If you’re lucky enough to be near the top of the standings in your league, you probably haven’t spent a lot of time considering those who are unfortunate to be near the bottom. But you should.
Last week, on subscription Website BaseballHQ, Ron Shandler posted a column entitled: “How to make enemies and influence pennant races.”
In the piece, Shandler talked about going into the 2009 season in one of his expert keeper leagues with a strategy to punt the year in the interest of rebuilding for 2010. Heading into the draft this year, he only kept players whose contracts would be desirable the following spring. During the draft, he built a large reserve of high-ceiling prospects. And when things didn’t go exactly as planned to start this season, he e-mailed the league to let everybody know that his best players, including Carl Crawford and Ryan Howard, would soon be dealt for attractive keepers.
Dump trades can be an irritating but inevitable aspect of keeper leagues, but Shandler took things a step further: After receiving some offers, he then upped the ante by sending out another e-mail that publicized in full detail all of them—inviting league members to step up to the plate and win the competition for his players with full knowledge of what everyone in the league was offering.
Unfortunately, in many fantasy leagues and particularly in keeper ones, those who are out of competition can, as Shandler’s column title accurately puts it, influence pennant races.
Not every hard-luck team is a rabble-rouser like Mr. Shandler either. Some can shake up the competitive balance of the league in more subtle ways.
Consider the team who falls out of competition, loses interest, and fails to make basic lineup adjustments like replacing an injured player in the active lineup. That team’s neglect may amount to free points and standings gain for some teams who under normal circumstances might languish.
Other teams may do things much more drastic like cutting a good player out of spite.
In short, any team that loses hope becomes prone to irrational roster moves, rash trading behavior, and unbecoming conduct that dampens the competitive security of those who are in the lead.
Successful teams need to take time to consider how to deal with the less fortunate.
In some instances, this requires, yes, charity.
If I’m doing well enough in the standings and I see a player on waivers who I can’t use, but I know this player might help one of the struggling teams, I might tactfully point it out to the team. (Besides, a good player that’s added to the last-place team’s roster doesn’t get taken by your nearest competitor.)
Also, I try not to go into trade negotiations with a struggling team with the idea that I’m going to rip them off and rob them of any competitive hopes. First, being generous makes a potential deal more likely. Second, the strategy raises the bar on negotiations between the struggling team and other competitors. And lastly, I want to mitigate the risk that a struggling team’s further performance decline becomes beneficial and advantageous to other teams.
Sometimes, however, being nice won’t do the trick.
Some stubborn teams have given up hope and wish to have some fun and excitement at the expense of others. What to do? Challenge their pride? Organize some sort of collective action against the trouble-maker? Sink to their level and become the beneficiary of the league’s king-maker?
It often depends on circumstance.
In Shandler’s case, he is, no doubt, a rabble-rouser, but at least he’s got his team at heart.
If I’m playing in his league, I don’t ignore him. Being non-cooperative can only result in ending up as the loser. Dealing with Shandler becomes the only choice.
Playing Shandler’s game by Shandler’s rules, however, is a completely different story. In next week’s column, I’ll be delving into some classic game theory to try to figure out a strategy that counters Shandler’s gambit.