The Red Sox and Fantasy Baseball

Has the Red Sox GM been playing too much fantasy baseball? Consider this:

In 2011, the Boston Red Sox signed two new major contracts:

Adrian Gonzalez $22 million per year (inked near the start of the 2011 season)
Carl Crawford $20.3 million

The 2011 season, however, ended with the Sox’s epic September collapse. And 2012 was even worse, despite a similar cast of characters. Crawford missed most of the year with injuries, and Gonzalez had a bit of a down year (15 HR). The Sox finished 2012 in last place in the East with a 69-93 record. Both Crawford and Gonzalez (and their huge contracts) were shipped to LA when it was clear the Sox’s season was hopeless.

This appears to me to be one of those strange times of real baseball imitating fantasy. In 2012, the Red Sox tried a stars and scrubs approach. Grab a couple of top-tier guys, even if it means leaving some gaps on your roster (Mike Aviles as your starting SS? Felix Doubront in the rotation?).

But when the Red Sox’s big-money stars didn’t pan out, they weren’t able to contend. It can happen in fantasy baseball, too. That’s the risk you run when you have so many eggs in so few baskets.

In 2013, the Red Sox’s acquisitions have looked different:

Mike Napoli $13 million per year
Shane Victorino $13 million
Ryan Dempster $13.3 million

Gone are the big, $20+ million per annum deals, despite opportunities to get someone like Hamilton or Greinke. After getting burned by big deals in 2011-12, the Red Sox wiped the slate clean and took a new tact in 2013: Short-term deals to mid-tier players.

In fantasy baseball terms, they’ve given up on a stars and scrubs strategy; now they are playing spread-the wealth. Field an entire team of good-not-great players, and no single injury can cripple the team. Plus, Napoli and Victorino are coming off down years — a perfect chance to try to get some surplus value if they can bounceback.

I write this post before seeing how 2013 plays out, because I don’t want this team’s success or failure to be viewed as a case for or against either plan. In fantasy, sometimes stars and scrubs doesn’t work out. And sometimes it does. Spreading the wealth can build a successful team, and it can create a cellar-dweller.

With baseball — real or fantasy — there’s much more to success than how good your roster looks on Opening Day.