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Joey Votto poised to cash in on MLB salary binge

This June 29, 2010, file photo shows Cincinnati Reds' Joey Votto rounding the bases after hitting a home run against the Philadelphia Phillies in the a baseball game, in Cincinnati. Votto was overwhelming elected the National League's Most Valuable player on Monday, Nov. 22, 2010, ending the two-year reign of Albert Pujols. (AP Photo/Al Behrman, File)

Al Behrman/AP

So Joey Votto zeroes in on a contract extension just hours after Matt Cain signs one of his own with the San Francisco Giants, both just days after the news that the Los Angeles Dodgers have new owners.

Now that Magic Johnson has brought Showtime to Los Angeles, baseball owners are getting the message, loud and clear: lock up your franchise players.

There is a new beast afoot with a whack of cash and few contractual commitments of its own. Guggenheim Baseball Management, which paid $2.1-billion (all currency U.S.) last week to buy the Dodgers, includes Peter Guber, CEO of Mandalay Entertainment Group; long-time sports executive Stan Kasten; and Johnson, the Los Angeles Lakers' hall-of-fame guard. Bottom line, the Dodgers, once a free-agent market driver, are back in action in the wake of the financial smoke-and-mirrors ownership of Frank McCourt.

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Cain's contract, a $127.5-million, six-year deal that is the richest given a right-handed pitcher, had been percolating for some time. Now Votto, the former National League most valuable player and a native of Toronto, is reportedly close to an extension with the Cincinnati Reds that could amount to a lifetime contract worth something close to Prince Fielder's $214-million deal with Detroit.

However it's painted, the contract would be the direct result of the Reds realizing that Votto could otherwise leave as a free agent after the 2013 season. Put it this way: If Reds general manager Walt Jocketty doesn't make this a reality, he isn't doing his job.

The Reds may have previously found some comfort in the notion that the Chicago Cubs would be the only big-market team with the resources to go after Votto, as the Boston Red Sox (Adrian Gonzalez through 2018), New York Yankees (Mark Teixeira through 2016) and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (Albert Pujols, 10-year, $240-million deal this winter) have first basemen committed to long-term deals. That small measure of security disappeared when the Dodgers' deal got done.

The Dodgers mean business. The new ownership group will reap the rewards of a new regional sports television contract, upgrade Dodger Stadium, and possibly redevelop the Chavez Ravine area, a project that McCourt didn't have the money to pull off, even before his divorce. This is an untapped cash cow, and it is positioned for a quick fix. Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw (three years away from free agency) and outfielder Matt Kemp (signed to an eight-year contract) are dominant at their positions, and otherwise only Chad Billingsley is under contract through next season. The Dodgers will not have the 11th-highest payroll in baseball next season – projections for opening day 2012 have the Minnesota Twins' payroll higher than that of the Dodgers – and as a result, every team with unsigned cornerstone players must be a little concerned.

As an aside to Toronto Blue Jays fans, please save your tears. The chatter among those in the know was that Votto was not pining for a return to his hometown as a free agent, that he realized there are demands that would have been placed on him, and more importantly his family in this city that might have exceeded those even in L.A., and Votto does not seek or need that attention. Cincinnati is the best place for him.

If Blue Jays fans are looking for a proper sentiment once this deal gets done, they might want to consider being thankful. After all, the team has locked up L.A. native Ricky Romero (a left-handed ace capable of winning 20 games) and Jose Bautista (a Latino right fielder capable of hitting 50 home runs) on long-term contracts. Because with the Dodgers back in business and looking for a quick turnaround while the noisy neighbours in Orange County talk openly about a return to the World Series, the business has changed.

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