Generally speaking, there is a familiar formula for building a World Series team. Some clubs—normally with smaller payrolls—build their team almost entirely through the farm system. Other clubs establish a few key players in the farm system, then hit free agency to add further stars.
The Boston Red Sox went about things in a different way, and it ultimately led them to a World Series title.
After faltering last August (and ultimately finishing last in the American League East), general manager Ben Cherington was given the opportunity to shed several huge contracts and start over in the winter.
He took it, trading Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto to the Los Angeles Dodgers for James Loney and four prospects (Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Ivan De Jesus and Jerry Sands), in a move that cleared $264.69 million in guaranteed money over the durations of the contracts for the Sox.
Cherington had options. He could have sat on that money and made a few deals here and there to fill out his roster, looking to rebuild through the farm system. But with players like David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia still around, there was enough currently on the roster to build around in the present.
And he could have used his newfound money to chase high-profile, expensive free agents. But after just trading away several big contracts that didn't pan out, that approach would have been counterintuitive.
So instead of fully rebuilding or chasing after superstars, Cherington focused on adding veteran players that he thought could be productive immediately and were willing to sign low-risk contracts.
He signed a total of seven players—Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Dempster, Koji Uehara and David Ross—along with signing David Ortiz to a contract extension, for a total of $112 million.
Of the incoming free agents, only Victorino was signed to a deal that was longer than two years.
At the time, the approach seemed unorthodox and ill-fated. Why spend so much money on so many middle-of-the-road veterans?
But in hindsight, it was pretty brilliant. The Red Sox already had their stars in place, but they didn't have a group of quality role players to surround them with. If the deals didn't work out, they would always be free of them in a season or two, anyway.
And if that was the case, they could go into a full rebuild, what with Ellsbury hitting free agency this winter. There was little to no risk in the approach, other than the possibility of a season or two of mediocre baseball.
Of course, the moves worked out. Sure, the Red Sox got lucky in some ways. In the winter, they had traded for closer Joel Hanrahan, hoping he could lock up the ninth inning. That didn't work out, but Uehara ended up being lights out in the role.
And who could have envisioned the revitalization of John Lackey? He was not only one of Boston's most consistent starters all season long, but also the Game 6 winner in the World Series.
After a rocky stint with the team, how crazy is it that he would have the ball in the clincher?
A bit of luck and fortune isn't a new aspect to the World Series formula. But an offseason approach of spending money on a number of veteran, low-risk contracts certainly was unorthodox. Don't be surprised if a few teams with a core group of stars decide to mimic the approach in seasons to come.
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