Dick Groch is currently an executive in the Milwaukee Brewers' front office, working in pro scouting and player personnel.
But back in 2002, he was a scout for the New York Yankees. And eight years later, he still thinks about the one who got away in the Bronx.
The itch that Groch still can't scratch is Joey Votto(notes), first baseman for the Cincinnati Reds and reigning MVP of the National League. As he remembers it for ESPN New York, the Yankees wanted Votto in the 2002 draft and almost had him.
Looking back at that draft, the Yankees' first-round pick in 2002 went to the Oakland Athletics as compensation for signing Jason Giambi(notes) as a free agent. (With that pick, the No. 24 selection, the A's took Joe Blanton(notes).) Between that and the compensatory sandwich pick, the Yankees didn't have a selection until the second round, No. 71 overall.
But to listen to Groch, the Reds — who will host New York Monday night as they start an interleague series — took Votto shortly before the Yankees' pick.
Such wistfulness must have been caused by the Yankees coming within a pick or two of their marked man, right? Well, not quite. The Reds actually picked Votto with the third pick of the second round, No. 44 overall. Twenty-six other players were drafted before the Yankees' first selection of the day came up at No. 71.
"(Votto) was right at the top of our board at the time. In fact, we would have taken him had the Reds not taken him," said Mark Newman, senior vice president of operations.
OK, but the Orioles could've taken Votto after that. Or the Expos. Or the Royals, Brewers, Tigers, Rockies and ... well, just about every other team in baseball. Many other teams would've also had to pass on Votto before he became available to the Yankees.
But let's say Groch had gotten his wish and the Yankees had drafted Votto. Think about how much else might've worked out differently. Obviously, the Reds wouldn't have had the league MVP in their lineup last season. But let's draw this out a little bit further.
Votto made it to the majors by 2007. By then, injuries had relegated Giambi mostly to designated hitter. So the Yankees' primary first baseman was Doug Mientkiewicz(notes), with Andy Phillips, Miguel Cairo(notes) and Josh Phelps also seeing significant time at that position. Votto probably would've fit nicely into that lineup.
But Giambi was fully healthy the next season, so maybe Votto would've been blocked at Triple-A. Or a trade chip in some kind of deadline deal for starting pitching.
Something else to consider is that 2008 is when Votto lost his father. Not dealing with that loss properly led to a battle with depression and anxiety that put Votto on the disabled list the following season. How would that struggle have been portrayed by the New York media? Would he have been criticized? Or is it possible that such mental health issues would've been treated with more sympathy under a larger spotlight? Would Votto have not even revealed — and thus properly dealt with — the problem, for fear of how he'd be perceived by the New York City media?
However, if Votto was in the Yankees' system in 2009, would the team have signed Mark Teixeira(notes) as a free agent? Would Teixeira have stayed with the Angels? Would he have signed with the Red Sox, Orioles or Nationals? Going to the Yankees worked out pretty well, as Teixeira finished with 39 homers, 122 RBIs and a second-place finish in AL MVP voting. And oh yeah, the Yankees won the World Series.
But one season later, Votto was a near-unanimous selection for NL MVP.
The actual chain of events ended up working out pretty well for all parties involved.
Whether Dick Groch and the rest of his ex-colleagues choose to remember it that way is another matter, though.