Festivus time: the airing of grievances

Sometimes I allow myself to indulge in the delusion that there exists a substantial amount of readers who eagerly anticipate my columns each week. In this delusion, such readers are drawn to my columns because I provide useful information. Unfortunately for those readers, this column will not offer such information. Fortunately for me, this theoretical group may not even exist, so I likely won’t be disappointing anybody.

In the spirit of Festivus, I’d like to take some time this week to engage in some airing of grievances. The topic? Trades, and more specifically the ridiculous types of trade offers we are bombarded with every season. There are several distinct types of idiotic trade offers and I plan to complain about a few of them.

Now, before unleashing the vitriol, I will readily acknowledge that making trades in fantasy baseball is often rather difficult. As Jonathan Halket describes in his “Drafting to Trade” column:

To make a trade, there must be what economists call a “double coincidence of wants.” Your team must not only have something the other owner wants, but you must be willing to give up a player that the other owner values more highly than the player he is giving up.

It is often difficult to find a trade partner. An ideal trade partner would have some sort of deficiency in a category or position in which you have excess, while you must have an excess of something in which the other team has a deficiency. This confluence of circumstances is more rare than it sounds. The reality of an “imperfect market” makes even the simplest of trade strategies, “buy low/sell high,” somewhat challenging to actually execute. I understand that often times initial trade offers are intended to be a jumping off point for negotiations, but the whole trading process would be a lot less frustrating if owners avoided proposing the following types of non-starters in the first place.

The sports-talk radio proposal: I won’t presume to speak for anybody else. But for me, listening to sports talk radio is something approximating what I imagine being torture…, um, experiencing enhanced interrogation at the hands of the CIA would feel like. Occasionally, I will listen for a short period of time in order to confirm that I do have some masochist tendencies. The most inane of the inane calls into these radio stations must be the ones in which fans propose trades that their franchises should make. The underlying philosophy of these trade proposals seems to be that five 1978 Dodge Dusters equal one 2010 Maybach. No, I do not want a No. 3 starter and bench players for Ryan Braun, thank you. And, no throwing in a third and fourth bench player does not help make the proposal any more attractive.

The barely legal proposal: Sometimes, you’ll hear guys speak creepily about eagerly awaiting the moment when some attractive young teenage girl turns 18 so they can pounce. Yeah, I know it’s disgusting, but it happens. What does this have to do with fantasy baseball, you ask… Did you ever draft an injured stud on draft day at a large discount? Or, have you ever had one of your best players go down with an injury which keeps him out for a month or longer? Of course you have. And, of course you know what happens in this situation. As soon as that player regains health, the trade offers flood in. I did not draft an injured A-Rod at the 23rd overall pick so that I can trade him for the 25th overall pick after waiting for a month to get him into my lineup. If I wanted that player, I would have drafted him when I drafted the injured A-Rod.

The pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey proposal: Most trade offers are unattractive due to being poorly thought out, more so than being lopsided value-wise. Other owners just often, seemingly randomly, offer up some mass of semi-equal value for their targeted player without taking into account any practical context.

There are many forms the oblivious trade proposal can take, such as asking for my best source of stats for a single category while offering no contribution in that category in return, or offering me a position or category I already have an abundance of while asking for a position or category I’m fighting to remain competitive in.

I really wish people would go about proposing trades more intelligently and think about whether they are attempting to offer something that the other team might see as valuable. Identify the skill set/positional upgrade you are looking for and make a list of the players who fit that bill. Give some thought to what level of player you want to ask for and what players/categories you are most willing to give up. Look at the standings and rosters and see which teams are in need of what you are willing to give up and see if the any of the players on your list are on any of those teams. This is not rocket science, people!

I’m sure you readers out there have trade proposal horror stories and other awful trade proposal archetypes to share. So, let’s hear them. In addition to the trade proposal archetypes, there are also difficult owner archetypes. There’s the owner who overvalues all of his players and always wants something for nothing. There’s the overzealous owner who constantly hounds you to make trades, despite the fact that you’ve made it clear you aren’t interested. There’s the owner who stalks a player of yours and sends you offer after offer for that player (although this case can be advantageous because it’s basically an invitation to propose a lopsided offer to that owner that includes the player he wants). Feel free to chime in with your thoughts about owner types as well.

Before signing off, I will attempt to impart a piece of useful information (I feel a little guilty). I’ve touched on this point before, but I’d like to make it explicit here, in practicality, there is no such thing as a two-for-one trade in most forms of fantasy baseball. There is always a fourth player involved in these trades. Fantasy teams are not major league franchises; we don’t have several levels of minor league teams plus baseball academies in foreign countries to stash a virtually infinite amount of players. When you make a two-for-one trade, you must drop somebody on your team to accommodate the new player. In most two-for-one trades, the team getting the two players plans to play both of those players in their starting lineup. This also means that the trade pushes that team’s worst producing regular (or positional overstock) to the bench along with pushing a bench player to the waiver wire.

Therefore, a team does not reap the full value of the second player. The true value-add of that second player is the difference between that player and the player he will replace in your starting lineup.

In one sense, you can view the value as being the difference between the new player and the old starter, plus the difference between the old starter and the team’s least valuable bench player. These trades can strengthen your bench, but it is somewhat ambiguous as to how we can quantify that value, as that value is largely non-contributive to your bottom line. This secondary affect on team depth is worth noting, though.

This isn’t really an incredibly advanced concept, but I’ve noticed that people all too often neglect to keep it in mind when proposed with a two-for-one. For this reason, two-for-ones often look to be more appealing on paper than they are prudent in practice.

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  1. Biggy said...

    We have an owner in our league who is famous for shopping the last player on his bench for a week or 2 before cutting him.  2 years ago, it was Gil Meche.  This past year, it was Scott Downs.  It’s a running joke in our league, but the crap of it is, he succeeds sometimes!  He also is notorious for writing in his notes below the trade why it’s such a bad deal for him. 

    Maybe I’m just mad that I was suckered into Scott Downs (pre-injury) for Pablo Sandoval, and he won the league by 25 points over me in second.  Or maybe I’m mad at the guy who gave him Prince Fielder.

  2. Matt said...

    There is an owner in my NL Only keeper league who has the single worst trading strategy in the history of fantasy baseball.  Mind you, this is a super-competitive league that has been in existence for about 25 years (and which I was lucky to get involved about 6 years ago).  But this owner, let’s call him “Trent”, has the terrible habit of proposing trades like the following:

    “Hey Matt.  Make me a trade offer.  I want to make my team better for next year, but also stay in the race this year.  And I won’t give up [insert list of 12 out of 15 hitters and any starting pitcher who is at least a #2 on his respective team].”

    Basically, Trent sends emails inviting me to propose trade offers, but only for players I would never want.  Additionally, when I do actually propose a trade to Trent, he NEVER makes any counter-offers, but essentially says “no, make another offer”. 

    Derek, this is the single most frustrating fantasy owner I have ever tried to deal with, and I have been playing in fantasy sports leagues for 18 years.  And to add insult to injury, he always ends up trading with this other owner (we will call him “Milton”), and the league has started jokingly referring to Trent’s team as “Milton’s AAA Affiliate”.

    So frustrating!

    P.S. – Derek, you have some great columns.  Count me in your legions of fans.

  3. Mitch Brannon said...

    I’m in a keeper league about 5 years old. A few years ago one owner desperately wanted Prince Fielder, who I had picked up for near the minimum salary just before he broke out. After rejecting several ridiculous trade offers I finally counter-offered for his Tim Linceum, who he also somehow acquired for near the minimum.

    While Fielder has blossomed more than I thought he would, I’m still pretty pleased with that trade. I may be wrong but I’ve always thought it easier to find a mashing 1B than a true ace at a very low price. As playoffs near, just about every team is looking for SP, and rarely 1B.

    Of course now I have to fend off the constant offers for Lincecum as well as Josh Johnson. And I have to remember to not out-think myself and end up making a trade just to make a trade. I regret nearly all trades I end up doing.

  4. Jason B said...

    I think you touched on it in the article – my most cringe-inducing proposal is the “five dandelions = one rose” variety (was going to be more colorful and profane, but decided to save that bullet for later use). 

    No, you *can’t* have Chase Utley for Laynce Nix, Ryan Madson, Fernando Tatis, John Maine, and Carlos Ruiz. 

    Nor can you have Chris Carpenter for Kyle Lohse, Ronnie Belliard, Yorvit Torrealba, and Bronson Arroyo. 

    Not even if you throw in John Baker.

    And I’m with Matt.  Although I dunno if two fans can legally constitute a ‘legion’.  I think you need at least three for that.

  5. Andrew P said...

    I think an interesting aspect to this topic is the art of catering your own trade proposals to each owner.

    For instance, as Derek notes, there aren’t typically 2 for 1 offers (DL spots, and leagues with minors’ rosters might make for circumstantial exceptions), yet some people still treat trade offers as if 2 for 1s do exist.  Naturally, this is a potential inefficiency to exploit (of course, owners are more likely to notice this when they’re the ones who have to drop someone).

    I find that an effective way to counter the sports-talk radio owner, as well as the endowment effect owner, is to turn their strategies against them.  If you’re offered a 4-for-1 deal for your stud, just counter with a 4-for-1 for his stud.  Either the bad offers will stop, or you’ll have unearthed an error in your opponent’s thinking that is worth exploiting (again, this is a lot less likely when it’s for one of THEIR studs).  For the endowment effect owner, you can counter their bias by using ADP as well as how they’ve valued players in their previous trades.  Typically, they’ll just get flummoxed by the obvious contradiction in their pre- and post-ownership valuations.

    For the donkey-tail owner, there isn’t much you can do except tell them why it’s a poorly-reasoned offer.  For you creative types, these offers are generally a good opportunity to get a third team involved.  It’s even more difficult to pull off than a typical trade, but the rewards can make it worth attempting.

    For the owner/s in John’s league (I call this the Scott Boras approach), adapting their strategy can sometimes be effective (primarily to weaker owners).  Though most of us don’t go so far to hype their own players, we do all tend to skew our valuations so as to maximize trade value.  Typically, I find the rewards of such an approach to be more beneficial than the potential downsides.  Simple repetition of a player’s name is probably correlated to a raise in value in a manner similar to the way it works in the politics (though oversaturation tends to lead to polarization and might alienate potential trade partners).  It’s a simplistic analogy, but it tends to work.

    I’m certainly guilty of pulling the strategy of the owner in Matt’s league (though maybe not as obnoxiously).  I’ll approach a potential partner and tell them that I’m interested in such and such player and am curious what they’d want in return.  In the dynasty league I’m in, I have the reputation of “winning” every one of my trades (though trading Andre Ethier for Josh Fields [the 3B variety] at the beginning of last year is a pretty strong counter to that reputation).  Anyways, any trade I offer tends to be looked at suspiciously.  Though some other owners probably find it irritating, I find it easier to get a deal done when my trade partner feels that they were the one that came up with the offer, even if the actual player exchange is the same.

    If you guys have any more insights, or criticism of my rationale, I always enjoy the conversation.

    And as far as Derek’s fans go, I’ll make myself the 3rd fan, thus constituting a true “legion.”

  6. Andrew said...

    I guess I’m 4th among the “legion” tho as much as I like Mr. Ambrosino, he’s still not my favorite Derek for THT.

  7. Commish said...

    This is unequivocally the most brilliant piece of trade banter I have read.  True on all points…I wish there was a sarcasm font I could use when rejecting trade offers allowing me to receive Ellsbury and Brett Myers for Halladay AND Werth(cuz I need steals)

    John, in the spirit of Festivus, a donation has been made in your name to The Human Fund.

    Thanks for the thoughful article.

  8. john m said...

    last year i took a flyer on an already existing dynasty league on espn.  my team was your standard burned out house of a roster, held up by some decent pitching.  the league was dominated by two guys (possibly in cahoots) who were fielding all-star teams backed by blue chip farm options.  in this league i was barraged with THE HYPE JOB.

    this is pretty self-explanatory.  this guy targets someone on your roster and then uses his own special blend of sports-talk-radio + pin-the-tail-on-the-chicago-cub (i just said that!) and then adds a special concoction of baseball adapted verbs for violent hitting action (raking, slaying, etc.) and/or heat-related adjective (untouchable, on fire, other cliches) to pummel and harangue the owner into submission.  his guys were raking (think: joe crede, for a week here and there)!  your guys are washed up!  his guys can help you so much!

    his trade offers were so bad, but his team was so loaded.  did the other owners get so sick of listening to him that they caved to make him stop?  was there personal resolve so shaken that they ended up believing him? 

    it was bad.  but at the end of the day, i can hang my hat on the fact that i traded the guy pre-suspension manny ramirez and pre-injury/trade jake peavy for brett anderson, joba chamberlain, brian mccann, (pre-offensive-explosion) kendry morales and jason bartlett.  and then it really hit the fan.

  9. Millsy said...

    Cringe-inducing trade for our league:

    Some clown in a public ESPN auction league offered a trade: Pablo Sandoval, Joe Mauer and Felix Hernandez for Victor Martinez and Edwin Jackson about a month into the season.  I accepted.

    The good part was he was giving me Mauer, Sandoval and Felix.  I won the league by a lot.  I’m not sure what he was thinking…

  10. Derek Ambrosino said...

    Thanks for the love, fellas.

    I have an owner like the one Biggy mentioned in one of my leagues (actually, it’s a buddy’s college league, and we basically split that team). Anyway, a common two week period in that owner’s life goes like this.

    Days 1-3: Random, marginal player produces at totally unsustainable pace.

    Day 4: Owner picks him up

    Days 5-6: Player begins to cool down, by putting up useful, but not standings-altering days.

    Days 7-9: While still on owner’s team, player reverts to unownable status

    (at this time jokes begin to appear on msg board about how we should expect trade offers that include this crappy player)

    Days 10-13: Owner sends out a dizzying array of offers, many of which include the crappy player as the throw-in in a two-for-one. This dovetails with my later point nicely because the owner does not realize that this approach makes the trade an even weaker prospect considering the “throw-in” isn’t even rosterable in the first place and the receiving owner would have to drop a superior player to make rooml ostensibly making the proposal a two-for-one in the other direction. This is such a stupid idea, yet the owner in question is generally competitive and has placed before in what is a pretty good quality league. Sometimes I struggle to reconcile these two facts.)

    Day 14: Owner dumps Fernando Tatis, or whomever, back onto the waiver wire.

    (Day 15: Repeat the cycle with Daniel Murphy)

    Though not a trade situation, and more humorous than annoying, we used to have an owner in my main league who had a very amusing habit of picking up no name guys the day after they had some career day. It’s like he thought the stats were on tape delay or something. But if Nick Punto had 4 hits and drove in 4 runs on Tuesday, we’d wake up on Wednesday and that add/drop in action.

    /prepares to wrestle MDS.

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