Small-market good news: Joey Votto to sign

This is more good news for baseball: A small-market franchise apparently locking up one of the best players in the game.

Joey Votto was the 2010 NL MVP, he ranks eighth among position players over the past three seasons in WAR and he's one of the few hitters in the game who combines power, batting average and the ability to draw walks. Over those three seasons, the only hitters more valuable at the plate have been Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Gonzalez.

Many believed it would be impossible for the Reds to sign Votto, thus the ridiculous trade rumors all offseason. The Reds owned an $80 million payroll in 2011, so there is risk in giving such a large chunk of your payroll to one player (ask the Twins), but losing Votto would be a devastating blow. Sometimes you have to take those risks.

We don't know the terms of Votto's potential deal yet, but there is a chance he may have left a few coins on the table to remain in Cincinnati. I don't necessarily buy that there wouldn't have been lucrative options for Votto after 2013. Yes, the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Tigers and Phillies are locked in at first base for years to come and that would certainly affected the demand for Votto's services. But consider the following teams that could have a hole at first base:

  • Rangers: With the money given to Yu Darvish and decisions looming on which key members of their offense to extend -- Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, Michael Young -- there is no guarantee the Rangers would be big bidders in two years. While Mitch Moreland probably isn't the long-term answer at first base, prospect Mike Olt may be since he's blocked by Adrian Beltre at third base.

  • Blue Jays: With Jose Bautista signed to a team-friendly deal and a young base of talent, the Jays could conceivably afford Votto, an Ontario native who obviously would be hugely popular in Toronto. Plus, if they can ever get fans to return to SkyDome, the Jays are a sleeping big-market giant.

  • Dodgers: New owners, a light-hitting first baseman in James Loney, a lefty power hitter to balance Matt Kemp ... it certainly would have been a perfect match.

  • Astros: They've gutted the payroll as they start over, but this isn't a small-market team. Just one that acted like one under the old ownership.

  • Cardinals: Their only players signed beyond 2013 are Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina and Jaime Garcia, so there could have been room in the budget.

  • Cubs: They have prospect Anthony Rizzo, but Votto would be a viable big-money alternative.

The big picture here is that small- and medium-market franchises are locking up their star players: Just during spring training we've seen Votto (presumably), Alex Gordon, Ryan Zimmerman, Andrew McCutchen and Matt Cain sign deals that take them past their initial free-agent years. Factor in that other stars like Kemp, Bautista, Troy Tulowitzki, Evan Longoria, Joe Mauer, Justin Upton, Ryan Braun, Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander are signed through at least 2014 and there won't be a lot of A+ free agents hitting the market in upcoming seasons.

What does that mean? It makes it more difficult for the big-market franchises to have an offseason like the Yankees did before 2009, when they signed CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett. Instead, those franchises will be forced to develop more of their own talent, make trades involving their best prospects (for example, the Red Sox acquiring Gonzalez or the Phillies acquiring Hunter Pence) or overpaying for a good-but-not-great player like the Red Sox did with Carl Crawford. When those teams inevitably start aging, it may not be so easy just to spend big bucks to find a quality replacement. And that means that baseball's competitive balance should continue to improve -- and, maybe, that we'll see the decline of some of the recent dynasties.