[Multiple sources now confirm that Joey Votto and the Reds have reached an organization-defining agreement extending the first baseman’s contract ten years. This post is the first in a series here over the next few days analyzing the economics of the Votto contract.]

How does Joey Votto’s new agreement compare with other MLB contracts?

Before yesterday’s big news, two of the four MLB contracts for over $200 million belonged to a single player, Alex Rodriguez, who signed one each with the Yankees and the Texas Rangers. Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder joined this elite club earlier this off-season. Adrian Gonzalez, Mark Teixeira and Ryan Howard are also first basemen who signed deals paying them more than $20 million a year.

The table below establishes the context for Votto’s deal. It organizes the data for the recent mega-contracts signed by first basemen into columns for the age of the player at the start of the contract, the total amount of the contract, the duration and span of the contract and the annualized salary.

[table id=101 /]

Of the six in this market, Albert Pujols’ contract is the most generous and runs until the lastest age. That’s arguably well deserved because he’s in the “best hitter since Babe Ruth” conversation. Votto owns a Gold Glove, as do Teixeira (4), Gonzalez (3) and Pujols (2). The Reds’ first baseman has been his league’s MVP, as have Pujols (3) and Howard (1).

The Tigers’ offer to Fielder surprised many analysts. The second highest bidding team was reportedly the LA Dodgers who offered Fielder 7 years at $160 million. Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated described the Fielder signing as an “ownership-driven, impulsive” contract. The Tigers’ 72-year old owner, Mike Illitch, is known to want desperately a World Series championship for the city of Detroit. The Fielder deal has further been criticized as too large for a player who may end up spending the latter part as a DH.

The Votto contract is roughly in line with comparable signings. The most remarkable aspect was that the agreement was reached two seasons before Votto’s free agency, which is virtually unique among the comparison contracts. Only the much-shorter Howard deal was equal in that regard. Votto negotiated only with the Reds; he was not engaged in a bidding war like those exploited by Fielder and Pujols. The Reds must have felt these terms were better than ones they could have reached a year or two from now.

Possibly the most important way the Votto contract stands alone can be seen by comparing the club payrolls for the six teams. The Reds’ projected 2012 payroll ($82 million) is less than half that of the Yankees ($208 million), Red Sox ($169 million), Phillies ($166 million) and substantially below the Angels ($146 million) and Tigers ($128 million).