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08/18/11 8:40 PM ET
MVP Votto won't be moving to left field
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
WASHINGTON -- Many fans think they've come up with the simple solution for the Reds to get the bats of both Joey Votto and Yonder Alonso into the same lineup. Just move Votto to left field and have Alonso play first base. That would be the epitome of the term "easier said than done." It's also not happening. "Quick fix solutions are just those -- they're quick and not necessarily long lasting," Votto said on Thursday. The Reds are currently dealing with an issue that was immediately anticipated in 2008 when Alonso -- a natural first baseman and a very promising hitter -- was taken with the seventh overall pick in the Draft and signed to a big league contract. What's made the issue more complicated is that since Alonso was taken, Votto has developed into one of the best first basemen in the game -- both offensively and defensively. He's also the Reds' best overall player and the reigning National League Most Valuable Player. "One of probably our best attributes on last year's team, a division winner, was our defense as a whole and especially our infield defense," Votto said. "It's always a constant and very underrated. It's something that goes under the fans' radar. We have four good infielders and two great infielders in our second baseman and third baseman. To change that up might mess with the chemistry." Votto himself could join fellow infielders Scott Rolen and Brandon Phillips as a Gold Glove winner in the future. In a recent "best tools" issue of Baseball America, league managers rated Votto as the NL's best defensive first baseman. This hasn't happened overnight. Since entering the big leagues in 2007, Votto has been diligent about his defense and places high emphasis on improving. "He's worked as hard as anybody I've seen at his position, daily," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "I haven't seen any first basemen practice the stuff that he practices -- maybe J.T. Snow or Derrek Lee. He is the MVP at first base." Last season, the Reds began the process of transitioning Alonso to left field at the Triple-A level and he played 62 games there for Louisville this season. Since his July 26 promotion to the Reds, he has hit very well, but in four left field starts, he has struggled to make plays. After one rough weekend in Chicago, where a misplay near the line led to an inside the park homer, Alonso didn't start in left field again for eight days. It didn't take long for talk radio and the Twitter-verse to clamor for the incumbent Votto to be moved and Alonso to get first base, despite his having only 52 career big league plate appearances compared to Votto's ever-growing resume. "If they'd like me to play the outfield, maybe I will play center or right," Votto retorted. In 2007, the Reds used Votto in left field for six starts. He also played 40 games there that season for Louisville and did not distinguish himself. "You don't know if Votto can play left field. You just don't stick anybody in left field," Baker said. "I've played all three of them and left field is the hardest one to play. You have less reaction time. If you turn the wrong way, make the wrong move or wrong break, it's too late. Everybody can hit the ball hard to left field -- little guys, big guys, right-handed or left-handed. Very few guys can hit the ball hard to right field." Alonso, himself a hard worker trying to get better in left field, is not as good defensively as Votto is at first base. He's been rated in some reports as average-to-below average. Moving Votto to left field could weaken the Reds at two positions. "How would that work out if Joey is below average or average in [left]?" Baker said "You see the importance of defense in this league, big time." "Jay [Bruce] has been playing the outfield since he was a little boy, same with Drew [Stubbs] and [Chris] Heisey and Fred Lewis," Votto said. All have been outfielders for a long time. Just to shuffle me out there, it's a big adjustment for me or any player. There's no reason that at some point, Yonder [couldn't] be a pretty good outfielder. He's being judged based on 50-75 games and that's unfair." The Reds' problems don't get easier from here. Alonso will be out of Minor League options come next Spring Training. And when Votto signed his three-year, $38 million contract last winter to end after the 2013 season -- his first year of free-agent eligibility -- it appeared to signal he would test the market. He will be making $17 million in the final year of the deal. The next two years could get very interesting. Reds management has no plans to ask Votto to change positions. "If some of the brightest minds in baseball haven't come up to me to ask me to consider playing an outfield position, then that says quite a bit," Votto said. "If they do, that's something for us to discuss internally. They haven't even sniffed mentioning it to me."