Joey Votto has nothing to lose. He and agent Dan Lozano avoided arbitration and worked out a deal with the Reds that's worth $38MM in guaranteed money. And Votto doesn't hit free agency a minute later than he was originally scheduled to. Cincinnati gets cost certainty, but no free agent years and no visible discount. One agent says the Reds took on all the risk.
"The team paid him as if he was going to be a .350-40-120 player the next two years" the agent said. "Had the team gone year to year to protect against diminished productivity or injury, would they have ever had to pay him more money than $38MM over three years?"
Recent history says the answer is no. Votto will earn more over the course of his first three arbitration years than Miguel Cabrera ($33.7MM), Albert Pujols ($32MM), Mark Teixeira ($27.9MM) or Justin Morneau ($22.5MM) did. Votto's money is now guaranteed, so the 2010 NL MVP will be cashing his checks even if he has an off-year or gets injured.
Ryan Howard ($44MM) is the one first baseman who earned more than $38MM for his first three arbitration seasons. The Phillies slugger pocketed $44MM for that chunk of his career, but one MLB insider says Howard set himself up for a bigger payday than Votto by posting better power numbers in his pre-arbitration seasons.
"Where Howard beats him is in terms of home runs," MLBTR's source said. "He had 129 to Votto’s 90. And Howard had 353 RBI to Votto’s 298. Qualitatively in terms of their rates with batting average and on-base plus slugging, they’re very, very close. The difference really is the home runs and the RBI."
The gap in power numbers would likely have been enough to keep Votto's 2011 salary in the $7-8MM range on a one-year deal. In other words, Pujols, Cabrera and Teixeira were attainable targets for Votto, but he wasn't going to approach Ryan Howard money in his three arbitration years.
This isn't to say that Reds GM Walt Jocketty was wrong to lock up his first baseman. The 2010 Sporting News Executive of the Year could look back on this deal as one that saved him money. His eight-year extension with Pujols and Lozano worked tremendously well, but that deal bought out five of Pujols' free agent seasons.
This time the Reds guaranteed Votto more than fellow-MVPs Pujols and Morneau without obtaining the rights to any of his free agent seasons. The team gets cost certainty, but they are not getting a discount. Lozano and Votto secured a massive win that guarantees the first baseman more than most of his peers and allows him to hit free agency as a 30-year-old.