The idea of Votto returning to the Cincinnati Reds in 2024 is rooted in sentimentality. The fact of the matter is that Votto has been below-average the past two seasons after having a renaissance season in 2021.
But, if Votto is fully recovered from the shoulder surgery that sidelined him for several months, there's reason to believe that the 40-year-old could be a contributor on next year's team. Did the St. Louis Cardinals lay the groundwork for how the Reds should handle this delicate situation?
Why iconic superstar’s farewell season could convince Reds to re-sign Joey Votto
Albert Pujols left the St. Louis Cardinals after the 2011 season and signed with the Los Angeles Angels. After a downward turn in perfomance coupled with several injuries, Pujols was eventually released in 2021 and briefly signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Cardinals made the decision in 2022 to sign Pujols to a team-friendly deal and allowed the future Hall of Famer to end his career where it began - in the Gateway City. Strangley enough, 2022 was the best performance baseball fans had seen out of Pujols since his All-Star season in 2015.
The Cincinnati Reds may be able to follow a similar blueprint if the team decides to bring Joey Votto back in 2024. Votto has a $20-million option for next season, which is likely to be declined, and will receive a $7-million buyout before becoming a free agent.
There is reason to believe that Votto and the Reds could come to an agreement on a team-friendly, incentive-laden deal that would allow the former MVP to spend one more year in the Queen City. The conundrum, however, is the uber-talented roster Cincinnati currently has leaves very little playing time for Votto.
If healthy, the Reds could trot out a starting lineup of Jonathan India, Will Benson, Matt McLain, Tyler Stephenson, Elly De La Cruz, Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Spencer Steer, Will Benson, Noelvi Marte, and TJ Friedl and still have Jake Fraley sitting in the dugout. It's hard to see a declining Joey Votto break into that lineup on a regular basis.
But in 2022 with the St, Louis Cardinals, Albert Pujols played in just 109 games with 351 total at-bats. The majority of Pujols' starts (80) came as the team's designated hitter, though he did spell perennial All-Star Paul Goldschmidt at first base 20 times that season as well.
That feels like a good number of games played and at-bats for Joey Votto should he wish to return to the Cincinnati Reds in 2024. It's in line with the number of games and ABs that Nick Senzel received as a platoon player for the Reds this past season.
This is obviously a situation that both the Reds and Votto knew was coming down the pike, but now that's here, it's all the more real. Will Votto be suiting up for the Reds in 2024? We'll have to wait and see.