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Superstar Votto expresses fondness for both Reds, very long deals

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- If the Blue Jays stick to their five-year maximum policy for player contracts, they can forget luring Reds superstar Joey Votto back home to Toronto when he's a free agent.

"It would be tough for a [top] position player to sign for five years. No matter how fond a person is of the city, players have to maximize the number of years,"Votto said.

The thoughtful star explained that the best players should prioritize the length of the contract when they are in their prime because "teams aren't anxious to sign players who are 35 or 36 anymore.''

Votto, 28, watched with interest this winter as two other great first basemen, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, cashed in big-time on the free-agent market, inking deals for $240 million and $214 million. Votto, who signed a $38 million, three-year contract with the Reds before the 2011 season to cover all his arbitration years and take him to free-agency, stressed that he needs to remain productive to repeat their stories. But he definitely noticed.

"They did great, they did excellent,'' Votto said. "Prince and Albert both stayed healthy and consistent. Albert obviously performed at an incredible level. And Prince performed in his own right, and he got a ton of years. To get nine or 10 years is what most (top) players look to. ... Both guys are super talented, and I hope they live up to those contracts.''

One obvious reason Votto, who hit .309 with 29 home runs, 110 RBI and a league-leading .415 on-base percentage in 2011, is hoping Pujols and Fielder show they are worthy of those mega deals is that he hopes to follow their lead. That goes for the contract. But it doesn't necessarily mean Votto sees himself leaving Cincinnati. Although he said the Reds haven't approached him yet about a new deal, his heart seems to be in Cincinnati.

"I'm very proud I'm with the Reds,'' Votto said at one point.

When asked if he'd like to stay, he answered, "I definitely do."

The $38 million, three-year deal, he said, gave them "a lot of time'' to worry about only a deal that would cover his free agent years. Some executives from competing teams questioned why the Reds would pay him what they saw as max dollars for his arbitration years and not make him play it out, year to year, if they couldn't do a deal that covered free-agent years.

But Votto pointed out that Fielder made big bucks in his last arbitration years and Tim Lincecum will make even bigger bucks (although Votto didn't begrudge them at all, saying of Lincecum, "The only guy you can compare him to is Tom Seaver''). Had Votto gone year to year, the two years that would have determined his 2012 and '13 salaries would have been 20ll and '12, and alluding to his superb '11 season, Votto said, "I already made them look good 50 percent.''

While Votto envisions a Reds future, a lot of other folks wonder whether the Reds, a small-market team like Fielder's old Brewers team, will allot the money it would take to keep a superstar longterm. There's no evidence the Brewers were anywhere close to the ballpark for Fielder (they are believed to have offered $120 million over six years at one point). Milwaukee and Cincinnati are similarly-sized cities, but Votto isn't sure there's a parallel to be drawn.

"My situation is totally different. Cincinnati is a totally different city,'' Votto said. "Although (Milwaukee's) attendance jumped recently, our TV ratings are good and our fans desperately want to come to games. We just have to put a good product on the field.''

To that end, he said he is excited about this coming season. The Reds added starting pitcher Matt Latos, reliever Ryan Madson and several more pieces as they try to win the competitive National League Central at a time Pujols and Fielder left the teams that are considered their main rivals. The Reds had a disappointing year last year following their surprise playoff appearance in 2011.

"We got into some trouble last year, but we've shored up those issues and I'm very optimistic this year,'' Votto said.

Beyond the outside acquisitions, the Reds possess several home-grown talents that are well-regarded. Speaking of their new starting shortstop Zack Cozart and catcher Devin Mesoraco, Votto said, "Mesoraco is one of the best prospects in baseball and Cozart is no slouch.'' (Scouts would agree on both counts.)

Another thing Votto said he loves is that the Reds' young players are contracted to be in Cincinnati for "four plus years'' (even five plus in some cases). That's a big plus for the Reds.

An even bigger plus would be keeping Votto even longer.


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