Never has so much hinged on one man’s knee.
If you can read these words, chances are that you can tell that Joey Votto is injured. It does not take a medical degree to recognize when someone can barely put pressure on a body part while attempting to play a sporting event—alone at the highest level possible.
Without Joey Votto, the Cincinnati Reds do not have a chance at the 2014 Postseason.
That comment may serve as a pessimistic viewpoint to an already downtrodden fan base, but regardless of how excellent the starting pitching may continue to be, the impact that Votto has on the lineup goes beyond his on-base percentage and WAR.
For the majority of his career, Brayan Pena has been what can be described as, a replacement player. Solid in many facets of the game, but not a player who ever has warranted over 120 starts in a season.
During his MVP season in 2010, Votto finished with a WAR of 6.9, which while impressive, does not exactly jump off the page. (BaseballReference.com has 8+ WAR as an MVP-level season)
Should you believe that if the Reds swapped out Votto for Pena for the entirety of the season, and would only win six less games, I am not too sure how to help with that train of thought. It could not be a more incorrect assumption.
Since June 10, Joey Votto has been active. Coming into the San Diego series, the Reds were 14-5 with him back, while playing three division leaders in that span.
To prove it is not Votto’s numbers making the difference, all it takes is a peak at one number: zero, the total number of home runs Joey has launched since coming back from an injury that was once thought to be season ending.
At their current position in the standings, the Reds face an uphill climb back into the Postseason for the fourth time in the past five seasons. Although Todd Frazier has been their best offensive weapon so far, there should be no doubt about who the real offensive leader of this ballclub is. (Just check the salary figures) There is one way that the Reds can save their season:
Acquire Ben Zobrist.
Some may not even know who Zobrist is. A quick synopsis: a jack-of-all-trades for the Tampa Bay Rays that has posted seasons with an 8.6 and an 8.7 WAR in 2009 and 2011, respectively. He can play second base, shortstop and the corner outfield spots, but has played first in the past, and is a tremendous athlete; one could imagine his transition to the first base bag would be seamless.
The deal makes almost too much sense to make. Even if Votto decides to attempt to tough out the knee for the remainder of the year, Zobrist can play everywhere.
At the end of the season, Ryan Ludwick’s contract can come off the books with a $4.5 million buyout. Acquiring Zobrist now not only helps to plug catastrophic gaps in the current roster, but it acquires the club their Opening Day left fielder and number two hitter in the lineup for 2015.
General Manager Walt Jocketty has shown in the past that he is a fan of acquiring players whom can be under team control for an extended period. Zobrist will turn 34 next season, and will need a new contract, but a player of his skill set does not come around often.
The next biggest question becomes, what must the Reds give up in order to bring in Zobrist?
As of a week ago, the Rays were dead in the water. So much so, that David Price was waving his cap to the crowd at Tropicana Field in what he believed would be his final start as a member of the organization. The wheels falling off was something Tampa did not expect. In fact, many pundits believed they were the favorites to not only win the loaded American League East division, but to play for a World Championship.
The Zobrist situation is an intriguing one for a multitude of reasons: 1) he owns a 500k buyout for the upcoming seasons from Tampa Bay. Presumably, they would rather trade him for a young arm, much in the way that mid-market teams (like Cincinnati) attempt to do business. 2) Zobrist is not playing at his pinnacle. Clubs that do not boast obnoxious payrolls can only afford to go out and buy players whom they believe will succeed at better than what they are producing.
An interesting factor regarding the possibility of a trade: the Reds have signed Raisel Iglesias. There is no such thing as too much starting pitching depth, but if it exists, the Reds may have it.
Named to the Futures Game next Sunday, the Reds will feature Robert Stephenson. Also coming along nicely is former first-round pick Nick Travieso. Not to mention, 2014 first-round pick Nick Howard now enters the fray.
In order to acquire Zobrist, the Reds may have to part ways with Tony Cingrani.
Concerning the logistics, no one has a phone into either general manager’s office to discuss explicit details. But, on paper, a Zobrist-for-Cingrani swap seems to make a whole lot of sense for each club.
Whether you have agreed with his decisions or not, Walt Jocketty has proven himself a wheeling-and-dealing type general manager. Normally, this would have many folks wary, but remember this; Jocketty is a proven winner.