Reds finalize mega-deal with former NL MVP

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Reds finalize mega-deal with former NL MVP

From Comcast SportsNet
CINCINNATI (AP) -- Joey Votto got a big payday by staying in a small market, agreeing to a 251.5 million, 12-year deal with the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday that is the longest guaranteed contract in major league history. The agreement adds 225 million over 10 years to his previous contract. The deal includes a club option for 2024, when the 2010 National League MVP turns 41. After watching NL Central rivals St. Louis and Milwaukee lose their first basemen to bigger markets, the Reds secured Votto with a package that easily eclipsed Ken Griffey Jr.'s 116.5 million, nine-year deal from 2000 as the largest in franchise history. In the majors, it trails only Alex Rodriguez's 275 million and 252 million deals, both over 10 years. "Is it risky?" said owner Bob Castellini, who sought a lot of outside advice before signing off on the deal. "No doubt. That's the environment we live in, especially as a small market. We feel Joe will be a cornerstone." It wasn't an easy decision for the 28-year-old Votto to make such a long-term commitment. He decided he had found contentment in Cincinnati, which took him in the second round of the 2002 amateur draft. "Maybe I could have found that elsewhere," Votto said. "Maybe not. But I like what I've got here." Under Castellini, the Reds have been trying to rebuild the franchise into a regular winner by developing players and holding onto them. Six of their nine starters on opening day have come through the farm system. Keeping Votto rather than letting him leave for a bigger market was considered a key. "It's hard to compete with the bigger markets," manager Dusty Baker said before a workout at Great American Ball Park. "You see those guys who have left - they couldn't come up with a deal - and they go to bigger markets like New York, L.A., Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Anaheim. "It means a lot not only for the franchise but also for the city. It means kids can grow up emulating him and pretending to be Joey Votto." Albert Pujols helped St. Louis win the World Series, then got a 240 million, 10-year deal from the Angels in December. Prince Fielder led Milwaukee to the division title, but left for a 214 million, nine-year contract with the Tigers. The Reds have been trying to lock up the young core of their team for the past few years. Outfielder Jay Bruce received a six-year, 51 million deal after the 2010 season, when Cincinnati won the division but got swept in the playoffs by Philadelphia. Votto was offered a long-term deal then as well, but chose a 38 million, three-year contract instead. He said he's more willing to make a long-term commitment now, and joked his girlfriend probably was happy about that, too. Votto gets base salaries of 9.5 million this year and 17 million in 2013 under his previous agreement. The new deal includes salaries of 12 million in 2014, 14 million in 2015, 20 million in 2016, 22 million in 2017 and 25 million in each of the following six seasons. The Reds have a 20 million option for 2024 with a 7 million buyout. Votto's contract tops the 11 seasons Colorado gave Todd Helton in 2001, a deal that guaranteed him 151.45 million. It's an aggressive move for a small market franchise. Castellini said Votto's deal won't handcuff the franchise in keeping other players or Baker, who is entering the final year on his deal. "What we're doing will not be to the financial detriment to the makeup of our team in the future," he said. The Reds essentially kept their roster intact after their 2010 championship season and slipped back to third place last year. They changed strategies in the past offseason, trading for starter Mat Latos and reliever Sean Marshall while remaking their bench. Votto is the fulcrum of an offense that is one of the most productive in the NL, playing in one of its most homer-friendly ballparks. Votto batted .324 with 37 homers and 113 RBIs in 2010, and followed that by batting .309 with 29 homers, 103 RBIs and a career-high 40 doubles last year. His contract eclipses the deal that Griffey got to return to his hometown team in a trade with Seattle in 2000 as the richest in club history. Griffey was the face of the franchise then, even though much of his time in Cincinnati was spent recovering from injuries. Now, it's Votto's turn. "It means a lot to the city to have Joey as the face of the franchise," Baker said. "He's a very good role model for the task." Votto's shy personality came across during a news conference broadcast live to announce the deal. He practiced reading a statement beforehand, but acknowledged that he was nervous. When he stumbled over a word, he joked, "There was a typo right there." Finally, he put the paper aside and talked about how he'd react to the deal. "I always try to do my best," he said. "I can't promise you anything going forward. I can't promise you health or promise you production. I can promise you I'll do my best."

Cubs ninth inning rally stifled by Jeurys Familia in loss to Mets

Cubs ninth inning rally stifled by Jeurys Familia in loss to Mets

NEW YORK – The Cubs didn’t overreact to getting swept in last year’s National League Championship Series, but the New York Mets did expose some underlying issues while a deep playoff run created a sense of urgency in Wrigleyville.

The Cubs spent like crazy on the free-agent market (almost $290 million) and wore T-shirts around spring training that literally put targets on their chests, knowing the look would go viral on social media and spark love/hate responses.

Making a statement? Sending a message? That’s so last year, when the Cubs were a team still trying to find an identity and learn how to win. The Mets are now the ones feeling the season-on-the-brink anxiety, desperate for offense and hoping to avoid worst-case scenarios with all those talented young pitchers.

So maybe this becomes a turning point for the defending NL champs, beating the Cubs 4-3 on Thursday night at Citi Field to kick off this marquee four-game series in front of 40,122 and a national TV audience.

Steven Matz, who set off alarm bells this week with the disclosure he’s been pitching with a bone spur in his left elbow, managed to work into the sixth inning and throw 104 pitches, giving up homers to Kris Bryant and Javier Baez but limiting the damage to only three runs.

Yoenis Cespedes, who revived a lifeless lineup after last summer’s trade-deadline blockbuster, energized the Mets again with a big swing in the sixth inning, drilling a John Lackey pitch 441 feet out to left field and onto the third deck, creating a 110-mph exit velocity with his 19th home run.

Lackey, the big-game starter the Cubs needed to lengthen their rotation for October, got pulled with one out in the seventh and the Mets took advantage of Joel Peralta’s shaky audition out of the bullpen and a Javier Baez throwing error in what became a three-run inning.

The Cubs couldn’t come up with an answer for Mets closer Jeurys Familia, who finished off all four NLCS wins last October. The Cubs wasted Miguel Montero’s pinch-hit, leadoff walk in the ninth inning and Ben Zobrist’s line-drive double to right field. Familia responded by striking out Bryant swinging, intentionally walking Anthony Rizzo to load the bases, striking out Willson Contreras swinging and getting Javier Baez to pop out to end the game.

Could Cubs ace Jake Arrieta be in line to start All-Star Game?

Could Cubs ace Jake Arrieta be in line to start All-Star Game?

NEW YORK – After his long, winding journey to the Cubs – and stunning transformation into a Cy Young Award winner – Jake Arrieta won’t attach any special meaning to starting the All-Star Game: “I’m kind of over that.”

But the back injury that forced Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw onto the disabled list could create an opportunity for Arrieta. Beyond Kershaw and Arrieta, New York Mets manager Terry Collins listed three more “legitimate names” for the National League starting assignment on July 12 at Petco Park in San Diego. San Francisco Giants teammates Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto are in the mix along with Mets flamethrower Noah Syndergaard.

“Clayton was one of those names,” Collins told reporters before Thursday’s Cubs-Mets game at Citi Field. “And I can tell you Jake was right near the top of the list. I kind of like my guy a little bit, too.

“I kind of feel like I know who’s going to start the game.”

That’s how Collins ended his media session, without taking any more follow-up questions, but he will get an up-close look at Arrieta (12-2, 2.10 ERA) on Saturday night, which also marks the three-year anniversary of that franchise-altering trade with the Baltimore Orioles for a pitcher who spent parts of the 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013 seasons on the Triple-A level.    

“I’ve kind of addressed (how) I’ve come to this point,” Arrieta said. “It’s a long way from where I used to be. I do understand that. But at the same time, I’ve kind of put most of it behind me.

“(Starting the All-Star Game) would be great. It would be an honor, obviously. If it happens, it’s something special.

“But most important for me is my start Saturday.” 

Why Kyle Schwarber is untouchable and how Cubs plan to rebuild bullpen

Why Kyle Schwarber is untouchable and how Cubs plan to rebuild bullpen

NEW YORK – Let’s start with this boilerplate Theo Epstein quote and file it away for the next time Kyle Schwarber’s name appears on MLBTradeRumors.com or a fantasy-baseball proposal for the New York Yankees.

“I’m looking forward to Kyle Schwarber — who got hurt in a Cubs uniform and is working his ass off in a Cubs uniform — coming back and hitting a very big home run in a Cubs uniform sometime very early next season,” Epstein said.

The president of baseball operations clearly has a special bond with Schwarber, selecting the Indiana University catcher/outfielder with the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft, back when the industry consensus made it sound like a reach. Schwarber helped ignite those champagne celebrations last year by setting a franchise record with five postseason home runs. Epstein felt sick watching Schwarber wreck his knee in an outfield collision during the first week of this season, allowing him to rehab in Chicago and hang out in the draft room, essentially viewing him as an untouchable player because of his left-handed power and leadership qualities.

The Mets are the defending National League champs — with all due respect, as Joe Maddon might say, quoting Will Ferrell’s Ricky Bobby character in “Talladega Nights.” But the Yankees might be the New York team the Cubs should focus on now.

While the Mets returned home to Citi Field on Thursday as a third-place team — six games behind Washington after getting swept at Nationals Park — the Yankees will be in no man’s land on July 1 at 39-39.

The Bronx Bombers now have another month to decide whether or not they will become trade-deadline sellers for the first time in a generation, how breaking up the Andrew Miller/Aroldis Chapman/Dellin Betances bullpen could set them up for the future. And what surrender would mean for a YES Network/Yankee Stadium/27 World Series titles business plan. 

Epstein viewed Thursday’s action – the San Diego Padres flipped closer Fernando Rodney to the Miami Marlins while the Los Angeles Dodgers acquired right-hander Bud Norris from the Atlanta Braves – as more of a reaction to the July 2 international signing period (and Clayton Kershaw’s back injury) than a sign that the market would start to move quickly.

“We’re talking to clubs, just trying to see who might be available and where we might have matches,” Epstein said. “But there’s nothing real imminent. There’s usually a flurry of activity around (this time). Despite the trades today, I think it might end up being more of a slow-developing market. We’ll see. We’re not close to anything.”

Remember, the Cubs rebuilt their bullpen on the fly last summer with Clayton Richard (acquired for a dollar from the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate), Trevor Cahill (released by the Braves and Dodgers before signing a minor-league deal) and Rodney (a two-time All-Star the Seattle Mariners had designated for assignment).

While Schwarber-for-Miller buzz is great on talk radio and Twitter, for now the Cubs will go with the grab-bag approach, looking at internal options like Carl Edwards Jr. and Joel Peralta, hoping for good news on their Tommy John cases (Joe Nathan, Jack Leathersich) and waiting for Justin Grimm to get locked in again.

“It’s pretty rare that you rebuild a bullpen midseason through big-ticket items,” Epstein said. “Last year was actually more typical. They don’t all work out — that’s not what I’m saying. But if you have a plan and a process — and you’re willing to kind of cycle through guys (and) ride things out — you often get rewarded in the end.

“For a postseason bullpen, if you’re thinking that far in advance, you’re not talking about eight guys. You’re talking about three or four guys that you can lean on heavily. It’s being open-minded, being willing to let guys ride through their downturns and make adjustments, so that they can find it.”