CINCINNATI — For the second straight year, Joey Votto showed up at Redsfest with an impressive beard.
The difference is this year he may keep it for the season.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m thinking about it. I might just let it go.”
The beard works for Votto’s offseason routine. He’s training in his hometown of Toronto for the second straight year after spending the the previous five years in Sarasota during the offseason.
The formula worked last year.
Votto finished third in the National League MVP vote. He hit .314/.459/.541 overall with 29 home runs and 80 RBI. He was the best hitter in baseball during the second half, hitting .362/.535/.627.
That foundation was laid in offseason in the cold north.
“I think there’s a mind-body connection,” he said. “If I was stuck in rehabbing city and don’t get to see my family and friends, the season stretches on. It was nice to get home and have a sense of normalcy.”
Votto’s focus last year was getting his left leg healthy. He was limited to 62 games by knee/quad injuries in 2014. Votto had two surgery on his left knee in 2012.
Not only was he hurt in ’14, he hit a career-low .255 and slugged a career-low .409. There were questions if he’d ever be the same hitter. To do that, he knew he had to get healthy.
“It’s much different this year,” he said. “Last year, right from the get-go was all about rehab. This year, I get to explore some of things that I viewed as weaknesses. I get to do some learning. I also get to refine some of the things that were part of my routine.
“I feel like I didn’t get much rest last offseason. This year, I have. I feel good.”
Not that Votto is resting on his numbers and easing up on the strength and conditioning.
“You always risk having a setback or getting hurt,” Votto said. “Whether I’m rehabbing or not, I have the same mindset. I attack it and try to be the best I can be and help the team win.”
The team didn’t win last year. The fact that the Reds lost 98 games dampened Votto’s good year considerably.
“Every played has to take care of their own job,” he said. “But it’s not fun playing on a losing team. It’s not anybody’s objective. I can’t stand it. It’s frustrating. I want to be excited and proud to go to each visiting city and know we’re going in to kick someone’s butt.
“It was one of first major losing year I’ve experienced in my career. It just felt like not a real good year. We weren’t in it for a good bit. That’s not easy to take. I’m hoping those are few and far between. Maybe that was last one.”
Votto’s 10-year, $225 million contract is not so huge these days. Two pitchers — David Price and Zack Greinke — have signed deals in recent days that will pay them considerably more per year than Votto will make in any year of his deal.
That means the Reds could possibly move Votto in a trade. Head of baseball operations Walt Jocketty and general manager Dick Williams have made it clear that they’ll listen to trade proposals on any player on the roster.
They can only trade Votto with his approval because he has a full no-trade clause. Votto didn’t say he’d exercise the clause, but he made it clear he likes being a Red, despite the rebuilding process the club is currently in.
“I absolutely love playing here," Votto said. "When all this trade stuff gets going, it's natural for a player to have that thought process. What would you consider? I just absolutely love playing here. I really like where I live. I like my team and my job. I like the location of the ballpark and the fans and the clubhouse and the uniform and the number on my back -- all the littlest things that people take for granted are very comfortable to me and something I look forward to. I don't think of myself as anything other than a Cincinnati Red. It's one of the really cool things about having a no-trade clause. I'm one of the rare players who has that.
“I look at guys in different sports and I admire the players that stick with one franchise and do well and ride out the rough times.”