Reds decline Joey Votto's contract option for 2024 season, end 22-year relationship

CINCINNATI, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 24: Joey Votto #19 of the Cincinnati Reds acknowledges the crowd after the 4-2 win against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Great American Ball Park on September 24, 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Joey Votto isn't expected to return to the Cincinnati Reds. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The Cincinnati Reds declined their $20 million option on franchise legend Joey Votto's contract, according to a statement released Saturday.

In the move, the Reds made the 40-year-old a free agent for the first time in his career and ended a 22-year relationship that saw the Canadian become a six-time All-Star and the 2010 NL MVP.

After praising Votto's impact on the team and the city, the Reds said they aren't able to give him a significant role going forward.

“At this point of the off-season, based on our current roster and projected plans for 2024, as an organization we cannot commit to the playing time Joey deserves," Reds president of baseball operations Nick Krall wrote. "He forever will be part of the Reds’ family, and at the appropriate time we will thank and honor him as one of the greatest baseball players of this or any generation.”

Votto spoke about his future on the "Dan Patrick Show" in October. Amid jokes that he was retired, Votto asserted that he was simply unemployed.

He addressed the possibility that he wouldn't be a Red for the first time since 2002, acknowledging the team's option. While he said he hoped to stay in Cincinnati, he expressed a desire to return to the sport for at least one more season.

"The last couple years were crummy," Votto said. "I wasn't healthy for two years, so I'd like to play well. It's not the taste I want to leave in my mouth."

A reduced role probably isn't the note Votto wants to go out on. It would also be a position he hasn't been in since he entered the majors. He was a part-time player behind veteran first baseman Scott Hatteberg in 2008.

The Reds will pay a $7 million buyout on Votto's 10-year, $225 million contract, which was a franchise record. They finished the 2023 season with an 82-80 record.

Votto missed the start of the season due to a shoulder injury that required surgery and kept him out for 10 weeks. The area started causing him problems again in August, and he was placed on the injured list.

In his career, he has a .294 batting average, 356 home runs, 1,144 RBI and 15 ejections. He was ejected from what appears to have been his final game as a Red in the first inning. After the 4-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Oct. 1, he apologized to fans for the early exit.

While the Reds move forward with their rising talent, Votto will likely look for a full-time role elsewhere.