Armed with a monster new deal Cincinnati's Joey Votto helps lead the Reds into the 2012 season this afternoon against the Miami Marlins at Great American Ball Park.
Votto officially agreed to a contract extension Wednesday, adding 10 years and $225 million to his current deal, keeping him with the Reds through 2023. The deal also includes a no-trade clause and has a club option for 2024.
"Joey not only is one of the game's best players, but on the field and in the community he represents himself, the organization and our city with extraordinary professionalism and dignity," Reds president and CEO Bob Castellini said. "We certainly are proud to be able to keep him in Cincinnati for 12 more years."
Votto hit .309 with 29 home runs and 103 runs batted in last season, posting career-highs in doubles (40) and walks (110), and earned his first Gold Glove award to go with his second consecutive All-Star appearance.
With Votto now locked up long term, the Reds will try to turn the page on a disappointing 2011 season.
Coming off its first postseason appearance in 15 years - albeit an inglorious three-game sweep at the hands of the Philadelphia Phillies - manager Dusty Baker's squad was thought by many the class of a perceived downtrodden National League Central Division.
Instead, the Reds failed to capitalize on the momentum of an unexpected rise and drifted back to the pack in the Central, falling 12 games to third behind the division-winning Milwaukee Brewers and the wild card-seizing St. Louis Cardinals, who rode their own timely wave to a surprise World Series title.
Fast-forward 12 months and the "spring training favorite" label has returned to the banks of the Ohio River, with a flurry of offseason acquisitions and the statistical progression of stockpiled prospects leading many to quickly assume Cincinnati will again be, errr ... hunting for a Reds October.
Clouding the optimism this spring, however, has been an unwelcome spate of injuries.
Right-handed closer Ryan Madson, brought in from the Phillies after saving 32 games in 34 chances, had a sore elbow diagnosed as something far worse and will undergo ligament-replacement surgery that's already shelved him for the 2012 season.
Into his place steps former Chicago Cubs flame-thrower Sean Marshall, who has seven big-league saves and seven blown saves in 234 career relief appearances since 2006.
Another new face is 24-year-old righty Mat Latos, who came from San Diego in exchange for long-time prospect Yonder Alonso and one-time all- star Edinson Volquez, who'd won 17 games after coming from Texas in the Josh Hamilton trade, but was subsequently hampered by arm trouble.
Latos won 14 games with the Padres in 2010 and allowed just 168 hits in 194 1/3 innings last season while winning nine times in 23 decisions.
Heading to the hill today for the Reds will be right-hander Johnny Cueto, who was a mere 9-5 last season with a 2.31 ERA. Injuries, though, limited him to just 24 starts.
"I am ready for Opening Day," Cueto said. "I feel like I am the No. 1 now, but I have to keep working to stay on top. I have learned a lot and I have grown a lot."
Miami, meanwhile, will take another crack at nailing down its first win of the season following a 4-1 loss to defending champion St. Louis in Wednesday's season-opener at brand new Marlins Park.
The Marlins did not get a hit until the seventh inning.
"We've got to give credit to the people who played better than we did," said manager Ozzie Guillen, who was managing his first game with the team. "They got big hits, they pitched well. They made a couple of plays in the field, especially the outfield. They just beat us."
Josh Johnson (0-1), making his third straight Opening Day start for the Marlins, was touched for three runs on 10 hits over six frames in defeat.
Tonight, the Marlins unveil another new face in left-hander Mark Buehrle, who after spending the first 12 years with the Chicago White Sox will make his National League debut.
The 32-year hurler has been the model of consistency over his career, with 2011 marking his 11th straight season with at least 200 innings, 10 wins and 30 starts, the longest active streak in baseball. He was 13-9 last season with a 3.59 ERA in 31 starts.
These teams split six matchups last season.