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April 2, 2014

Fantasy Freestyle

Now is the Season of My Discontent

by Mike Gianella

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The day is done. The last player has been taken on reserve, the teams have been entered into the league’s stat service website, and the season is about the get underway. Everyone is excited for the potential his roster contains, the upside that his last one-dollar hitter or 23rd-round pick provides, and the idea that this is the year that he will take home the title.

Not me. I stare bleakly into nothingness (or—in this case—the now partially stocked bar in my brother-in-law’s basement). I’m afraid to look down at the spreadsheet I was using to track my auction, worried to see what four months of preparation and planning have wrought, afraid to face the inevitable, crushing realization that I’m going to have to face sooner rather than than later.

I hate my team.

These words are verboten in any kind of post-auction mortem. Everyone likes his team coming out of his auction, believes that he has put together the best fantasy team in the history of fantasy sports, and thinks that he is Branch Rickey and Billy Beane rolled into one.

Not me. I hate my team.

It isn’t a bad team. There is a decent amount of balance, a starter at every position except for my two $1 catchers, and six quality starting pitchers who should provide steady if not….

No. Stop. I can’t. I just can’t. This isn’t working for me anymore. I can’t lie to you, but honestly, more than anything else, I can’t lie to myself. This has nothing to do with winning or losing. It has everything to do with the way my rosters are always constructed, the rigidity with which I approach these drafts and auctions, and the feeling that while I’m very good at what I do ultimately I have to wistfully stare out the window into the distant horizon and wonder if it is worth doing.

No Superstars
I failed to purchase a player who cost more than $25. So I got plenty of value. Yay! Goody for me! My $10 Jimmy Rollins is a great bargain compared to the $16 he fetched in LABR or the $18 he was purchased for in Tout Wars. So what does this mean? It gives me a better chance of winning, but by now even I’m bored with this approach. When the auctioneer starts saying “going twice” on Carlos Gonzalez at $36, there’s a small part of me that is whispering live a little Mike.

Here was what my offense looks like

Yes, it’s an NL-only, because I’m adamant about listening to the never-ending drone of our auctioneer calling out yet another 150-at-bat backup catcher. This guy isn’t even in our league, yet he insists on coming out every year despite the fact that he and his wife have three kids and a fourth on the way (sorry we made you turn your cell phone off during the auction, Ralph, but rules are rules. The nice thing about the world we live in is that the pictures of your baby boy who was born during our auction are already on Facebook and Instagram, and are just as good as being there for the birth).

I’m so excited that I’m going to generate a lot of counting stats from these players because everyone except for Recker is an everyday player and…

No. No. I can’t do this anymore. Every time I say these words it makes me feel shabby. It might even be true. Maybe this squad of gray beards will all manage to stay healthy (Carlos Quentin went on the DL as I was typing this sentence and Lord I wish I were joking) and get 6,500 at bats. But who cares? Staying up late to watch the West Coast games so I can see if Juan Uribe scratched out a pair of meaningless singles: is this what my life has come to at this point? Apparently so, Mike. Apparently so.

No Rookies Either
Would it have killed me to throw a couple of bucks at Oscar Taveras or Archie Bradley just for the heck of it? Sure, it’s possible that they might not make it this year, but it would have been fun to own these guys. So many reliable, boring veterans…until of course, the reliable, boring veterans get old before our eyes and fade into oblivion. Who are the guys in their mid-30s who are suddenly going to turn into pumpkins? I don’t know… but they’re probably on my teams.

What’s Wrong With an Ace?
My pitching staff:

It’d sure be fun to watch someone like Stephen Strasburg, Cliff Lee, or Madison Bumgarner dealing at the front of my imaginary rotation. But why should I have any fun? We do this to be the most badass actuaries that we can possibly be, right? I mean who wouldn’t be excited to grab two fifths of the nondescript Brewers rotation and the 427-year-old Tim Hudson.

I know, I know, these guys will all probably perform (except for Henderson, the one guy where I decided to “live a little” and spend some money. Why not live a little on Craig Kimbrel instead, Mike?). But except for Cashner all these guys are going to put me to sleep during the season. I used to live for the thrill of flipping a game on and watching my automatic Pedro Martinez or Greg Maddux destroy everyone and simultaneously justify my $45-plus price tags. Those days are long gone. My sense of adventure disappeared somewhere down the line, and now I’m reluctant to take any kind of chances. I’m afraid of the injuries, the poor performance, the BABIP demons possessing my entire staff, etc., etc. Ben Franklin must have played fantasy baseball; for he was right when he said “those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.”

Can I Win With This Team?
Haven’t you been paying attention? I guess I can win, but what the heck is the difference? I’ve taken a game that is supposed to be fun and sucked all of the joy out of it. I’m a victim of my own success. “Oooooh, I got profit! Wow, I got value! I’m so awesome!” What is wrong with me? Why do I have to succumb to this exercise every year?

I’ve got to live with these boring, run-of-the-mill players all year. And I only have one chance to build my team. I gather with 11 other suckers who apparently think that the most fun thing to do on the first warm day in five months is sit in a cramped room with a bunch of other pasty faced dudes and fight tooth and nail for every player in an only league down to the last scrub. I used to remember every single player on my teams going back five or six years down to the last guy on my reserve list. Now I can’t even remember half the guys I just bought five minutes ago. I have taken something I used to love and have destroyed it. What’s the difference if I win? The money isn’t worth what I have done to the core of my soul, and how I have corrupted this innocent game.

I used to mock the vanilla mixed league players for not really sinking their teeth into this game of ours but now I wonder if they have the right idea. I see these guys knocking off their auctions in three hours, quaffing healthy amounts of adult beverages while leisurely picking their teams, and then enjoying the rest of their day out in the sun. Meanwhile, I’m arguing with someone five hours into my auction about whether or not Robinson Chirinos is catcher eligible or if I have to stick him at first base because we only use Major League eligibility (spoiler alert: the answer is very sad!). Maybe I’m going to win this year. Maybe I’m going to get my name on the trophy again. But so what? I don’t hate my players. But I hate my team. And I hate myself. I have created a monster, he is a horrible shell of what I once was, and he is the guy I see staring at me every time I look in the mirror. What hath this hobby wrought?

Mike Gianella is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mike's other articles. You can contact Mike by clicking here

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