However, just as quickly as those stories surfaced, Reds GM Walt Jocketty moved to dispel them, stating his club's intentions to hold onto their star first baseman. Though Cincinnati took a step backwards this season, after winning the NL Central in 2010, they feel the window of opportunity is still open for them to succeed with their current core intact.
While Jocketty's proclamations state the club's current intentions regarding Votto, financial realities within the game will likely force Cincinnati to at least explore their options when considering the MVP's long-term future.
Jocketty wouldn't be a responsible GM if he didn't project confidence in his team's ability to compete in the upcoming season. Admitting that the club can't afford their star player sends the wrong message to the team and its fans.
Unless the Reds are able to sign Votto to a long-term extension in the near future, the likelihood is that the upcoming free-agent frenzies surrounding fellow star first basemen, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, will set expensive salary standards that will greatly impact the eventual cost of signing Joey Votto. Jocketty knows this all too well, and while he says one thing publicly, he will likely continue exploring his options behind the scenes.
There is also the issue that one of the Reds' most-hyped prospects, 24-year-old Cuban defector Yonder Alonso, looks major league-ready, but lacks an obvious spot in Cincinnati. The Reds have experimented with him in left field, but he is better suited for first base. In 98 big league plate appearances in 2011, Alonso slugged five home runs, while batting .330 with a .943 OPS. His continued development would force Cincinnati to consider trading Votto, for whom they could get the pitching help that they so desperately need.
Votto would be a precious commodity on the trade market if he were to be made available by the Reds. With two years remaining on his current deal though, his trade value would be highest in the immediate future.
As he will be paid a very reasonable $9.5 million in 2012, he still fits within the financial framework of a club like the Reds. However, once his salary escalates to $17 million for the 2013 season, he may very well price himself out of the Reds' plans.
Considering the significant leap in salary between 2012 and 2013, it would likely make more sense for the Reds to attempt to win with Votto in 2012, and either trade him following that season, or potentially prior to the 2012 trading deadline if they find themselves prematurely out of the playoff chase.
Signs currently point to the Reds holding onto their slugging first baseman for at least the immediate future. However, as we've seen repeatedly, things can change quickly in the realm of free agency and MLB trade rumors.
Let's take a look at several destinations that could potentially make sense if the Reds do reverse their stated course and explore trade offers for Joey Votto.