CINCINNATI -- It doesn't matter what anyone says, the Cincinnati Redsare no longer a small-market team.
Small-market teams don't commit $225 million on top of the $30 million already owed a player for this season and next. No, anyone willing to throw around a commitment through 2023 for that kind of money is either not worried about the bottom line or so far ahead in their investment that they can afford it.
Sitting in front of the Cincinnati media on Wednesday, Reds owner Bob Castellini had committed a $255 million to one player -- just $15 million less than his group spent on purchasing the team six years ago.
As if Frank McCourt's recent deal to sell the Dodgers for a record $2.1 billion wasn't enough to let you know, Votto's deal is another sign that owning a baseball team is an even more lucrative business than playing baseball.
From now on, any cries of poverty or budget ceilings or any other excuses for not signing or retaining players from the banks of the Ohio River should be ignored. The Reds are in it to win, and money shouldn't be an object.
“First of all, the franchise has the capability to meet its financial challenges, even as a small-market team,” Castellini said at Wednesday's press conference. “Is it risky? No doubt. That's the environment that we live in, especially as a small-market team. We feel confident that Joe will be a cornerstone, a foundation of our franchise.”
He could be an albatross, if Castellini follows the example of his predecessor, Carl Lindner. Lindner signed hometown boy Ken Griffey Jr. to a nine-year, $116.5 million deal (a number, it should be noted that was lower than what the Mariners offered him), that was used as a budgetary constraint instead of a foundation to build upon.
That's something Castellini told Votto he wouldn't do.
“Mr. Castellini doesn't owe me a thing -- not an explanation, not anything. I don't expect anything, but he was nice enough to tell me that going forward that the only focus for the organization is to put a good product on the field, put a competitive team on the field,” Votto said on Wednesday. “Whether he says that or not is irrelevant when it comes to my decision. I looked him in the eyes and I believed him and I believed what he said. More importantly, he's following through with action. You can talk 'til you're blue in the face, but he's following it up with action. I see a group of guys that are going to be here for a long time and that are talented.”
As many as six of the starters for the Reds on opening day Thursday will be under team control through 2015, including starter Johnny Cueto, who was signed through the 2015 season last winter. The team also controls Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Aroldis Chapman through 2015 and Homer Bailey through 2014. Both second baseman Brandon Phillips and third baseman Scott Rolen are free agents after this season, but both are north of their 30th birthday and could be replaced by much cheaper, younger options. However, by the time 2015 does roll around, the Reds could have a new TV contract, which is what is driving so many of these deals.
Votto's contract is structured so that he takes a pay cut in 2014, making just $12 million, down from $17 million (and $2 million from his signing bonus) in 2013 and $14 million in 2015. The Reds will likely renegotiate their TV contract with Fox Sports Ohio before it runs out following the 2016 season and allow the team to afford the $20 million Votto will make in 2016. He'll then make $22 million in 2017 and $25 million from 2018-2023, by which time Votto will be 40 and the team will either exercise his $20 million option as a 41-year-old first baseman (or the National League could have a DH by then), or pay him a $7 million buyout.
“We have thought long and hard about this, what we're doing will not be to the financial detriment of the makeup of our team in the future,” Castellini said, before then noting the team still believes it can reach an extension with the 30-year-old Phillips.
“We've done some preliminary projections with payroll and revenue and I think they feel very confident there will be (enough money),” Jocketty said.
There's obviously money, and the traditional “small market” and “big market” labels no longer apply. There's only big money and bigger money.
Votto said he debated not signing an extension, waiting around two more seasons and figuring out what he could make on the open market. An article he read on Peyton Manning's free agency helped change his mind. He said he knew what he wanted and once he made a decision he was going to go for it -- “There was a (paraphrase) from George S. Patton -- ‘Make a decision and do it like hell.' That's what I'm going to try to do.”
He's not the only one.