GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) — Joey Votto is the one Reds player whose contract makes him virtually impossible to trade. He’s in Cincinnati for the long haul, so he doesn’t want to hear anything about more grim seasons ahead.
The NL MVP from 2010 was at his best in the second half of last season, but Cincinnati still lost 98 games overall and finished last in the NL Central. The Reds started a massive rebuilding at midseason and continued it over the winter.
The 32-year-old first baseman is the last superstar remaining on the roster, with eight years and $197 million left on his contract. He agreed to a 10-year, $225 million deal before the 2012 season, when the Reds were an up-and-coming team that had already won the NL Central one time.
“I signed up to be part of a winning team,” Votto said. “No matter how well I play, it’s really not a good feeling knowing that you’re playing well and you lost another game.
“Hopefully, that changes soon and I’m excited about the future,” he said.
It’s going to take some time. The Reds traded starters Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake last July, along with outfielder Marlon Byrd. They continued the overhaul in the offseason by dealing third baseman Todd Frazier and closer Aroldis Chapman for prospects.
“The last six months there’s been a real change,” Votto said. “It’s not something I’m excited about because of all the guys we lost. They were not only my teammates; they were my friends. But hopefully this means we’re heading in a different direction, a better direction.”
Votto got himself squared away last season after a subpar first half. His batting average dipped to .273 on July 5, and he wasn’t chosen for the All-Star Game played in Cincinnati.
He had one of the best second halves in the majors and finished third in the NL MVP voting with a .314 average, 29 homers and 80 RBIs on an offensively challenged team. He set a club record with 143 walks — opposing teams saw no reason to give him good pitches — and had an on-base percentage of .459.
“I wasn’t satisfied with the way I played in the first half,” Votto said. “Eventually, my swing got to be where I wanted it to be and I was able to repeat that. Combined with my approach, I ended the season playing well.”
There aren’t many established veterans left on the roster — catcher Devin Mesoraco, second baseman Brandon Phillips, shortstop Zack Cozart, left fielder Jay Bruce. The Reds are hoping that Votto can work with the many young players and speed up their process of learning the majors.
“Those sorts of things come with time and experience,” Votto said. “I’d like to think it happens organically or else it has a phony feel to it. A teammate and I were talking about (former Reds third baseman) Scott Rolen today. He never said anything about leadership but without question was a player that we looked to, admired, respected and tried to learn from. At no point did he ever bring it up or force it on people, it just happened naturally.”
“I want to treat everyone with respect and having discourse with them hopefully will result in adjustments for themselves,” he said.
There’s one thing he won’t tolerate: Any talk inside the clubhouse about another horrid season ahead.
“I’ve thought about how I wanted to respond to that,” Votto said. “The season hasn’t started, hasn’t finished. I refuse to go into a season thinking that it is written in stone that we’re going to be in last place, we’re not going to make the playoffs, or have a chance at the World Series.”
“That is probably the one thing I’ll confront people on — if there is any sort of conversation in the clubhouse about us being a poor club or having no chance,” he said.