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Does trading for Joey Votto make sense?

Greg Bird's most recent injury has to bring about questions about his long term ability to stay healthy. While I understand that this bone spur could be a side affect from his previous foot injury, the fact of the matter is Bird will now be having a significant surgery for the third consecutive year. When you factor in that he's had injury issues since his time in the minors, I think it's safe to say he's not going to be a picture of health throughout his career. With that in mind, I think trading him and some prospects for Joey Votto at a discounted price could be a great move for the Yankees, so that they maximize his value going forward. I don't expect this to be a popular opinion, but if the Votto makes the Yankees undeniably better in 2018 and for the next few years, and despite his age, he doesn't seem to fit the typical mold for aging players.

Why This Is a Bad Idea

Before I start as to how this move would happen and why it makes sense, let's look at why it doesn't work. For starters, Greg Bird is a good, young and cheap player, who the Yankee brass and more importantly, his teammates think very highly of. This would not be an easy or popular decision to make. We've seen flashes of brilliance from Greg Bird, and the thought of him manning first base for the next 10 years and breaking up our power righty bats while crushing balls into the upper deck is simply amazing.

Then there's Joey Votto. He will be turning 35 this September, and is owed $150 million over the next six seasons with a $7 million buy-out in 2024 when he will be 40 years old. I, maybe more so than anyone, am very adverse to signing aging players to long contracts and Joey Votto is already past the point of where most players on average start to see their performance drop considerably. O, and Votto has a full no-trade clause and said he doesn't plan on waiving it.

Why This Deal Makes Sense for Cincinnati

The Reds are very, very bad. They are coming off four straight losing seasons, and despite a decently strong farm system, they do not have the horses to fill all the holes they currently have in their roster. They also do not like spending a lot of money, and have never been true players in free agency. What makes matters worse, is that they play in the NL Central, with the Cubs, Cardinals and rising Brewers. So frankly speaking, they need as much young cheap talent going forward as they can get. Lucky for them, the Yankees have plenty to offer.

Why Votto's Age Shouldn't Scare the Yankees Away

Votto's age and the years attached to his contract bring about the obvious concern that this is a terrible idea. Again, Votto is past the point where most players begin to decline, and that decline only accelerates with age. The Yankees have been burned by long term deals before as players age and would rightfully question how long Votto can keep it together.

But as I am often reminded by people on this site, not all players fit into the standard profile when it comes to decreased performance with age, and Votto certainly isn't most players. For starter, Votto is coming off a season where he played 162 games. Since his rookie year in 2008, Votto has played over 150 games 7 times. His only notable injuries were a miniscus tear in 2014 and a quad injury in 2012, both of which resolved and haven't been problems since.

There's the fact that he plays the least labor intensive position, first base. First base is often the place where players move because of age, and Votto already plays the position. He's also not a hitter who relies on his power or "guesses" a lot. The guy is a career .313 hitter with a career .428 OBP. He may be the most pure hitter in all of baseball.

And last but not least, there's Votto himself. He has a tireless work ethic, and is coming off one of the best seasons of his career. In fact, in terms of offensive production, Votto is coming off perhaps the best three year stretch he's ever had.

2015: .314/.459/.541 - 174 OPS+ /174 wRC+
2016: .326/.434/.550 - 160 OPS+ /159 wRC+
2017: .320/.454/.578 - 168 OPS+/ 165 wRC+

If there is a hitter in Baseball who is able to pull a Tom Brady and stay elite as he ages into his late thirties, Votto might be it.

Why Votto Makes Sense for the Yankees

I'm not going to really dive into many more stats because I think the numbers I already posted do enough. Bottom line is Votto is one of the best players in all of Baseball, and along with Mike Trout might be the best at being consistently elite. Outside of his rookie season in 2008 and an injury shortened season in 2014, Votto has never posted below a 155 OPS+/wRC+.

And aside from his amazing baseball talent, he's a lefty. Even the most lofty and positive projections of Bird would seem him cap out at at triple slash of something like .275/.355/.540, which is great, don't get me wrong, but it's not Joey Votto. And while The Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati is certainly kind to left handed hitters, it's no Yankee Stadium. And the NL Central ballparks overall do not compare to the bandboxes in the AL East, which according to ESPN, host 4 of the top 10 best hitters parks in the MLB. Suffice to say, Votto's offensive numbers would only benefit from playing in New York.

As for his defense, defensive metrics, specifically fangraphs UZR rate Votto as an average to above average first baseman depending on the year. He'll never win another Gold Glove, but he's never going to be a liability at first base either.

In my humble opinion, having even an aging Joey Votto hitting 3rd between Judge and Stanton, or 4th between Stanton and Sanchez would be terrifying for opposing pitchers. You'd have three of the best OBP guys in all of baseball hitting back to back to back. That's just incredible.

Why Would Votto Waive his No-Trade Clause

This is the most important factor in regards to this trade, because it simply can't happen unless Votto signs off on it. I'm not going to assume I know anything about Votto's motivations, but he is a competitor. The Yankees played in 13 play-off games last season. Votto has played in 9 his entire career, the last being in 2013. The Reds are going no-where fast, and if he wants a shot at the World Series, the Yankees are his best bet. It also doesn't hurt that his dog's name is Maris, after Yankee great Roger Maris.

What the trade will look like

Given the Yankees obvious luxury tax concerns, they can't simply just take on all of Votto's salary without some financial wizardry and manage to stay under the tax. The best I can come up with is that the Yankees current payroll with all benefits and salary obligations included is $179 Million for Luxury tax purposes, and they have about $3.5 million in bonuses that might happen. Let's just add $3 million to the top and get to $182, which gives them $15 million dollars in wiggle room. The Yankees reportedly want about $10 million in space for the deadline as well, meaning they may be operating as if they only have $5 million in space, but who knows.

We obviously have to consider the ways to make room for his salary in 2018. The easiest way would be for the Reds to eat some of his contract. That however means that the price for Votto in terms of talent is going to go up the more money they eat. Not necessarily a problem though, given the Yankees robust farm system.

The Trade

Greg Bird ($582k), Thairo Estrada ($545k), Chance Adams ($0), Everson Pereira ($0), Adam Warren ($3.135M), and Neil Walker ($4).

for

Joey Votto and $60M ($10M a year for the remaining 6 guaranteed years).

Why this works: The Reds receive nearly $100 million in cap room over the next 7 years. They receive a first baseman in Bird to replace Votto. They also receive a possible starter in Adams, and a high ceiling middle infield prospect in Estrada. Pereira is a lottery ticket at 16 years old. Warren and Walker constitute trade pieces at the deadline for the Reds so they can continue to beef up their farm system.

For the Yankees, they get Joey Votto at $15 million a year for the next six years. That's not a bad deal by any stretch of the imagination. The offset on salaries for 2018 keep the Yankees under the cap for 2018 while not killing them with Votto's deal into the future. They would have between $7-8 million in room for deals at the deadline, not ideal, but not terrible either.

Downside: The Yankees obviously give up quite a bit. Watching Bird and Adams succeed in Cincinnati would be tough, especially if Votto started to struggle. Losing Warren isn't such a big deal because of the large amount of arms that the Yankees have in their system, but losing Walker means Tyler Wade is the everyday 2B until/if Gleyber Torres breaks though.

Other Options within this trade: Since Bird is injured the Yankees could throw in the recently acquired Mike Ford so he could man first base until Bird is healthy. Depending on what the Reds value, the Yankees obviously have other trade options, including Clint Frazier. I'd argue that anyone other than Torres, Florial, and Sheffield should be on the table, I wouldn't even mind moving Andujar, but the Reds best prospect is a 3B so he wouldn't be an ideal fit for them. The Yankees could also decide to keep Walker if they don't value the cap room he provides and instead add some other prospects to the deal.


Final Take

Again, I don't expect this to be a popular opinion, but Votto is a flat out better player than Bird, and more importantly, is much more reliable, and that will likely remain true for at least the next three seasons. As much as I like Bird, I like watching the Yankees raise trophies more, and Votto helps them do that much more than Bird does. Given the Yankees loaded system, I don't think think this trade, or even a more expensive one, is out of the question for a generational talent like Votto at a discount.

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