CINCINNATI -- Just as first baseman Joey Votto returned to his status among the cream of the crop of Major League hitters, the Reds' fortunes as a team headed in a much different direction before finishing with a 64-98 last-place record in the National League Central.
Like many in the clubhouse, Votto was often frustrated as Cincinnati struggled. When he signed a 10-year, $225 million contract extension on April 4, 2012, the Reds already had one division title in his tenure and were headed for one more that same season and a Wild Card berth in 2013. Now Votto must hope the next upswing isn't too far away.
"I knew when I signed a long-term contract that I ran the risk of being part of winning and losing," Votto told MLB.com shortly before the 2015 season concluded. "I accepted that, but I also choose not to start letting this sort of atmosphere bring me down to something that I am OK with, or that I'm happy to go to work and be part of a losing culture here."
Votto, who spent 2014 battling left knee and quadriceps injuries that limited him to 62 games and career-low production at the plate, returned with some exceptional numbers this season.
In 158 games, Votto batted .314/.459/.541 with 29 home runs and 80 RBIs. His 1.000 OPS was third-best in the Majors behind NL MVP favorite Bryce Harper and Paul Goldschmidt. The 32-year-old Votto also led the Majors with 143 walks, which set a new franchise record. He also set new team records by reaching safely 319 times, at least twice in a game 107 times, and tied Pete Rose's 1978 club mark by reaching safely in 48 consecutive games.
With a 7.4 wins-above-replacement (WAR), Votto was ranked fifth in the Majors and his 172 weighted runs created-plus (wRC+) was tied for second with Mike Trout -- both were behind Harper.
Personal numbers, especially the streak of reaching safely, mattered little to Votto amid the team's second-half nosedive. Following the July trades of Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake, an all-rookie rotation struggled along with the bullpen. The lineup often lacked punch to support Votto, and the season ended with 14 losses over the final 15 games.
The Reds are expected to spend this offseason, and much of 2016, in retooling mode. More changes to the roster are expected. Votto, who has a full no-trade clause, will see his salary jump from $14 million in 2015 to $20 million in '16.
"The first thing that's really important to me is there still feels like so much unfinished business in my career," Votto said. "We've been to the playoffs several times, missed opportunities multiple times, and I'm not happy about that. Now seeing the lulls, you never know in your career.
"During this lull, it's even more frustrating to have had those missed opportunities. When you're young, you just think they're going to keep coming. Every single opportunity, you need to take advantage and have more in the future."