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.
The Dodgers desperately could use a proven hitter like Votto to add some clout to their lineup and provide some help for the isolated Matt Kemp. Votto could slot right into the third slot in the order, sandwiching the dynamic Kemp between him and Andre Ethier, creating a potent heart of the order in LA.
However, considering the Dodgers' well-documented financial woes relating to the McCourt divorce proceedings, this is an unlikely scenario.
LA could potentially explore such a move, but it would likely come at the cost of trading Ethier in a separate transaction, since the right fielder will be a free agent following 2012.
James Loney, the incumbent at first, has severely underwhelmed after the Dodgers took him in the first round of the 2002 draft. While he began his career brightly, Loney has regressed significantly and the 27-year-old first baseman no longer projects as a potential star like his first year or two may have suggested.
With morale surrounding the franchise at a low after the ownership issues overshadowed the on-field action and painful memories of last year's Opening Day beating of Giants fan Brian Stow still lingering, Dodger fans could use a positive story ahead of the 2012 season.
In addition to the obvious financial impediments to a deal of this caliber occurring for the Dodgers, they also have one of their top prospects knocking on the big league door, and he also happens to play first base. Slugging 24-year-old Jerry Sands has been tearing up minor league pitching for the last couple seasons. Between Single-A and Double-A in 2010, he hit 35 home runs with a .981 OPS. Last season, following a promotion to Triple-A, he slugged 29 home runs and drove in 88 runs in only 418 plate appearances.
While the Dodgers could desperately use a player like Joey Votto, the likelihood of him moving to LA in the near future is rather slim.
Clearly, this is unlikely to happen for various reasons.
First, Albert Pujols may very well stay in St. Louis, especially if his Cardinals can win their second World Series since 2006.
Second, it is abundantly clear that the Reds and Cardinals are not the best of friends, and would be unlikely to complete such a high-profile move within the confines of the NL Central.
However, the Cardinals would at least have to consider such a possibility if they find themselves without the services of Prince Albert following the conclusion of the 2011 World Series.
Losing a player of Pujols' caliber could be a devastating blow to the Cardinals that could reverberate through their club for several years. There is also the possibility that committing a massive, long-term contract to a superstar who is rapidly approaching 32 years old could be an albatross for years to come.
Unfortunately, the Cardinals are in a difficult situation, because it'll be nearly impossible to justify letting the best player in the game walk, yet long-term, big-money contracts for players on the wrong side of 30 have rarely proved to be sound business moves.
The Cardinals would have to consider a potential query regarding Votto, but it's also highly unlikely that the Reds would want to be tormented by their former star for the next few years.
In the potential occurrence of Pujols leaving, the Cards would likely turn to the rejuvenated Lance Berkman who just re-signed with St. Louis for the 2012 season. He could slot right into first, allowing the Cardinals to improve their right field defense with a younger, more mobile player.
Due to various factors, this is unlikely to occur.
The Brewers and Cardinals are similar in regards to this potential scenario.
Just like St. Louis, Milwaukee is facing the possible departure of one of their premier talents, with the impending free agency of Prince Fielder.
Of course, Fielder appears far more likely to leave the Brewers than Pujols does St. Louis.
However, just like the Cardinals and Reds, the likelihood that Milwaukee could complete an inter-divisional trade with Cincinnati is highly unlikely.
If the Brewers do lose Fielder though, as it appears they might, that would be a massive blow to their hopes of repeating as NL Central champions. To maintain the level of play that they achieved in 2011, it may take a drastic move to replace the MVP-caliber production that Prince would take with him if he leaves Milwaukee.
Milwaukee has slugging first base prospect Hunter Morris progressing through the minors, but he is still a few seasons away, so a short-term commitment to Votto could make sense, the Reds could be persuaded to move him within the division.
That however, remains too big an "if" to seriously consider Milwaukee as a potential destination for Joey Votto.
Though their team is clearly built upon the considerable strength of their pitching staff, it is difficult to expect the formula to work repeatedly when the arms are supplied with the least run support in the league.
The 2010 World Series was won with pitching and well-timed offensive contributions from surprising sources, something which San Francisco was unable to replicate in 2011.
Despite a rebound year from Pablo Sandoval, the Giants were unable to cope with the loss of Buster Posey, as 2010 heroes Cody Ross and Aubrey Huff suffered through mediocre follow-up seasons. In addition to poor production from nearly everyone in a Giants uniform, the team had only Huff play more than 121 games, as he led the team with 150. Ross came in second with 121 games played.
Various factors, including poor roster construction, underperformance and injuries conspired to limit the Giants to only 570 runs scored, last in the NL, and only ahead of the putrid offense of the Seattle Mariners who finished last in all of baseball.
Even with a stellar pitching staff, a franchise can't expect to legitimately compete in this era when averaging only 3.5 runs per game as San Francisco did in 2011.
A move for a hitter such as Joey Votto could inject some much-needed life into a stagnant lineup that shows little hope of improving in the immediate future. Of course, the return of Posey might help, but there is no guarantee of him returning to his prior form after the devastating injury he suffered.
Brandon Belt, the Giants' No. 1 prospect according to Baseball America, has played primarily first base, and the club will be looking to get him more playing time to see if he's ready for the big leagues for good this season. However, Belt played a significant amount of outfield last season, as the franchise looked for ways to accommodate the players they have in the fold. Belt's conversion could stick, and the Giants may indeed find themselves in need of a stud first baseman.
There is also the issue of potentially needing to play Posey at first to help ease him back into playing shape. A heavy catching workload isn't necessarily the best prescription to aide in recovery from a significant leg injury.
Considering those two factors, it's probably unlikely that the Giants seriously pursue Joey Votto, but they certainly need to find some offense somewhere, or they're probably doomed to repeat the same disappointing pattern that saw them overtaken by the more well-rounded Diamondbacks.
After completing a .500 season in 2011, yet finishing in fourth place in the talent-laden AL East, the Toronto Blue Jays could feel compelled to strengthen their squad ahead of the 2012 season.
While they will very likely remain competitive in 2012, they likely need to do something to improve their chances of truly competing with the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox if their ambitions are greater than another fourth-place finish can satisfy.
Toronto currently has Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion manning first, but Joey Votto would be a vast upgrade over either of them. Encarnacion's spot is hardly guaranteed, as the Jays have yet to pick up his option that they hold for 2012.
Also, Votto was born in Etobicoke, a part of Western Toronto, so a potential move would represent a homecoming for the Canadian slugger.
Imagine a heart of the order comprised of Jose Bautista, Votto, Brett Lawrie, Adam Lind and J.P. Arencebia. That quintet boasts enough thunder to strike fear into the hearts of any pitching staff in the league.
While the hometown factor makes this an appealing story, if the Blue Jays truly want to compete in the AL East, they need to strengthen their starting rotation, which ranked 11th in the AL with a 4.55 ERA. With only Ricky Romero producing any consistency in the starting staff, the maddeningly erratic Brandon Morrow having yet to fulfill his potential, and young Kyle Drabek experiencing significant difficulty in his first season, the Jays rotation is likely where they need to concentrate their efforts if they harbor illusions of climbing up the ranks of their division in 2012.
Another similar scenario involving a potential trading partner within the NL Central contains the same roadblocks that the others do.
While the Cubs may need a new first baseman if free-agent Carlos Pena takes his services elsewhere, there is still the lingering doubt over whether Cincinnati would even entertain trading Votto within their division.
Chicago has been expected by some to be interested in both marquee free-agent first basemen, Pujols and Fielder, but it's difficult to differentiate between fact and fiction with so many unsubstantiated rumors flying fast and furiously. The Cubs would likely have more success in either of those pursuits if they become available, rather than convincing the Reds to trade their star player to a division rival.
The Cubs, coming off their second consecutive fifth-place finish, need to shake things up in order to reignite hopes on the North Side of the Windy City.
A legitimate star in the midst of his prime could help to restore some legitimacy to a lineup that scored only 654 runs in 2011. With Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena both reaching free agency this offseason, the Cubs could be poised to lose two of their most powerful bats.
If such a scenario were to occur, the Cubs would be forced to explore all potential options to bolster an already feeble lineup.
They will likely seriously pursue Fielder, and potentially Pujols if he becomes available. Many still find it highly doubtful that Pujols will leave St. Louis, but the divisional intrigue within the NL Central could grow exponentially greater if the duo both reach free agency.
Okay, we all know this isn't going to happen, but how good could the Rays be if they were able to pull off a trade for a player like Joey Votto?
Salary constraints will obviously keep the Rays from taking on a player that will make over $26 million in the next two seasons.
The Rays have established a business model that has worked well in recent seasons, utilizing fantastic scouting and well-timed trades to continually reload their squad and enable them to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox.
Of course, they did have Casey Kotchman produce a career year at first, but it would be unreasonable to expect the career owner of an OPS+ of 98 to replicate his 128 mark from 2011.
Imagine for a second though, if the Rays came into 2012 with a lineup boasting Desmond Jennings, B.J. Upton, Joey Votto, Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist and Matt Joyce. Combined with one of the top pitching staffs in the game, it would serve to make Tampa Bay a legitimate threat for the foreseeable future.
Like I said previously though, the cost involved would likely preclude the Rays from entertaining such a move.
However, with James Shields nearing a point where he might become too expensive for the tastes of the Rays, they could consider trading him to once again restock with young talent, and helping to offset the cost of a bat like Votto.
Shields' value could be at an all-time high after his stellar breakout season, and the Rays could potentially cash in big from a pitching-starved contender.
With the emergence of Jeremy Hellickson, and youngsters Matt Moore and Alex Cobb potentially ready to join the rotation, Shields may become expendable if the Rays could garner the right package for their right-handed hurler.
Still, considering the price, it remains unlikely, but if the Rays sense a limited window of opportunity, a deal of two years for Votto could possibly make sense for the franchise.
Is Carlos Santana sufficiently recovered from his 2010 knee injury to serve as the primary catcher for the Cleveland Indians?
That will be a significant determining factor for the Indians moving forward in 2012.
Santana, the powerful young backstop, though recovered from his knee ligament damage suffered in a 2010 home plate collision, saw significant time at first in 2011, as Cleveland tried to keep his potent bat in the lineup as frequently as possible. Though he started 88 games at catcher, he also started 63 at first, displaying the same versatility he did throughout his minor league career.
Though he entered the majors as one of the premier catching prospects in the game, during his minor league development he played first, second, third, left and right field in addition to catching.
The Indians counted heavily on his power production in the heart of their order, as their lineup was once again decimated by significant injuries in 2011. Besides Santana and breakout star Asdrubal Cabrera, the Indians played sizable portions of their season without some of their more productive bats.
Longtime Indians Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner both proved once again to be among the most frequently injured players in MLB. Hafner played only 94 games, and has eclipsed that total only once in the last four seasons. They are saddled with his $13 million contract for one more season.
Grady Sizemore, once considered among the most thrilling up-and-coming players in the game, has played only 210 games in the last three seasons combined due to a litany of injuries. He has an $8.5 million team option that Cleveland has yet to pick up.
One of the more productive Indians in recent seasons, Korean All-Star Shin-Soo Choo suffered multiple stints among the disabled and was limited to only 85 games.
Though they finished in second place in 2011, the season ended up being a disappointment, as they led the AL Central for much of the first half and were battling in or very near first place until the last week of July. Unfortunately for them, their pitching couldn't keep up with the early season success, and they faded down the stretch, which coincided with eventual division champs Detroit catching fire. Cleveland would finish the season 15 games behind the Tigers.
If they harbor hopes of revisiting that first-half success and trying to turn it into a full season of winning baseball, the Cleveland Indians must make a move or two, and cross their fingers that several things go right for them in 2012.
A massive decision will be whether to bring Sizemore back. His potential is tantalizing, but his track record is enough to give one second thoughts, despite his immense talent.
They desperately need Choo to revert to his pre-2011 All-Star form, and Cabrera and Santana to reprise their breakout seasons. With second baseman Jason Kipnis, those three form an exciting trio of up-the-middle talent that Cleveland hopes to build upon.
Cleveland could opt to let Sizemore walk, and look to cross-state rivals to perhaps acquire the services of MVP Joey Votto. Though the $26.5 million might seem out of Cleveland's price range, a move of that nature could potentially let them let Sizemore walk to help offset some of the cost.
Votto's production and health are far more reliable than Sizemore's as of late, and he could help form a potent heart of the order along with Cabrera, Santana, Choo, Kipnis and Hafner, health permitting.
Of course, in addition to the possibility that Santana will play a significant amount of games at first, is the presence of Matt Laporta, one-time first-round draft pick of the Milwaukee Brewers. LaPorta has displayed the occasional promise at first, but has yet to reach the expectations many had of him early on. Heading to 27 years old in January, the time may be now or never for LaPorta to blossom. A move for Votto would clearly be an upgrade however.
Laporta has seen occasional time in left and right field over the last few seasons, and could provide a platoon partner for the left-handed Hafner, as well as cover for his inevitable injury stint.
Though the Indians could obviously use an upgrade such as Joey Votto, the likelihood is that they'll continue to rely upon help from within, and hope that top prospect, third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall, along with Kipnis, will continue their progressions into solid Major Leaguers and mitigate the need for imports from outside the organization.
Perhaps they could surprise us though, forgoing the opportunity to pick up Sizemore's option in order to make a bold move for a player such as Votto.
Though the Florida Marlins aren't generally regarded as big spenders, the Fish could potentially be in a position to change that perception as they prepare to debut their brand new stadium in Miami on Opening Day 2012.
As exciting as grand openings of state-of-the-art sports venues generally are, fans still need a reason to come to games, aside from just the novelty of a new building. The excitement of the unfamiliar stadium will initially draw the crowds, but in this sport, you need the fans to come back, time and time again.
The Marlins finished 72-90 in 2011 and endured injuries to their two most marketable stars, shortstop Hanley Ramirez and ace Josh Johnson. As detrimental as the injuries was the occasional disinterest of Ramirez, which has been a problem at the club prior to 2011.
If those two marquee players return to form, the Marlins have a superstar shortstop in his prime, and a stud of starting pitcher headlining their young rotation.
However, if things don't go exactly as hoped, the Marlins could find themselves in a bizarrely contentious position, with an expensive new stadium and the same absentee fanbase.
Marlins ownership has been saying the right things, as team president David Samson has spoken of the desire to change the culture surround the franchise.
Samson was quoted by Yahoo! Sports as saying, "Basically what Jeffrey [Loria, team owner] has instructed all of us is that no stone will be left unturned in order to make this year a memory and make next year unforgettable.”
“He said, ‘I want people to forget about ’11, forget about Sun Life Stadium, forget about the Florida Marlins, and I want the Miami Marlins have their franchise start by making history.'“
Promising words from management, but the Marlins will need more than talk to climb out of the NL East cellar and into contention.
Though they have a solid first baseman in Gaby Sanchez, no one has ever compared him with Joey Votto. There is the expectation among many, however, that left fielder Logan Morrison will eventually return to first, the position he played primarily in the minor leagues.
Florida is in need of some star power in order to draw fans to their new home beyond the first few weeks of the season.
Considering the team's greater concerns, however, I wouldn't expect them to pursue Votto with too much vigor, but local media in Florida has postulated that the Marlins could become interested. Joe Capozzi of the Palm Beach Post recently opined that the team could pursue the first baseman if he were made available.
Unless the Reds can unearth a legitimate front-of-the-rotation starting pitcher who would be ready to assume such a role in Cincinnati immediately, I don't see them trading Votto in the very near future.
As Walt Jocketty has stated, they intend to re-sign Votto to an extension if possible, however I don't necessarily feel that will occur. Once Pujols and Fielder sign massive deals in the $20 million-plus-per-year range, Votto's price range will be established and it would be difficult for the Reds to realistically match such a figure.
With Votto making $9.5 million in 2012, and the figure jumping to $17 million for 2013, the only way I see him being traded is if the Reds fall far out of contention and move him at the deadline in the upcoming season.
Considering the massive jump in salary, it would be tough for most teams to realistically make a play for him for would likely amount to a one-year rental. Unfortunately for the Reds, neither the Yankees or Red Sox will be interested, as they both have first base locked up for least five more seasons.
If it were for almost half of 2012, and the full season in 2013, it would be much more reasonable to expect a contending team to want to part with impact talent as well as take on that type of money.
This conversation will truly begin to take shape once Pujols and Fielder sign their deals. Those two signings will obviously eliminate potential candidates for Votto, as well as set a price range to let Cincinnati know whether they truly possess any chance to re-sign their slugger. The market will have been set, and the Reds can begin to explore an extension for Votto in earnest, or rather, begin lining up potential trading partners.