Joey Votto is in agreement with the Blue Jays on a minor league deal with an invite to major league camp, pending a physical. The MVP Sports Group client would reportedly lock in a $2MM base salary if he makes the MLB roster with another $2MM available via incentives.

It’s a pairing that fans in Toronto have been dreaming about for a long time, as Votto grew up in the city of Etobicoke, which was amalgamated into the city of Toronto in 1998. For most of the past two decades, Votto has been mashing for the Reds and becoming a fan favorite with his unique personality while Blue Jays fans looked south of the border with envy, hoping that the local legend would someday return home.

But back in 2012, Votto signed a 10-year extension with the Reds that ran through 2023. That pact only just expired a few months ago with Cincy turning down a 2024 club option and the Reds didn’t really have much ability to keep him around. They have recently graduated a big pile of position player prospects and came into the winter with Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Jonathan India, Tyler Stephenson and Spencer Steer as first base options, then they added to that group by signing Jeimer Candelario.

That pushed Votto to pursue opportunities outside Cincinnati for the first time in his career. The Blue Jays were connected to Votto fairly early on, both due to his hometown ties and the roster fit. The Jays came into the winter with very few left-handed bats on the roster and also an open designated hitter spot thanks to the free agent departure of Brandon Belt. Votto also drew some reported interest from the Angels but now the long-awaited Votto-Blue Jays pairing has finally come to fruition.

However, the Votto that is now heading to Jays’ camp isn’t quite the same one that won an MVP award and earned six All-Star nods in the previous decade. He’s been battling a significant shoulder injury of late, undergoing surgery in 2022. Over the past two years, he’s played just 156 games and hit .204/317/.394 in that time for a wRC+ of 95. His 11.5% walk rate in that time was still a few ticks above average but below Votto’s career rate of 15.6%. He was also struck out in 25.7% of his plate appearances over those two seasons, well above his career clip of 18.8%.

With Votto now beyond his 40th birthday and coming off a couple of injury-marred seasons, it’s fair to wonder what he has left in the tank at this point, but it’s a fun and logical pairing for the two sides nonetheless. Votto gets a chance to play for his hometown team while the Jays could find lightning in a bottle if Votto is able to put the shoulder issues behind him and get back to his old self. He has 356 home runs in his career and has slashed .294/.409/.511 overall for a wRC+ of 145.

Votto won’t need to get back all the way to MVP form to be a useful contributor for the Blue Jays, but the roster fit may be a bit tight. The Jays have Vladimir Guerrero Jr. as their everyday first baseman and they signed Justin Turner to be in the designated hitter slot most days. Turner can still play a bit of third base but he’s now 39 years old and hasn’t been an everyday fielder since 2021.

It’s possible Votto could carve out a part-time role wherein he can serve as the DH whenever Turner is in the field or perhaps give Guerrero the occasional breather by playing first base, as Belt did last year. He will have some competition from Daniel Vogelbach, who is also lefty that the Jays signed to a minor league deal. Vogelbach is almost strictly a DH, as he didn’t play the field at all in 2023 and logged just five innings at first base in 2022. But he has been having a decent spring so far, having hit two home runs and drawn three walks in 15 plate appearances, leading to a wonky slash line of .250/.400/.833.

Vogelbach is 31 years old and thus far younger than Votto but Votto’s longer track record and ability to play a bit of first base could give him an edge. His defensive metrics have been subpar in the past two years but has racked up 54 Defensive Runs Saved in his career overall. Similar to his offense, perhaps some better health as he gets further from his shoulder surgery could help him. The club likely can’t fit both on the roster as they’ll need at least one bench spot for a catcher and then two more for multi-positional guys like Davis Schneider, Santiago Espinal or Ernie Clement. But having one part-time lefty in mix makes sense as the only lefties currently slated for regular action in the Toronto lineup are glove-first outfielders Daulton Varsho and Kevin Kiermaier as well as utility player Cavan Biggio.

Votto is an XX(B) free agent, which is any player with at least six years of service time that finished the previous season on a major league roster or injured list. Under the current collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the MLBPA, such players have uniform opt-out dates in any minor league deal signed more than 10 days prior to Opening Day. Those dates are five days before Opening Day, May 1 and June 1.

This year’s Opening Day is March 28, meaning Votto will have a chance to return to free agency if the Jays don’t add him to the roster by March 23, which is in just over two weeks. Vogelbach doesn’t have six years of service time and won’t have guaranteed opt-outs, though it’s unknown if he had any added into the language of his contract.

Votto tells C. Trent Rosecrans and Kaitlyn McGrath of the Athletic that while he’ll report to Jays camp on Saturday, he expects to open the season at Triple-A Buffalo. That suggests he’s not planning to exercise the first of the opt-out dates provided by the CBA.

Vogelbach also has a base salary of $2MM if he makes the club so the financial element of the decision will be a wash. The Jays are set to be a second-time payor of the competitive balance tax this year, which means they will face a 30% tax on that $2MM whether it comes from Votto or Vogelbach, but that will add just $600K to their tax bill.

The next few weeks will give Votto a chance to display his health and current abilities to the club before decisions need to be made. For the time being, it’s an exciting pairing for Blue Jay fans that they have long waited for.

ESPN’s Buster Olney first reported the Jays and Votto had agreed to a minor league deal with a big league Spring Training invite. Shi Davidi of Sportsnet reported the financial terms.


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