The Cincinnati Reds finally began to reap the benefits of their youth movement in 2023, when they spent much of the summer competing for a playoff spot before coming up short in the final week of the season. The outlier to the Reds youth movement was franchise legend Joey Votto, who completed his 17th season in the MLB, all of which have come with Cincinnati

While Votto's skills have certainly declined, as evidenced by his 2023 numbers (.202 BA, 14 HR, 38 RBI, .747 OPS), he still played a valuable role for the Reds, both on the field and in the clubhouse. Despite that, the Reds had a decision to make on Votto's contract, and they have opted to decline his $20 million option, instead paying a $7 million buyout fee that makes Votto a free agent.

“For the first time since June 4, 2002, Joey Votto is not a Cincinnati Red. The Reds declined their $20 million option on Votto’s contract and after a buyout of $7 million, Votto is a free agent, the team announced Saturday. The 40-year-old Votto has already expressed his desire to play ‘at least' one more season. He could still return to the Reds.” – C. Trent Rosecrans, The Athletic

Will Joey Votto re-sign with the Reds in free agency?

Reds, Cardinals, Cubs, Cincinnati, Joey Votto

Considering how Votto has spent his entire career with the Reds, it's a bit strange to say that he's a free agent now. But it had seemed like this was a conclusion that both sides were headed towards for months, and with Votto saying that he wants to play at least one more season before he calls it a career, this could result in a split between the club and player.

Votto could still return to the Reds in a bench role, but Cincinnati may simply have no need for him. While it would obviously great to see Votto finish his career where he started, it looks like if he wants to keep playing, it's going to be in another team's uniform. Anything can happen in free agency, but Votto's path out of Cincy has been paved, and it will be interesting to see what the future holds for him now that he's a free agent.