Can showing Joey Votto some love help the Blue Jays salvage ho-hum off season?

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Leave it to Joey Votto — the fun-loving, quick-witted Canadian baseball legend — to make some of the biggest sports news in his homeland on NHL trade deadline day.

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It’s very much on brand for the Etobicoke native and future Hall of Famer who, 22 years after being drafted by the Cincinnati Reds, has a chance to continue his brilliant career in his hometown.

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Just past the midway point of spring training, Votto agreed to a non-roster invitation with the Blue Jays on Friday, an arrangement which amounts to a training camp tryout.

And all of the sudden, a Jays spring training bogged down with more bad news than good got significantly more interesting, if for no other reason than the verifiable Votto star power.

At its base, the arrangement carries next to no risk for either party. Multiple reports have the term being $2 million US if Votto makes the opening day roster with a chance to double that with in-season incentives.

Of further attraction to the Jays is the potential for a feel-good signing of a Canadian baseball icon which has the potential to help redirect some of the negative narrative of an underwhelming off-season made worse by 20% of the starting rotation currently sidelined due to injury.

If Votto makes the team, he would become an instant fan favourite with the possibility to contribute offensively despite his age (40), a presence he brought to the Reds most recently in 2021.

“I am excited about the opportunity to work my way back to the Major Leagues,” active social media participant Votto posted on X. “It’s even sweeter to attempt this while wearing the uniform of my hometown team, the Toronto Blue Jays.”

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It is expected that Votto will report to Dunedin as soon as possible to both make up for lost time and make a strong impression on manager John Schneider and the front office.

The fact that Votto referenced the need to “work my way back” suggests that he is aware that a stint at triple-A Buffalo is a possibility, depending on how things unfold and given that the March 28 season-opener is now less than three weeks away.

So, where does Votto fit?

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For a team looking for an injection of offence, a return to some recent form would make Votto an intriguing addition. Limited to just 65 games last season with a shoulder injury, Votto hit for a meek .202 average with 14 homers and 34 RBI.

But if in his 18th season in the big leagues — and first with a team not named the Reds — Votto can get anywhere near his 2021 form when he slugged .562, drove in 99 runs and hit 36 homers, he could be a cost-efficient bench bat at Schneider’s disposal.

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In terms of immediate competition, the left-handed hitting Votto would square off with another camp invitee who sits from the left side, Daniel Vogelbach.

At his best, Votto had a keen batting eye (knowledge that can be valuable clubhouse currency) and to date has 356 big-league home runs.

In the clubhouse, Votto likely would be a popular veteran presence, well aware that his most influential playing days are behind him, but with the class and drive to believe he can still contribute offensively.

One would hope that Jays general manager Ross Atkins didn’t make the move just to salvage some public approval, but given how the winter has unfolded thus far, some Votto love can’t hurt.

The Etobicoke native has long been revered by Canadian baseball fans, albeit from afar as he spent the entirety of his storied career thus far in the National League.

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An engaging personality who wears his heart on his sleeve, whether on the field, in his public comments and most recently on social media (as demonstrated by his strong meme-ing ability as recently as Thursday), Votto figures to be a fan favourite — and his pursuit of a roster spot will be a dominant storyline during the remainder of spring training.

A seven-time winner of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s Tip O’Neill award, which honours excellence from baseball people in the country, Votto is a six-time all-star and was the 2010 National League MVP.

For now though, he is an aging, 17-year MLB veteran fighting for a bench role to keep a terrific career alive in the town he grew up and still owns a home in.

If his play is anywhere near as strong as the story, it will be a fitting final chapter in the baseball career of one Joey Votto.

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