bailey signing and the spectrum of comments.
    Either the Reds were being smart and buying up Bailey up front, or he wasn’t worth it. The injuries were just bad luck, as they say.
    As we should all recall, Cueto was injured at the end of 2012, and they weren’t sure about him in 2013, as he pitched very little that year. With perfect hindsight, it would have been smarter to negotiate an extension in 2013 with Cueto (sure) and trade Bailey while he had a lot of value.
    The problem with small market teams like the Reds is always those big contracts that are mistakes. It just skews everything. The Votto contract will cost the Reds a lot of money, but for the most part Joey has delivered on value. If the other big contract players had delivered some value, we would not be having this conversation.
    Unless Phillips gets injured, I don’t see him regressing to Skip Schumaker country. He will still deliver plus WAR this year, depending on how much he plays for Cincy. I do see him traded sometime in June or July (barring the Reds actually being in contention) and the Reds eating some of his contract for a team to take him.

    • I am not so sure the focus was Cueto was injured but his history of injuries. He changed his mechanics and did away with the strains! The hindsight thing is easy I have had it mastered for years! The original question was JV and the HOF, I think that answers both issues. The question of his contract comes into question because of how really great he is. He already has a HOF career for the most part. I feel he needs a couple of more years of being one of the best hitters in baseball! His detractors will always have an issue with lack of RBI’s which I the absolute most idiotic arguments ever, you can’t drive in runs not on the bag. The other is the walks not being productive. I know that I learned early to swing at strikes and I taught this for more than 15 years to the youth. I also know that every great hitter ever has been about hitting strikes and letting balls go. There have been a few bad ball hitters but dang few and even less in the HOF!!!!!!!!!!! I did love the breakdown of the salaries and the value or lack of value! I agree that BP has came to the point that his salary overtakes his value but really who would have thought at the beginning that he would have been a value until the final year? This past season was really the first time you can say well BP didn’t earn his. I am unsure if those advanced numbers will agree but this is really the first year that a comparable salary would have matched his play!

  3. Jason… glad we aren’t done with his topic,a little baseball debate helps take up time until Opening Day. Your Point 1… yeah,point of FA is to fill holes you can’t fix with your at Farm System,I get that.But you have to be financially responsible,you can’t give away your future to win today which is exactly what I think Walt did with all these contracts,not just JV but Phillips,Homer,Bruce,etc .Your point 2 Cardinals fans did almost riot along that same time period when they let Albert Pujohl leave town…..but now you don’t hear a whimper.Just because fans think it’s a good idea to sign these guys doesn’t make it a good idea. And to use WAR to calculate a players value doesn’t work for me,just too variables here to cover,there’s no way it’s accurate.Todd Frazier has almost identical WAR stat….does that make him as valuable as JV??…Heck no.. And your point 3…I think my argument for % of payroll one player takes up is valid.And to back up that point I took all the teams in NLC and did the numbers… Cubs,Cardinals,Pirates ( 3 top teams in 2016) their highest paid players ate up roughly 15% of their yearly payroll.Brewers Ryan Braun ate up 30% of their payroll and finishing last in NLC Reds where JV ate of 25% of their payroll.Coincidence?? Maybe but not the way I see the world….think it’s more evidence that points to same conclusion. Now…I don’t hate Votto 🙂 …I’m not jealous of his money…. I don’t want people here to get wrong impression,just is just an analysis of what I see happening on Reds team.And it may change….if Dick Williams can build a team on a shoestring around Votto that makes PS…then Yippee! … IMHO that will make DW GM of the year.But the system is tilted against him….talent is sold by the pound in baseball…DW will have to be second coming of Theo Epstein to pull it off…..

    • Bob, I think everyone understands your point of payroll allocation. Most understand he is worth every penny they invested in him. It’s the other players that are not worth the investment. What confuses me is how some fans don’t understand this. You mention your lack of faith in WAR. If that is the case than every position player on this team is even less valuable if measuring by WRC+ or OPS+ etc… Think of it this way. Votto made far less than the combination of Phillips, Mesoraco, and Bailey. Yet, he was and is far more valuable. The Reds front office does need to dramatically improve decision making. Big contracts should only be given to superstars who are relatively sure bets. Can’t gamble on hopes and mediocre players. Keep in mind this is not just something that developed last years. 2015 we were hearing the same arguments about Votto’s salary, but still paying 10’s of millions to guys like Ludwick and Schumaker to sit at home.

      • Hey Frogger….a lot of Red’s fans are good with Votto and his contract now.But there are over 1000 games left to be played….in 1999 Reds came within a game of being in PS and then and in off season Red’s signed Griffey Jr and I’ll admit I was thrilled,coming that close in 1999 and then signing soon-to-be-in-HOF,son of Ken Griffey SR,born and raised in Cincy…..if there was ever a lock in baseball a Red’s team going to post season in 2000 that was it.But nope….baseball is a cruel mistress 🙂 and things fell apart as they are prone to do in this game.And then 8 consecutive under .500 seasons….not sure how many folks here were fans during that period but their fan base took a real beating.And when Griffey Jr left town weren’t many people cared because they were so tired of supporting a losing franchise.Nothing against JV….I’m sure he’s worth the $$…probably has the best batting eye in baseball.Just (IMHO) a luxury this team can’t afford….he’s just one guy of 25 Reds count on to win games,bats once thru batting order.His stellar OBP didn’t help a historically bad Reds bullpen in 2016….

        • So the moral of the story is don’t pay any of these guys and just hope you’ll catch lightning in a bottle? Because that’s what will have to happen if you hope the Reds are going to win with that strategy. At some point, you have to start paying these guys. Nobody’s going to hit on every prospect and certainly not all at once.

          The Reds don’t necessarily have to repeat the 00’s. They can pay Votto and develop enough young players to be relevant again. But they’ve got to spend money to do it. And hope that injuries to don’t foil their best laid plans.

        • Develop your team from bottom up and plan ahead for that time when your players reach Free Agency.Now…I realize that’s a lot easier said than done but Cardinals (again) are a good home grown team.And because they aren’t hamstrung by big contracts (Albert Pujol) they have that financial flexibility to sign guys like Dexter Fowler in off season to fill their holes.That’s why I’m cheering on Dick Williams…forget that Free Agency Wheel of Fortune(or misfortune) and focus on youth and developing talent .And after 6 years if you can’t sign them to a reasonable price/term….let ’em walk and usher in the next guy….

        • To be fair though, that’s exactly what the Reds have been doing the last decade. Developing young talent, then trying to sign it under reasonable terms for a smaller market team. It just hasn’t worked out as well for the Reds as it has the Cardinals.

          Plus, you forget that the Cardinals tried to sign Pujols but were “saved” by the Angels. So even the Cardinals realize you have to pay some of these guys. They’ve done that over the years with Molina, Wainwright, Holliday, and others. So, if you like what the Cards are doing, you should endorse what the Reds have been trying to do.

        • Last 10 years….no I don’t think so at all,Reds have done a terrible job bringing young talent into their farm system.Last couple years….they have done much better and I’d like to think it’s because Dick Williams and a change of team philosophy coupled with all the trades that have been made.And Cards did offer AP big money…but point isn’t why Albert did or didn’t re-up,point is they don’t have that contract to deal with today.And chalk it up to dumb luck or Cards just dug in their heels they are way better off ….

        • Your right about Griffey. Unfortunately, the Reds came up short by fate on that one. For every Jr. there have been several Ludwicks, Schumakers, Madsens,Marshals, etc….. The point is that at the end of the contract Votto will never be anywhere near the worst signing from this franchise. My disappointment is that the franchise and fans get so attached to the players they like or don’t like and lose objectivity. Before I start concerning myself with one of the franchises best players in it’s history I would start reducing absolute waste on several other parts of this franchise including bad decision makers. This team hasn’t been truly successful in a long time. Yet, we choose to scapegoat the one person who is at the very top of his field. How about we demand more from everyone else and see where we go from there.

        • Well one more time I’m not blaming Votto,all he did was do his job and sign his name to that lucrative contract…..I’d had done same thing in his situation.What I am saying is with this strategy Reds are setting themselves up to fail or at the very least making their job a lot harder.Time will tell….if DW can weave some magic and build a good team around Votto on a shoestring budget it may work out yet.But another consideration if Reds do what fans here are wanting then you have Mesoraco,Votto,Herrera,Peraza,Suarez,Duvall,Hamiton,Schebler…..that is a lot of youth and inexperience there and hoping those guys go to post season in 2017 or even 2018 looks like a long shot to me.We all (as fans) better hope JV is healthy for many years to come…

  4. The issue with JV’s contract isn’t based on 2017 salary, it is the post 2020 salaries.

    In all evaluations I have seen here, none has adequately factored in the likelihood of injury for older players. Couple that with JV’s slow recovery from his previous knee injury, and it would not auger well for the end of this contract.

    I just don’t know how this possibility (probability?) of injury can be discounted. I also don’t know how it can be properly accounted for in an analysis, at least in terms of looking at the dollars vs. injury.

    • Excellent point, Mark. Injury is the big X factor. The only way you can even remotely project it is knowing specific players have a history of injury. Bob mentioned the Griffey contract above. I remember how excited we all were that the Reds made what at that time seemed like the all-time trade and signing for the franchise. And we know what happened. Any big contract is subject to injury risk. Some teams can afford that risk more than others.

    • Nobody here is saying that, Mark. In fact, Jason’s post acknowledges the diminishing return in the later years of Votto’s contract as he ages / gets injured more. That’s the way these contracts work though. You overpay at the end to get value at the front end. You just hope you get more Votto results rather than Bailey / Mesoraco results.

      • ? ‘Nobody here is saying’ what exactly? Not sure what you are referring to…

        As to Tom’s point, the issue is whether it is better for the Reds to take this long term risk with Votto, given the nature of the small market club.

        I pointed out that I have yet to see a fully reasoned analysis that takes this possibility into account (at least to my liking as I see it as more probable than possible that Votto deals with another serious injury before his contract is up).

        And again, Votto has been an amazing value for the Reds so far. And again, I do not really know how to quantify the probability of injury and diminished performance with his cost, at least in terms of the last 3 years of his deal — so I am not trying to cast aspersions on anyone else who has not either.

        To me, this comes down to when we can reasonably assume the Reds can contend again. I fear that the Reds are looking more like 2020 (or 19 if all goes well) to make the playoffs.

        As such, I worry that Votto’s performance over the next 3 seasons will be, in essence, wasted. In that case, what matters most is what Votto can bring to the table in 2020 and beyond.

        I am not swayed by the “open market cost of WAR”, as others have noted that is not an apples to apples scenario here. Further, given my belief that the Reds won’t contend until 2020ish, the on field value of Votto before then is essentially irrelevant.

        Folks here seem to discount anyone who would consider trading Votto now as fools; it is almost red letter, sacred cow level of disdain for such opinions. Now, I have no better crystal ball than anyone here or elsewhere. I would love to be wrong and see Votto defy the aging curve of performance, and more directly, diminishing health.

        I just see the answer here as much, much more in question than those who find it a settled issue. As Tom also pointed out, I was giddy when the Reds signed Griffey. But the results of that deal certainly were not what we hoped, especially the last years of it. In hindsight, if we could have unloaded Griffey earlier when he had value and jump started the rebuild, it would have been the better move for the club.

        It is not unreasonable to think that perhaps such a historical lesson could be relevant to our situation with Votto. No projections of salary caps and revenue can possibly get me to agree that the Reds would be ok if they have a sunk cost of $25million in any player, especially if for 2 or more years. And that, in essence, is my concern for the end of Votto’s deal…

        • I would be in favor of trading Votto (or anyone) in a deal that improves the team. But that improvement would have to be on the field real-time, not a reduction of payroll for a basket of prospects. The vast majority of prospects don’t make it, or at least not at the level many project. For the Reds to trade Votto and improve, they would have to receive an everyday first baseman in return (since the don’t have one anywhere in the system), and AT LEAST one other all-star caliber player. Not likely with Votto’s contract status and age.

          But Mark, your concern for the end of the deal is very valid. I think it is very unlikely we will ever see another contract like Votto’s or Griffey’s extended by the Reds.

        • Tom, I’m sorry but Mark’s concern about the end of JVs contract is far from “very valid”. It ignores all of the years where Joey outperformed his contract. Why would Votto agree to be underpaid in his peak years? So that he would be paid during his declining years. This is how a team like the Reds can afford a big $ contract for a likely HOF player (Steve has provided a wealth of material on the Reds financial situation, most important of which was the pending cable deal at the time of JVs extension). Votto’s contract is not preventing us from doing anything sensible. If it is preventing anything it’s preventing the Reds from overpaying for some other team’s unwanted FA.

          Bob thinks JVs contract is preventing us from improving the bullpen or the outfield, but that’s off target. As I’ve argued before, the LAST PLACE a rebuilding team should spend its $ is on the bullpen. Aroldis on a 65 win team is a complete waste of money. Throw some young prospects and some retreads at the problem and spend your $ acquiring young talent elsewhere.

          The thing preventing an outfield upgrade is time. The Reds need time to determine what Duvall and Schebler will become. Raise your hand (solitary soul?) if you thought Duvall would be an outstanding defensive OFr, or would be on the All Star team in his first full year. Dunno if he’s the long term answer, but he should be given time to show whether he can improve his plate approach. Schebler needs time in MLB to show what he can produce. Hamilton has been given that time and I’m a big fan of his potential. I think that most of us thought that Winker would be up by now, but this year should be his opportunity. There are other OFrs in the system who will be here in a couple of years, such as Aquino. Why in the world would the Reds spend big $ in free agency on a multi-year deal for an outfielder that will block the many prospects/young OFrs from developing?

          In the rotation the Reds have a plethora of young, cheap, and controllable arms (precisely how a small market team can afford a few big contracts). Why sign an expensive FA starter to block your prospects.

          And Tom, why would the Reds trade a perennial MVP candidate and almost certain HOFr? The return you are seeking is an everyday 1B and an All Star at another position. Exchanging an MVP type player for an average player and an above average player is not an upgrade IMO. Votto is the rare diffirence maker in the lineup, not a mere All Star. Quantity over quality is a poor choice. The Reds have prospects at nearly every position that forecast to be at least “everyday players”, so how is removing a stud from your lineup an improvement?

          The current ownership has shown a willingness to spend its $ when the Reds are competitive. When the team gets above .500, they will spend again to fill the remaining holes. In the meantime, they are rightfully letting Suarez, Peraza, Herrara, Hamilton, and the other young OFrs grow as players in MLB (not to mention recent draft choices and international signings). Votto and his contract are not preventing progress, they’re adding a sizable measure of stability and leadership to the team and the lineup.

        • Great post, Earmbrister. I would’ve posted myself, but it would’ve looked exactly like what you just wrote.

          So, what he said…

        • Thanx Docmike. I apologize for the length of my doctoral thesis …
          I actually had more pent up thoughts than “just” these built up over the last couple of comment sections of the recent Joey V articles, but I “controlled” myself.

          Reds management can put the Votto contract firmly in their WIN column.

    • You really can’t account for injury. It’s a possibility for any player, young or old, but you still have to sign players and hope that enough of them stay healthy to keep you competitive.

      • Almost all players….even the durable ones, get hurt at some point….But,some prove themselves to not be durable. I believe Billy Hamilton is such a player…Spectacular on defense and faster than anything we’ve seen…But his body frame and player profile….Electric baserunner and speedy outfielder diving and running into walls…Makes him a high injury risk. I would package him with a couple prospects – Bob Steve and AA prospect to get a proven young controllable starting pitcher to plug in the rotation. Odorizzi or Archer or similar. I don’t have confidence Billy will stay healthy and build upon his 2016 3 month obp progress…. Fair warning though…..I liked Kurt Stillwell.

      • Holy crikey am I happy guys like earmbrister don’t run our club…

        “Earning his contract” is so far from my point that I am sorry to respond. Also sorry I couldn’t earlier bc I have been busy skiing and didn’t even check back until now.

        To quote Herm Edwards, ” You play to win the game”.

        Will Votto help the Reds win next time they are competitive? As for injury, you guys hopefully understand that the older you get, the more susceptible to injury you become, right?

        My point is what Joey Votto brings to the Reds, especially at what cost, from 2020 thru 2023. That is 4 yrs, 100+ million bucks (add in the buyout for 24).

        Prattle on about the rest if you wish, but as I posted before, that is irrelevant (at least in this analysis). If you want to go root for a dude, pick a golfer or a race car driver. Baseball is a team sport, and I want the Reds to win. And I still hope they can do so with Joey Votto, in 17 or 23, and all years between.

        Might be a good idea to see if the Reds can get out from under Votto’s contract from 20 to 23, though, at least if you want the Reds to win.

  5. Overall, I liked this article. It was very well laid out. I especially liked your second point. More specifically, the second paragraph of your second point, where you talk about inflation as it pertains to Votto’s contract. People who are worrying about Votto’s contract, should take this article as their bible, and worry no more! But I do have one question. In the section where you were laying out the best and worst case scenarios for each player in question you list Phillips at 2.0 WAR in each category. How can 2.0 WAR be a best & worst case scenario for the same player?

  6. There are two separate but related points in play here — 1) Votto’s market value and 2) how much it (possibly) inhibits the Reds from competing for other talent.

    1) Jason is dead-on target on Votto’s value. The only unknown is at what point will his performance begin to trend downward due to age and-or injury. When that point arrives, the protests will be very loud and persistent. Unquestionably, this is the price you pay for an all-time talent in the current era — and compared to contracts like Stanton for players who have not achieved anywhere close to what Votto has achieved, his contract is a bargain.

    2) The ownership setting a budget in which Votto represents about 20 to 25 percent of the total is no fault of Votto’s, although it shines a bigger spotlight on him. But it is a function of stage of the competitive cycle the team is in. Why pay for more for talent that has not reached arbitration level than you have to? The budget will have to increase in future years. Right now, ownership is saving payroll expense while they can.

    The fact that no major league free agents have yet been signed indicates that perhaps this is truly a year for sorting and culling — finding out which current players are keepers and which ones are not. Dick Williams has quoted as saying the he is in contact with the agents of all free agents, but that he has a price limit on each. If the Reds sign someone, it will be someone who has run out of options elsewhere. Again, not a bad strategy for the current state of affairs. If you can’t sign a reliever or starter with major league experience, there are plenty of pitchers in the system who need to be looked at.

    Dick Williams is largely following the blueprint of the Astros, Cubs and Royals, who have successfully rebuilt themselves. The only exception is the presence of a player like Votto. The Cubs had Alfonso Soriano’s contract that had to run its course. That won’t happen with Votto’s. I see Votto’s presence and bargain contract as a potential benefit that the Astros, Cubs and Royals didn’t have, which may help the Reds achieve success even quicker — depending on the caliber of talent Williams is able to acquire to surround him with.

  7. The real reason why the Reds fell off a cliff has nothing to do with the Votto contract and everything to do with the farm completely drying up. The farm system hasn’t produced a single productive player since Billy Hamilton graduated in 2014. They haven’t even been able to produce replacement level bench players. The Reds have the most negative WAR from sub replacement level players over the last 3 years in all of baseball. Hopefully that changes this year.

    • This is crucial because what we often discuss is how vottos contract makes us feel, not its isolated objective value. Had Votto been generating 7 WAR and us collecting WS rings 3 out of the last 6 years, no one would bat an eye and he’d be the mayor of Queen City.

      It’s interesting to think about long term contracts and what they mean for a concept I’ll dub ‘timely WAR’. That is, WAR generated in a year where the organization is also fighting for every possible WAR that particular year. Certainly vottos contract value diminishes when considering timely WAR, but so is Goldsmidts, Trouts, Crash Davis’s WAR as well.

  8. I have no issue with the Votto contract but I will once again state my issue with judging these contracts by the 8 million per win figure. That is the projected average cost of a free agent in 2017. None of the Votto, Mes, Bailey, Phillips group were free agents at the time. If I remember correctly, BP and Bailey had a year of control left, Votto had 2, and Mes had 4. The Reds had varying degrees of leverage over these players and when they signed them the going rate on the free agent market wasn’t 8 million per win anyway.

    And of course, it usually takes about 35-40 WAR just to have a shot at the playoffs so paying 8 million per win would leave you with a payroll of 280-320 million.

    I just feel like the 8 million per win figure should only be used to judge free agent contracts signed by teams that are, or are going to be during the life of the contact, contenders. If you are paying 8 million per win any other time you are not getting good value.

    • But does your analysis account for the fact that the Reds weren’t paying these guys $8MM / WAR in the early years of those contracts?

      Another factor that has to also be considered in this discussion is the reality that a team is more likely to lock a player up long term for less AAV if they buy out some of the controlled years for that player. Definitely a gamble for the team and you laid out some examples of where that went wrong. But there isn’t any risk free transactions.

  9. Speaking of contracts, a very interesting one signed in Atlanta recently. See if this sound familiar: the braves have a mid twenties centerfielder who gets most of his value from his speed and his glove, is entering arbitration for the first time, and is coming off a solid 3 win season. They gave Inciarte 30 million for 5 years with a 9 mil option on the sixth.

    The biggest difference between Hamilton and Inciarte is that Inciarte is a super 2 and has 4 years control left while Billy only has 3, and that Inciarte has been a better hitter with Billy a better baserunner. Inciarte’s deal covers his arb years plus one free agent year and an option on a second.

    Between this deal and the Herrera deal from Philly it seems like Billy’s market value has been set. I would be comfortable with the Reds going 5 years, 35 million, or even 40 million. There would be risk involved. Billy has been injury prone and these deals where teams buy out the players arb years plus a year or two in free agency don’t always work out. Just see Mesoraco. But Billy has such a high floor, with a pretty high ceiling ad well, that I think the risk would definitely be worth it.

    • I like me some Billy Hamilton….if he could just get on base more he would be the perfect balance of a player.Gold Glove (should be) center field,not only fast on bases the guy has the baseball savvy to also know when to run.Had to chuckle other nite during Red’s Hot Stove League…Marty B said no player on Red’s should be exempt from possible trading.And Thom asked him including Votto? And Marty said yes including JV…..but then he said “everybody except Billy Hamilton” insinuating Hamilton carried more value than JV. Guy says what’s on his mind…

      • A guy who has made it clear he does not like Votto. I liked listening to Marty and Joe growing up, but Marty’s time has passed.

        • I am a big fan of Marty Brennaman but even then I’ll have to say he can wear me out at times,he can take his rep of “always telling it like it is” a little too far.But here’s a guy who has seen the very best of Cincy baseball and the very worse….and I don’t think MB is anybody’s fool,he has watched last 40 years unfold from an angle we will never see.So when he says something I pay attention…..may not like what he has to say but I never doubt his sincerity…

    • If I was Dick Williams, I’d want to see if last year’s progress from about mid-year on continues. If Hamilton hits the first half of the coming year as he did approximately the second half of 2016, I’d approach him about a long-term deal.

      • If they wait until July, and Hamilton has an entire first half where he hits like he did in the second half last year, then the Reds will have lost a lot of leverage. He would be a little closer to free agency and instead of being a 2-3 win player he would be more like a 4-5 win player.

        The big benefit to the Reds signing him now is that there is a decent chance that he has a breakout and becomes an all star level player. If you wait until the breakout has already happened, then the player has a lot more leverage.

        • Agreed. My perspective is I have not seen enough consistency from Hamilton for a long enough period to justify an extension. Giving an extension right now would be giving an extension to a guy whose baseball card shows a .225 average and less than .300 OBP. In this period of sorting and culling, I’d want to make every effort to see that the guy getting that extension was the guy from the second half of ’16.

        • TCT — Kinda like the Mesaroco situation … what could go wrong, lol?

          That said, I was a fan of the Mez signing at the time. The gamble is that by paying now you don’t pay for the upside.

          And I agree with you. Sign Hamilton to an extension now.

    • I would be hesitant on approaching BHam with that kind of deal. Don’t get me wrong, 8′ BHam’s biggest optimist and really hope to see him build on last season’s progress, but the entire crux of this argument is risk aversion and wise investments. Billy is injury prone and needs to continue to progress offensively before I consider committing long term money. He’s one serious injury and/or .220/.280/.350 season away from that contract looking like Bailey and Mesoraco

      • In 2015, he hit .226/.274/.289, missed almost 50 games and was still worth 2 wins.

        He is one of the best defenders in the league. He is the best baserunner. If he is healthy, then he will provide some value.

    • My issue with Mes’ contract is it didn’t really buy out any free-agent years that I know of. It only gave the Reds cost certainty over arb years and while that could be nice, I think a team in a small market needs to let arb take it’s course. I think you’ll end up paying less overall if you negotiate year to year or go to hearing. Sure, there are times that a player is going to cash in and make a lot more than you could have bought out his arb years for but looking around the league, how often does that seem to happen?

  10. I don’t understand why some fans argue that the reds cannot spend money- That these obligations become such a detriment to the payroll that they cannot fill other holes. They absolutely can and should retain their best players, we just don’t have much margin for error. Joey Votto, has clearly not been an error- thus far vastly out producing what he has been paid. One could always argue that this could stop with age or injury. None of us can predict the future. That said, his contract is absolutely not what caused the Reds to be bad the last two seasons. You don’t have to be the Yankees or Red Sox to have a long term contract or two. A perception exists however of the Reds inability to spend money because of Votto.

    The Reds operated in the past at a payroll around 125M. This past year, they chose to operate at $90M- less than that after dumping Bruce. Think $35M could fix the bullpen? I do. They have enough money to have signed Melancon to close, Brett Cecil to set up, and extend Billy Hamilton. They would still have money to spare. They chose not to spend big dollars on the pen, and I agree with that. The point is they could if they wanted to. Have the Bailey, Phillips, and Mes contracts not worked out? Without question. But the Reds have money that they are not spending. They could be more competitive if they chose to be, and Joey Votto is not the problem. If anything, we should all count our blessings that no matter how bad the Reds have been the last two years, at minimum we still get to watch him hit. And hit he does.

    Lastly, it has been mentioned that the Cardinals let Pujols walk. We all know he went to the Angels for $240M, but don’t forget the Cards offered him $200M to stay. He just didn’t think enough of the franchise to not take the highest possible offer. The Cardinals are a good study though because they spend about as much as the Reds Budget of $125M. Cardinals Payroll the last 5 years-

    2011- $110k
    2012- $112k
    2013- $117k
    2014- $111k
    2015- $122k

    You don’t need a $200M payroll to compete every year. Joey Votto just happens to be the one long term deal the Reds got right.

    • From Dick Williams roughly a year ago

      GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Two days after a reported three-way trade proposal stalled, which would have sent Jay Bruce to the Blue Jays, the Reds’ right fielder remained in camp with Cincinnati.

      “There’s nothing imminent, there’s nothing to comment on,” Reds general manager Dick Williams said on Thursday.

      What Williams did speak expansively about was the organization’s end game when it comes to the current rebuilding process. The Reds have slashed their payroll below the $100 million mark with a flurry of trades. While Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake were moved as pending free agents in July, the December trades of Todd Frazier and Aroldis Chapman saved Cincinnati almost $20 million from this year’s budget.

      That money, and any savings from Bruce — who is owed $12.5 million for 2016 — if he is eventually traded, is being re-invested back into the club.

      “We’re not saving to create a profit, we’re saving to invest in the future, for sure,” Williams said. “We’ve got the biggest amateur signing pool this year, when you combine domestic and international. We want to take full advantage of it. Obviously, there’s a lot of operational investments we’ll make as well. I talked about investing in the analytics and sports science. We’ll be investing in personnel, scouting personnel, new player development initiatives. I’ll be talking a lot about that over the course of this year as we roll things out, but we’ll put that money [to] work for sure.”

    • How do you know they have the money? Because they spent 125 million 1 year you’re positive they could do that every year? Based on what….some feeling you have?

      You do understand that the Cardinals generate about 40 million more in revenue than the Reds? The Cardinals can easily spend 125 and still make money…still invest in development…still invest in infrastructure.

      There is nothing objective that suggest the Reds can do the same.

      • I’m sort of in line with you here, although I think they can spend more than they spent last season. I don’t think that they could have continued to spend at the rate they were spending though and stayed above water as far as margin. That said, there are others on this site, including Steve who’s done quite a bit of research on this stuff, that suggests that perhaps they have more money than they are letting on. Truth is, we don’t know what they can really spend. I personally hope they are taking the money they aren’t spending on payroll and doing what they said they were going to do with it. That was spend on infrastructure, international talent, baseball operations, and putting money aside for when they can go for it again. Hopefully they can use some of that money to go over their revenue limit for a few years to make another post-season run. This time perhaps all the way to the World Series. Winning did an awful lot for the Indians bottom line. Apparently to the tune of about $50-million.

    • I’d argue that the BP contract has been fine. Last year was the first year it looked upside down and this year it likely will be as well. That is true of pretty much any long term deal though. They are almost always upside down on the back end.

  11. I’ll just throw out the same thought I did toward the end of the Votto thread. After signing Bailey, the Reds cleared $50M annually in pitchers’ salaries off their books between the end of 2013 and by the end of 2015. That’s not including Chapman; add another $10M or so for him or just consider he and Iglesias to essentially be a wash to date given the base value of their long term deals.

    To date no significant portion of this money has been put back into pitching beyond what is being paid to Bailey which thru 2016 was largely just an offset of what had been committed to Arroyo over the previous 3-5 years thru the end of 2013.

    It is all well and good to say this money is being held as a war chest to help put things over the top come better times; but but if the money was truly available and used judiciously, the train wreck the Reds became did not really have to have happened in the first place.

    • But at the same time, why should the Reds have invested the money in veterans when they don’t even know what their own prospects are capable of? That’s what this “trainwreck” was supposed to be about: letting the kids develop a bit, and then figuring out which kids can cut it and which can’t. Those who can’t get replaced by free agents/trades, and that’s where the money saved can come into play. As Jason said, it’s quite a bit more expensive to plug holes with free agents as opposed to your own young talent.

      If the Reds are going to compete in 2018, 2017 should be the season where they pass final judgement on which kids won’t be good enough to help the team win. However, I don’t really believe they’ll be able to do that; 1 year is simply not enough time to see if a 23 year old can play. If that were the case, BHam would have been gone last year.

      The Reds really hurt themselves by not going all in on the rebuild last year. Hopefully, they don’t make the same mistake this coming season. IF the Reds go all in on 2017 and let the kids play, by the middle of 2018 the Reds should know what they need in order to compete, and 2019 should be the season where they announce they are in contention. Of course, by that point Joey Votto will be entering his age 35 season and may not be putting up much in the way of WAR, which is why I think the Reds should trade him now while he still has some value, but that’s another discussion entirely.

      • Check out my reply below to BobF. It explains where I was coming from. The train wreck I was referring to was allowing the Reds allowing themselves to get into a situation where the entire rotation was concurrently in their walk away years.

        In the off seasons following 2013 and 2014, the Reds could have retooled (to use WJ’s now infamous phrase) and remained in contention while in transition except for the injuries to Votto, Bailey, Mesoraco, Cozart et al which were beyond their control. Given that all those injuries happened in this tight time frame, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that things did not have to fall off the end of the world if the rotation had been properly handled and the BP contract situation resolved before he went 10/5.

    • Hi Jim…maybe this train wreck is part of Red’s long range plans? Theo Epstein came to Cubs in 2011….and Chicago continued having losing seasons in 2012,2013 and 2014 and the resulting good draft choices and gotta admit it worked out for them.Not saying they are purposely losing….but maybe not in a big hurry to win either 🙂 .I’m sure it takes time to turn a losing baseball franchise around …..but beyond what I just described makes no sense to me that a business would market a bad product while sitting on a pile of money,that is a business model for failure…

      • If you look a little at what the Cubs did, there were probably three steps to their so-called “rebuild”.
        1) Get rid of all the players with huge contracts, who did not return value for their salary. I am sure Epstein and his staff looked at WAR and the payroll. Some of the calls were obvious, so less so.
        2) Draft talent to fill their minor leagues: not all their drafts turned out, but they did refill their minors, and it took a couple of years for that effect to show up at the ML level. And then they got a top drawer talent in Kris Bryant.
        Remember also they traded for Rizzo, and it took a couple of years for him to really arrive at the ML level, playing on a lousy team.
        3) At the end, after the 2014 season, Epstein astutely surmized they would be competitive in 2015 and went out and got one major free agent pitcher. And Arrieta was a huge surprised in 2015; I think he was much better than they thought he could be.

        So Epstein actually got really lucky with two players in particular: drafting Bryant, who will be a top drawer talent like Mike Trout. Players like that don’t come along every year. And Arrieta was much better than expected in 2015.

        But the flip side is the Cubs are going to very soon have a huge payroll problem, which is what success breeds. They signed Justin Heyward to a big contract, which may or may not turn out to be a huge mistake.

        Epstein was smart and lucky to get the Cubs where they are. Look out how unlucky (and with some bad moves) the Angels have been, even though they have Mike Trout.
        Epstein will have to be smarter now to keep the Cubs where they are. Such a problem, I wish the Reds had.

        • I think the Cubs Strategy was to acquire as many hitting prospects as possible and figure out where to put them when the time comes, then buy pitchers as needed. The Reds seemed to be initially targeting pitching prospects and then switched up to acquiring Major league ready talent to fill out the other positions.

          The Cubs payroll is going to sky rocket in a few years but I believe they will be able to better absorb the increase than the Reds will when all of their players start hitting arbitration. Even if the Cubs plan implodes in the next few years they still have their ring from this year

      • Hey Bob, My point was they didn’t have to get historically bad if indeed they had the amounts of money indicated by what they had been spending, 2010-2013.

        The “Cardinals model” gets a lot a play here. If the Reds had followed along those lines in the 2014-2015 range, they would have gotten out from under the declining years of BP’s deal before he went 10/5. They would have dealt Cueto but signed Leake while still have going forward with the Latos and Simon deals thus obtaining Disco and Saurez (the replacement 2B in this alternate timeline).

        Presumably, they had done due medical diligence on Mesoraco and Bailey; so, I’ll give them a pass on doing those contracts.

        It gets too long to detail from here; but, by getting an appropriate return for Phillips and Cueto along with the money saved, they should have been able to field a team which while not a 90 win team as in 2012-13 was still a WC contender at the least yet was a team in transition.

        This is if things had gone to plan which couldn’t include what they didn’t have any way of knowing, that being that Votto would be a washout in 2014; and that Bailey, Meso, and Cozart would be lost for 2015 and 2016 (except for a couple of outstanding months from Cozart in early 2016). As Jason noted in the original post, nobody save the save the truly supermarket teams can absorb these kinds of injuries without significant fall off in performance.

        • Think that’s a pretty fair evaluation…Cardinals model included getting rid of Walt Jocketty too 🙂

          • Once I stopped to think about it some more, I realized that with health that would have been a pretty potent line up. Votto and Bruce from the LH side, Mesoraco and Frazier from the RH side. Go out and get an OBP guy for LF, maybe a depth guy and if Eugenio fields 2B satisfactorily, they are in good shape.

            They still would have had to hustle to put together a solid rotation though.

        • I will point out though that the Reds had a deal in place with the Yankees for BP and BP was able to nix the trade. He had a fairly powerful, though team limited no-trade clause in his contract. He was fairly hard to move if he didn’t want to be moved even before his 10/5 rights kicked in.

  12. I think the Reds are heading in the right direction and I’ll take Williams > Jocketty every day of the week. Homer & Mesoraco can’t be counted on but all the complainers (I def qualify) have beat that to death already. The only things I really hated last year was how they jerked Peraza around and signing scrubs like Simon and Ohlendorf, etc. Even that can be understood though when guys like Cody Reed show they weren’t ready for primetime. It was a lost season anyway. BP actually played fairly well and sitting him is touchy…..they’ll prob just ride it out like most teams would in this situation. They need to move Cozart one way or the other…..release him if need be. How much can you get in a trade for a 33 yr hacking SS with bad knees? Something similar to Masset for Old Junior would be nice but not reasonable to expect.

    I also like RIchie Shaffer! A former 1st rounder that had a .897 ops in 2015. He’s shown much more ability to get on base in the minors then Duvall did and he’s only 25. At worst…he beats the hell out of watching Schumaker or that left-handed scrub from last year that never hit in the minors (name escapes me?). Shaffer can hit a little bit and Selsky can too. Baby steps!!

  13. Didn’t read all the posts, but isn’t likely WAR 7 and not 6? Pretty close to avg., if so.

  14. I’d love for someone who thinks Votto’s contract is an albatross to please illustrate how the Reds could have realistically spent the same money on a collection of other players and generate the same value as Votto.

    What young player did the Reds lose because of Votto that they should have spent on? What free agent did they miss out on?

    They didn’t lose Cueto because of Votto. They lost Cueto because of Bailey’s deal. It was effectively one or the other.

    So, you don’t want to spend 25% of the money Votto. Fine. Show me how you would have re-allocated that money to create a realistically better team.

    Otherwise, I’m just not interested in arguing over a player who is vastly out-performing his contract.

    • Hi Nate….well, for what the 4th time I’m explaining this?? But here goes…so say Cincy trade Votto at height of his value,that would be now as I see it,he has great value at the moment.JV’s 2016 WAR stat was 4….he’s 4 games above replacement by an average player.So sign Frazier (almost identical 2016 WAR) to play first base.And start beating the bushes for a Arthur Rhodes/Coco Cordero type players ….none of these guys will ever be in HOF but all are solid players.Reds were 26 of 30 MLB teams in 2016 in Blown Saves….you’d make up loss of Votto and more and not be paying him $25,000,000 when he’s 39 years old and $172,000,000 took of Reds books,all this could be invested back into club infrastructure or available to sign Free Agents to patch holes.And here’s this…Reds are 395-405 since signing JV’s contract in 2011,an under .500 team.Is that JV’s fault ?? Heck no,JV doesn’t make team philosophy or set strategy…he’s just the first baseman.Is Walt and his crew to blame….I say absolutely,these guys did a poor job of long term planning.If Dick Williams can’t build a good team around Votto (on a shoestring budget) then expect more of the same,a 5th place team in NLC.And I don’t even want to think what might happen if JV has a Zack Cozart (JV is 33, 6 year on the wrong side of his prime age) style of injury….this team instantly becomes a dumpster fire…

  15. I can’t understand why people can’t grasp that the best hitter in the national league is worth 22 million easily. The issue is all of the players around them that the rest of the league laughs at every time they walk Joey Votto to pitch to the pathetic.

Comments are closed.

About Jason Linden

Jason has been a fan of the Reds since he was born. He really had no choice in the matter. He has been writing at Redleg Nation for a few years, and also writes and edits at The Hardball Times. His debut novel, When the Sparrow Sings, is available now and concerns baseball, among other things. You can find more information at jasonlinden.com.


2017 Reds


, , , , , , ,