Confessions of a fantasy baseball addict:  What about bailing?

With the first two calendar months of the season in the books, the time to look towards next season is occurring whether one wants to or not. Even if you think your team needs just a couple more weeks to recover, the other four or five teams at the bottom of the pack may think otherwise and make decisions that force your hand. For standard leagues, this essentially means focusing on the upcoming fantasy football season. For keeper leagues, though, it means something entirely different. Well for at least the week or two it takes to restructure your roster for a run at the league championship in 2010. In other words, bailing.

Bailing is an interesting phenomenon in 2009. The rules from the Official Rotisserie Baseball Handbook spoke specifically about player contracts in subsequent years. Essentially, the game was intended to be of the keeper league variety and AL- or NL-only. Then came the internet with its ease of standings calculation and free mixed leagues from internet service providers looking to bring eyeballs to their websites to bury traditional rotisserie baseball.

Before long, the game of “rotisserie baseball” morphed in “fantasy baseball” and its most popular format was the mixed league re-draft version. After several years of this, most participants playing fantasy baseball don’t know any better. So bailing becomes just another phrase with no real meaning.

For the hardcore minority who know only the “pure” version of the game, bailing brings all sorts of mixed feelings. On one hand, you understand and accept it as a rational decision by those who see little chance of finishing in the money this season and look to improve those chances for the following season. On the other hand, you know it destroys the competitive balance of the current season by juicing the teams who receive the players from the bailing team while watching the bailing team drop in the counting categories and give points to those teams who happened to be trailing the bailing team before hand.

The question is how to balance the two competing forces. Like water going downhill, teams in keeper leagues will find a way to prepare for the next season when they are no longer competitive in the current one. Mitigating the competitive destruction bailing wrought, or attempting to do so, is the goal.
The unhip way to do it is to allow a free-for-all that puts no limits on who and what can be dealt from the bailer to the bailee. Typically, this leads to a team dealing Albert Pujols and Jose Reyes for Gerardo Parra and Buster Posey. This is a scary environment and doesn’t ameliorate the corrosive and divisive effects of the bail.

So the next to come is the in-season salary cap. Essentially, the goal is not to unlopside the bail trade, but keep any one team from acquiring both Pujols and Reyes. Instead, each goes to separate teams for a player whose future value (a combination of salary, ability and control) is greater than the current value of Pujols or Reyes. This retains the freedom each team has to make whatever deal they feel best serves their future interests but prevents a team from supercharging his roster with two or three superstars.

From this point, the subjective evaluations of the bailing team turn towards the subjective evaluations of the other teams. Whether it is a commissioner veto or a league wide one, the teams not involved in the trade get final say on whether the bail trade moves forward.

Or rules can be established prescribing a fixed amount of distance between teams in the standings determines who can and cannot trade or a fixed distance between players salaries/round drafted are set. Penalties can also be assessed towards the teams who decide to violate these rules such as costing a team a draft penalties such as hits in draft order or salary cap.

All these efforts are attempts to balance the ability of a losing team to construct a more successful team for the following season(s) versus the inherent unfairness of the bail trade. All are also efforts to balance the subjective player valuations of the two teams involved in the bail trade versus those of the other six, eight, 10 teams in the league whose seasons are not completely sunk or hoping to still make a run for the Yoo-hoo.

And that is how teams are compelled to think bail even if they do not want to do so.

Are there solutions to the bail crisis or are there just not-as-bad options?

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  1. Eric Hinz said...

    My two keepers use the in-season cap.  it is $50 above the $260 draft cap and rises after the All-Star break in both cases.  One of the unintended consequences, though, is bailing teams are increasingly dealing protectable players who can be kept the following season.

    Not good.

  2. KY said...

    We have never been able to come up with a way to allow fire sales that does not completely screw things up.  We found that, no mater what your cap is, people will logically, push it to its limit, since their players for this year do them 100% no good and only keepers have value next year.  After years of hating the results of bailing we instituted a simple rule that works but destroys bailing, no player traded may be kept.  We also have a system that gives you more freeze slots the high you finish so there is incentive not to completely tank your roster for callups in September because you will be able to keep less of them.  The low is still 4 keepers so its not a big deal but if you get up into the middle you get 6.

  3. Jon said...

    I’m in two keeper leagues that use an in-season cap.  One we just moved the in-season cap from $300 to $320 (standard $260 auction cap) in hopes of spurring more trading. 

    The other league is 25-man roster ($280 auction cap) plus up to 8 reserves, here the cap is $360 but applies to both your active and reserve rosters, so teams going for the title might only have one or even no reserves and have $360 in their actives. 

    Bot work well and are compettive leagues.  Another option might be to reduce the number of keepers a league allows the more keepers, the more incentive it is for a team to “bail” and start forming a dominant keeper list.

  4. digglahhh said...

    On matters regarding the structural/policy matters of roto/fantasy baseball organization, I try to keep the underlying philosophy that you are attempting to recreate the dynamics of the game itself. You are simulating being an owner/GM, so one should not attempt to avoid having the deal with the real dilemmas your actual professional counterparts face. If pro teams bail to plan for the future, so, too should roto teams have the option. Fledging teams must be allowed to find a way to rebuild. Contenders must find a way to remain competitive and keep up with the Jones when another contender makes a deal to land a stud. I don’t advocate the entirely laissez fare market system, but the spirit of bailing must remain because it a large part of how teams reload. Here are a couple of ideas to mitigate the effects though.

    Apply a tax to players obtained through trade if kept. If you trade for Pujols, you have to pay 110% of his salary to keep him the following year.

    Sliding scale of league entry fee. Just to make the numbers easy – 10 team league. Finshers 4-7 pay 100% of entry fee. 1,2,3 pay 70%, 80%, 90% respectively. 8,9,10 pay 110%, 120%, 130% respectively. This actually mimics real dynamics too, in a sense, as there is a financial disincentive to put out an inferior product. A simpler version of this is to simply institute a substantial penalty for finishing in last place (doesn’t even have to be financial – one idea we’ve had before is to have an end of season party. Winner buys pizza and beer for the crew, last place owner has to host the party, clean, and be beer bitch for the duration of the party. This obviously doesn’t work unless all league participants live in reasonable proximity to one another.)

    Institute some level of salary match in trades. This is basically an adaptation of the NBA model, and it can work if your league is structured so that players are signed to contracts with escalating yearly salaries, as opposed to just eligible to kept at previous year’s salary.

    Here’s another idea, admittedly totally off the top of my head.  Modify the NBA model to use major league games played (or PAs or IPs) as the currency, instead of salary. If you give up Albert Pujols, the package you get in return must have a minimal amount of cumulative professional games played (or PAs or IPs). Obviously, this would max out so that a guy who has played five seasons isn’t any different than some who has played twelve. Totally arbitrary here, but if you give up a guy who has played over 600 games, your return package must be able to claim 200 career games played, or something. This means you can’t dump exclusively for prospects.  Actually this would probably work better using PAs or ABs, because then you could easily develop a way to convert IPs to PAs based upon the league average of batters faced per inning.

  5. 5150bosox said...

    Yes we have used an in-season salary cap with good success for the past six years.
    Here’s what we do:

    This protects the league from player-dumping and collusion.  The in-season salary cap for each team’s active roster will be $320. This dollar amount will take effect from the end of draft day until the end of the major league season.  Meaning: The total of all active player salaries shall not be more than $320 at any time.

    Our salary cap at the start of the auction is $280, $40 more is more than enough to control things. It works quite well.

  6. rotoworm said...

    We play in a 4×4 $260 roto league with a 10 man reserve.  We have used a $300 cap for the past 10 years for the active 23 man roster.  This is probably the best rule we ever passed.

  7. Mark said...

    Try a dynasty league.  In mine, with the ability to sign players up to 3 years, Option contracts and the ability to Franchise 3 players, Bailing does not work the same.  For instance, I am in 8th place in a 12 team h2h league with a $265 cap.  I could trade Reyes who I drafted and could easily get back 2 hot young players.  Thiw way I would have more money going into next years draft with needing two less players.  I would still be somewhat competitive as well.

  8. AB said...

    Interesting article…

    Within the past week, I was on the bailing side of one of the “unhip” ways to trade you mentioned.  Currently there are no limitations on in-season trades in my league.  My trade ended up causing some serious debate and we are considering more stringent rules next season.  The in-season salary cap is one method I hadn’t considered.  I’m curious to see others’ reactions to this article.

  9. Steve said...

    Anyone using the in-season salary cap?  How does that work?  Do you allow for xxx $$$ over the (usual) $260? to allow for trades?

  10. Scott said...

    I’m in a keeper league that enforces the $260 auction cap through the All-Star break, then expands rosters by a couple of players and adds $15 to the cap.  (No add/drop, big reserve rosters also.)  The in-season cap works well, most good teams will still have one or two overpriced guys to trade, so the “bail” isn’t a complete talent dump. 

    This kind of comes with a keeper auction league – everyone’s got good value before the auction starts, so the few big names on the auction block end up being expensive.  If any of them don’t perform (Big Papi) they end up making great salary balancers in trades.  This also means there’s an incentive not to blindly use your entire salary cap in the auction, $5-10 worth of space can make a trade much easier to swing.

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