One of the biggest questions facing the Red Sox this offseason is how to fill the void that will be left by David Ortiz at DH. Let's just get this out of the way: they can't. There is no replacing David Ortiz, particularly not the way he's hitting this year. But the Red Sox have to write someone else in at DH next year, whether they want to or not.
There's two ways to handle this. The first is the way that many teams have been doing it of late, by using the DH as almost a rotating rest spot, allowing the Red Sox to cycle their starters off the field for a day at a time while getting (hopefully very good) bench bats some at bats. The Red Sox could certainly pull this off given that they can have the likes of Brock Holt, Chris Young, and potentially Blake Swihart and Yoan Moncada as "backups" in 2017.
The other way is, of course, to just go out and get the biggest, baddest bat possible in the offseason. And generally, that's what the Red Sox seem to be expected to do both by local media and teams around the league. And for the most part, the expectation is that they'd go out and try to land one of the two big bats leaving Toronto in Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion. Bautista, at age 35, is experiencing his worst season since his breakout. Part of that is due to BABIP, yes, but Bautista's HR/FB is also way down. Edwin Encarnacion, meanwhile, has bounced back from early season struggles to hit .269/.356/.556 with 34 home runs at age 33.
The problem that could arise here comes from the demands of the two. Once upon a time, Buatista was expecting a five-year deal worth $150 million. Encarnacion had previously been far apart with the Jays when they offered him two years with vesting options, and if he's probably not looking for quite as ridiculous a deal as Bautista relative to his age, it would not be a surprise to see him expecting at least nine figures for four years, or even the exact $150 million over five considering he's two years younger than his slugging teammate.
Those are some pretty big numbers! Especially for players that age. So assuming that the Red Sox do decide to go this more expensive route, it might make sense for them to broaden their horizons. To that end: what about Joey Votto?
Votto's contract is big, there's no denying that. He's owed $22 million next year, and then $25 million in every year until he's 40 in 2024, at which point there's still a $20 million team option with a $7 million buyout attached. Assuming we're looking at the buyout, that's $179 million for seven years of Votto. That, too, is a pretty big number! But it's not that big compared to the numbers that have been thrown around for Encarnacion and Bautista.
With Votto, the number is locked in. There's almost no chance at this point that Bautista's market comes up to the levels he'd hoped for, and there's a chance that Encarnacion's don't either. In the event that Encarnacion can be had for something like four years and $100 million, it's hard to imagine the Red Sox would take a seven-year plunge for more per annum ahead of it. But in the event that Encarnacion does end up somewhere around $150 million for five or even six years, Votto starts to look fairly reasonable in comparison.
Photo Credit: Joe Robbins
It's kind of just a matter of subtraction. Given that Bautista isn't really looking that great in 2016, we can narrow this down to Encarnacion vs. Votto. In that situation, if we're talking six years and $150 million for Encarnacion, then we're basically saying Votto's age 33 season is worth $29 million, which is actually a pretty good deal, buying one fringe-prime season at market rate. At five years and $125 million, it starts getting a lot sketchier, because suddenly the difference is $54 million for Votto's age 33 season...and his age 39 season, effectively. That's $25 million for Joey Votto at 39, which is obviously not great.
However, that does assume that Votto and Encarnacion are more-or-less equivalent, which is not really a given. Looking at the last three years--a period which is basically the worst you're going to find for Votto since it includes his down 2014 season--Votto has hit to a 156 OPS+ to Encarnacion's 147 OPS+. Aside from a serious outlier season in 2016 (and single-season samples aren't really all that informative in these statistics) Votto grades out as a much more reliable first baseman than Encarnacion, which leaves him less pigeonholed and makes it easier to move Hanley Ramirez off of first for much of the remainder of his contract. If Votto isn't matching his 2015 heights, he's still hitting about as well as he had in some of his prime years (2011 and 2013, for instance). There's a bit of a red flag in his career-high 21.2% K-rate, but that's not nearly so bad as the jump in Encarnacion's. While the artist formerly known as E5 comes in a bit shy of Votto's mark at 20.8%, it's the first time since 2009 (19.8%) he's even come in above 17%. That's a dramatic and concerning jump.
To make a long story short: Joey Votto is the best player of the bunch. And while yes, the Reds hold the rights to him, they're also looking at a significant rebuild. Given that his contract extends all the way through the end of his 30's, they're likely not looking for the sort of huge return a name like Votto might make you expect. They're not likely to put much of a contender around him until he's headed into the twilight of his career, and probably don't want to risk having him weigh down their payroll when they finally do get things together.
There's a pretty big hitch, though, in that Votto has a straight no-trade clause, and one that he has no real reason to give up unless he actually wants to go to Boston. He showed no such interest last offseason, and the only thing the Red Sox can really do to entice him other than give him the chance to play for a contender is to pick up his option year, which does kind of mess up the math. They're kind of just left hoping that the allure of playoff baseball--and perhaps a plea from the Reds--is enough to sway him.
All this, though, is based on the scenario that the Red Sox absolutely get a big bat to replace Ortiz. It is kind of Dombrowski's offseason style--need an ace, get an ace, need a bat, get a bat--but that doesn't make it the right choice. Looking at Votto and Encarnacion alike, there's just so much not to love about the idea of making a big splash in this market. Both players are at the point where nobody would be surprised to see them start dropping off in years to come, with Encarnacion's big spike in strikeout rate of particular concern.
The more I compare and contrast the two, the more I just want to bail entirely. To let Moncada take third, Shaw first, Hanley DH, and put money towards extensions and the bullpen or something like that. If we have to do this thing, Votto seems the one much less likely to leave the Red Sox really regretting their decision early on unless Encarnacion's market fails to develop and he can be had relatively cheap. But on the whole, it feels like going after the aging sluggers who might be available and hoping they'll replicate Ortiz in both production and longevity feels a bit like a fool's errand.