Anthony Castrovince

Votto glad Reds have his back

Castrovince: Votto glad Reds have his back

Votto glad Reds have his back
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Battling a touch of the flu, Joey Votto arrived on Thursday morning at the Reds Player Development Complex and found, as usual, a stack of mail awaiting him at his seat.

Votto pushed aside the boxes and began to throw on his workout clothes, right about the time manager Dusty Baker was telling reporters that he would be sending the reigning National League MVP home for the day.

Votto, though, didn't deem himself sick enough to go home. He was here to work.

"[Votto's] very disciplined, very focused," general manager Walt Jocketty said. "The great players that I've been around are built just like that, whether it's Albert Pujols or Mark McGwire. Those guys are very focused and disciplined in everything they do."

You could say that with great trophies come great responsibilities. But Votto, thus far, isn't letting the distractions that can come with his newfound national fame detract from his discipline. Like a touch of the flu, it's all tolerable. Because, while Votto might now be a marked man for opposing pitchers, visiting media and every autograph hound worth his or her Sharpie, he takes comfort in knowing the Reds have his back.

"It's really nice to play for a winning team," Votto said. "When I say that, it sounds like I'm going off track [from talking about myself], but I'm not, really. It's nice to play for a team where everybody gets to share the load. It's a great thing. It takes a lot of pressure off my shoulders."

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To their credit, the Reds have built a winning environment in which the 27-year-old Votto can thrive as he hits his prime. It's a relationship that currently couldn't be stronger, as the Reds, coming off their first NL Central crown in 15 years, enter 2011 with justifiable expectations to not only reach October again, but advance within it.

The challenge for Jocketty's Reds is one all clubs in a market their size face at one point or another. Building a winning team is only half the battle. Sustaining one is an even more substantial struggle, particularly when you've got players of Votto's caliber due for major pay raises.

What we saw from Jocketty this winter was an aggressive approach to ensure their core players are content with the paychecks rolling in on the first and 15th of every month and comfortable with their Cincinnati surroundings. The Reds doled out $151 million in long-term commitments to Votto (three years, $38 million), Bronson Arroyo (three years, $35 million), Jay Bruce (six years, $51 million) and Johnny Cueto (four years, $27 million). They were, however, rebuffed in their efforts to get Edinson Volquez to sign a four-year deal in his first year of arbitration eligibility.

To a degree, Votto rebuffed them, as well. Yes, he signed away his three arbitration years, but he did so at what is considered top market value. His free-agent years went untouched, so the Reds don't have any greater contractual claim to Votto now than they did a year ago. All they have is more financial risk, should his performance regress or his body betray him.

"We wanted to at least get him signed through his arbitration years," Jocketty said. "Then we'll see after that, whether we can be in a position to afford to sign him."

Over the winter, Votto said it was "unfair" to ask him to know for certain whether he wants to stay in one place for the bulk of his career. He's probably right about that. Because in a game in which the faces are always changing within the clubhouse walls, it's impossible to know how long a winning culture will last.

All Votto knows is that he wants to be a part of such a culture in the here and now, without worrying about the future.

"I'm living my future right now," Votto said. "I'm on a winning team. I won the MVP. I'm on a good team that has a chance to be a very good team. I'm plenty happy where I am. Why would I want to go anywhere else? I can't think of another team I'd want to be with, especially considering we're a winning team. Good players want to go to winning teams. I'm on one, and I don't see that changing."

Nor does Votto see himself changing, even as his star continues to rise. Baker has said that he wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the opposition starts pitching around Votto quite a bit more this season. Last year, they consistently challenged him, and he consistently produced, posting a .324 average, 37 homers, 113 RBIs and a 1.024 OPS.

"It's the same thing [Pujols] has been going through for seven or eight years now," Baker told reporters. "I saw Barry Bonds go through it -- the epitome of people pitching around him."

How Votto handles such treatment remains to be seen. What is already apparent is how well he's able to handle the increased attention paid to him, now that he's an MVP.

"That's the thing that you notice," Bruce said. "He's the same guy every day. That's what he prides himself on. The playing and the numbers take care of themselves, but Joey is a good person. That's what you're going to remember as a teammate is what type of person he is. He has his way of doing things and this style of getting ready to play and this lifestyle. But that's him and something he should be proud of is that, day in and day out, he's the same person."

With the same work ethic, the same discipline, the same focus he had before his incredible 2010. And the Reds hope to have all of those attributes available to them for a long time to come.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.