It isnt often that Joey Votto speaks to the media before the media speaks to him and it isnt adversarial. Mostly it is Vottos innate shyness.
Thus, it was stunning one day early last season when a media herd encircled Scott Rolens locker adjacent to Vottos dressing quarters in the Cincinnati Reds plush clubhouse.
After listening a few moments, the ignored Votto stood and said with a smile, I guess people already have forgotten who the MVP is around here.
It was addressed toward Rolen and it was a joke because Votto avoids attention as if avoiding a fastball speeding toward his temple.
Nobody avoids Votto, except perhaps opposing pitchers, if they can. And it is why he is a buzzword this offseason.
It is rare that a players future with a team is a worrisome topic to the fans when that player has two more years on his contract, which is exactly the case with Votto.
He is signed for 2012 and he is signed for 2013, but Votto is a buzz word and lightning rod right now to fans and talk radio.
Fans fear their star first baseman, the most reliable and consistent player on the team, the 2010 National League Most Valuable Player, is destined to wear a different-colored uniform in the not too distant future.
They want to talk about it and fret about it and they want to talk about it and fret about it now.
It is a dilemma the Reds must address within the next year-and-a-half, if not sooner, but it is a dilemma the Reds prefer to ignore at the moment.
It is a simple question: what do they do about Votto and when do they do it.
The angst began last year when Votto signed a contract extension. Votto would only agree to three years, which takes him to his first year of free agent eligibility.
Clearly, when he becomes eligible, Votto wants to test the market and has said, The system is there for the players to use and were entitled to use it.
That doesnt mean the Reds dont want to keep him. It means can they afford to keep him and if not, what and when do they do something about it.
One report trickled out this week that said the Reds are shopping Votto on the trade market, a report that stirred the ire of general manager Walt Jocketty, who is obviously exasperated with all the Votto chatter.
He vehemently denies that the team is discussing Votto with any teams and said it is idiotic because Votto is the teams best player and the team has no interest in dealing him. And he added that he wishes the media would drop the issue, quit talking about it, quit writing about it, quit bringing it up.
But it is out there, something fans and talk show hosts constantly bring up.
What are the Reds going to do about Votto? they ask. Most want the Reds to keep him. And the Reds would love to keep him.
But is that feasible? Probably not under the going rate for talented and productive first basemen. See Albert Pujols. See Prince Fielder. See Mark Teixeira. See Adrian Gonzalez.
The final year of Vottos contract, 2013, calls for Votto to make 17 million. Can the Reds, with an 80 million payroll afford that? And if they can squeeze that in, how will they afford him after that when his value will certainly rise above 20 million a year on the free agent shopping shelf.
It isnt as if the Reds wouldnt have first base covered. Yonder Alonso, a No. 1 draft pick, signed as a first baseman and he showed after his call-up this year that he can handle major-league pitching.
The Reds want him to play left field next year and instructed him to shed a few pounds this winter to make him more mobile and to work diligently in the off-season to learn to play left field.
A possible scenario would be for the Reds to start 2012 with Votto at first base and Alonso in left field. If the team is competitive and in the race by the trade deadline, keep Votto. If not, they can entertain trade discussions, trade him, then move Alonso to first base.
If they dont trade Votto at mid-season, they can trade him after the season, before they have to pay him 17 million and before he becomes a free agent.
Votto certainly has reached the realm of superstardom with a consistent four years since becoming the Reds regular first baseman.
Home runs the last four years: 24, 25, 37, 29.
RBI the last four years: 84, 84, 113, 103.
Batting average the last four years: .297, .322, .324, .309.
In addition to winning the National League MVP in 2010, Votto has led the league the last two years in on base percentage at .424 and .414.
Truly he is a valuable trinket.
Certainly, the Reds could acquire good players for Votto, a solid starting pitcher or a left fielder or a bevy of solid prospects.
Rumors surfaced early in the year that a Votto for Toronto outfielder Jose Bautista could be made because the Blue Jays would love to have Toronto native Votto playing in Rogers Centre.
But would the Jays really want to trade Bautista, who they have signed through 2016. Bautista will make 14 million in each of the next five years signed, sealed and he delivers. If Bautista maintains what he has done the last two years, he is a bargain.
He has hit 97 home runs and driven in 227 over the last two seasons, leading the American League in homers the last two seasons with 54 and 43,
Votto was a bargain last season at 5.5 million and if he maintains his consistent numbers for 2012 hell be a bargain at 9.5 million.
Then comes the problem numbers for Votto and the Reds. With an 80 million payroll, can Reds afford to pay one player one-fourth of their payroll. How do they pay the rest of their players?
The Reds would prefer, for now, for Votto to be the elephant standing in the clubhouse that nobody talks about. But as Votto playfully asked, I guess everybody has forgotten who the MVP is around here.
No, Joey. Nobody has forgotten, thats for sure.