The Cincinnati Reds are going to have to trade Joey Votto in the next six months to two-and-a-half years.

People may think I’m crazy or that what I just said is blasphemous. I think it is reality.

Votto just won the NL MVP award. He just led the Reds to the playoffs for the first time since 1995. He has put up good numbers ever since he broke into the league.

He also lost his father in 2008. He missed time in 2008 and 2009 dealing with depression and anxiety stemming from the loss of his father. He went back up to Canada to be with his mom and three younger brothers. He needed to be the rock of the family.

Depression is a debilitating and horrible disease. Almost everyone knows someone who has been affected by it.

Family means something to Votto. He needed to make sure they were all right while he was battling his own demons. None of us can fault him for that.

Votto just signed a three-year deal for $38 million. That contract covered the rest of his arbitration years that the Reds controlled anyway, but not a single year of free agency. When asked about signing a long-term deal, Votto said the following:

“I don’t know as far as beyond three years. I think that’s a very unfair question to ask. This is not me saying I don’t want to be here. But last year was a difficult year. This year was a better year for me. It’s really hard to think three years ahead, five years ahead, seven years ahead.

“When (Troy) Tulowitzki signed that 10-year contract or whatever it was, I was blown away. I can’t imagine seeing myself 10 years from now and saying: ‘I want to be here.’ It’s an overwhelming thing to ask a young person like myself and say: ‘Here’s a lot of money, be happy with this over 10 years. Deal with it.’ You don’t know where you’re going to be in one, two, three years.”
Over the years I have learned to read between the lines. I grew up a diehard Cleveland everything fan. I saw Jim Thome leave for the Phillies for a few extra bucks. I saw Manny Ramirez leave for a mountain of cash. I also saw LeBron James stab Cleveland fans in the back on national TV during The Decision. Leading up to all of their departures, you read comments and realized they were leaving.

Votto is 27 years old, but he is still searching for happiness. Money can’t buy happiness. He didn’t want to sign a long-term deal and be tied to the Reds for the rest of his career. He wants options.

I also believe he ultimately wants to go home to his family. I think Votto leaves the Reds in three years to sign with the Toronto Blue Jays. He would be 30 years old then, still in his prime and in position to help them contend for the AL East if their young pitching continues to develop.
If that were to happen, who am I describing? This player left the team that drafted him after seven years in the league. This player left after signing a three-year deal. This player has won at least one MVP trophy. This player took a franchise that had been down for quite some time and returned it to glory. This player was the best on his team. This player was the fan favorite.

The correct answer is both Joey Votto and LeBron James.
However, Votto wouldn’t be leaving so he could take his talents to South Beach. Marlins fans can go cry themselves to sleep. LeBron James left Cleveland because he is a coward.

Cleveland is the most downtrodden sports town in America. We haven’t won a title in 47 years and counting. That is unfathomable. Every Cleveland fan feels the pressure season after season. Some of us might die and never get to taste what it feels like to be a winner.

LeBron felt all that pressure as the Chosen One. He was one of our own. Born in northeast Ohio, he understood what it meant to be a Cleveland fan—or at least he should have. Instead he is a Yankees, Cowboys and Bulls fan. Clearly bandwagon to the core. He didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to break the curse that haunts Cleveland sports.

Right before he left LeBron told a friend, “I don’t want to get to 31 with bad knees and no championship.” He is a quitter. He took the easy way out.

He went to the Heat so he could play Robin to Dwyane Wade’s Batman. He didn’t want the pressure of carrying a franchise. He wanted to go party with his friends in South Beach and have Wade and Chris Bosh help carry the load. Things were too tough in Cleveland, and LeBron wanted an easy path to the rings.

He didn’t care that he would no longer be considered the man. That Jordan, Magic, Bird and Kobe would have never left to team up with their main rival. They would have tried to beat their rival’s butt.

LeBron left a team that had the best record in the league back-to-back years and four years ago made the NBA Finals. He had an owner that was willing to go way over the luxury tax. He wasn’t leaving a bad situation. He was leaving for what he thought was an easier situation.
LeBron left for all the wrong reasons. Votto would be leaving for all the right ones. Votto would be going to play for his hometown, not running away from it. Votto would be going to spend time with his younger siblings before they grow up and possibly move away, not going to hang out with his friends.

We would have to respect the decision Votto was making, even if it hurt. If you really love something or someone, you need to let them go. If they come back, they are yours forever, and if not, it wasn’t meant to be.

Kenny Lofton, a borderline Hall of Famer, had three different stints with the Indians. Every time you saw him suit up for someone else, it didn’t feel right. Each time he came back, the fans loved him more then ever before. He represented the glory days and reminded us of why we loved him so much. We appreciated him more after he was gone, and even more so after he came back.

Maybe after Votto’s family situation is in a good place, he would come back to the Reds someday. We should welcome him back with open arms.
With all that said, you can’t let Votto leave and be left empty-handed. One option is to keep Votto for all three years and just flat-out go for it all. If you get a ring, great, but if not, you are left holding the bag. Votto leaves, and all you get is draft pick compensation.

However, the Reds have Yonder Alonso waiting in the wings. Previously Reds fans agreed that trading Yonder for some missing pieces was the best plan. Yonder was young and talented and was going to be blocked at 1B by Votto. The Reds could probably keep Yonder down at AAA for one more year tops. Then something has to give.

The best plan may be to trade Votto. The only question is when. A lot of that depends on how the Reds are playing over the next three years. The Cardinals will always be stiff competition, the Brewers have geared up for a big push this year and the Cubs at least have deep pockets, if nothing else.

If the Reds are struggling and the Blue Jays or some other team comes with a Godfather offer, the Reds may have to take it. This opens the door for Yonder at 1B and helps stock the farm system with high-end prospects. Trading a former MVP in his prime may seem crazy, but it might be the best thing for the Reds.

Hopefully I am wrong and Votto signs long-term. At the very least, I hope Votto returns to the Reds someday after he leaves so that we can all reconnect.

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