How to deal with a rabble-rouser like Ron Shandler

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.

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  1. Andrew said...

    “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.”

    That is collusion in my opinion.

  2. Eriq Gardner said...

    Collusion implies an agreement between parties. There’s no agreement or secret arrangement. It’s advice, pure and simple, and the other team is free to accept or reject the advice.

  3. Fowlezeroth said...

    Delightfully Machiavellian!  I am near dead last in my league.  I’m going to drop Bedard, Fielder, Pedroia, Harang, Nolasco and others. Then tell other teams to pick them up!!! They will all then love me next year!!! INGENIOUS

  4. Toffer Peak said...

    It may not be collusion per se but many people, myself included, would consider it slightly unethical. Teams shouldn’t be persuading other teams to make moves with the intent that they will weaken their competitors.

    Sure you should feel free to talk about players amongst teams in your league but pointing out specific waiver wire players that you think will weaken your competitors seems like its going too far.

    As far as preventing dumping in keeper leagues, I have always felt that if this is a problem then there is probably something wrong with the league set up. Assuming it is a money league I have always felt that they put way too much emphasis on winning (or being in the top 3). In money leagues pride as a motivating factor tends to diminish, if not disappear, therefore teams outside of the top 3 tend not to care whether they come in fourth or twelfth. This leads to some pretty large dump trades, inactive rosters, etc., all of which make the league less interesting for all participants.

    One solution that I’ve thought of but not yet implemented is to award money to all teams other than last. Something along the lines of $10 for eleventh place, $20 for tenth, etc. On top of that third through first would get an additional $50 to $150 respectively. This system would still give teams a big incentive to make it into the top 3 but would also keep teams at the bottom interested and active as they would still gain something by playing well. There would still be an incentive to rebuild for next year but teams would also be punished for completely giving up this year (sort of like real baseball).

    Anybody see anything wrong with such a system?

  5. Scooty Puff, Sr said...

    shandler’s behavior in publicizing trade offers received in hopes of getting better offers, AS USUAL, is unethical, poor sportsmanship, and smacks of the “take my ball and go home” mindset he so often espouses in respect to “his” fantasy leagues.  I can’t believe I ever bought his book.

  6. Nathan said...

    I guess I’m confused as to why this is bad for Shandler to do?  GMs of real teams, during trade times, are certainly letting other GMs know who is available and what others are offering, with the hope of getting a better offer.  This seems no different. 

    Now, it’s perfectly within the rules of the game for that guy to pull back his trade offer in response, but I’m not sure why he’d do that.  Hopefully your offer stands up.  If it doesn’t, improve it or go without.

  7. Eriq Gardner said...

    Not sure that Shandler’s behavior is unethical. That would mean he’s exercising poor morality, and the issue of how he trades doesn’t really hit that territory.

    At worst, Shandler is displaying poor etiquette. I assume that other owners sent him offers with the expectation that the negotiations would remain private. When Shandler publicized the offers, he betrayed that trust.

    Shandler certainly had the right to do what was in his team’s best interest, but I expect there could be repercussions the next time that a fellow owner in his league negotiates with him. Shandler may end up making a trade that benefits his team, but if his goal is to improve the long-term viability of his team, breaching relations and decorum with his league-mates could have a negative effect on his team’s long-term outlook.

    That’s why it’s an etiquette issue as far as I’m concerned.

  8. Eriq Gardner said...

    Yes, again, collusion is a secret arrangement between two owners. It implies some quid pro quo. If a team agreed to chase a certain category at the behest of another owner in return for future considerations, then I would agree that would be collusion.

    I don’t think that giving a team some feedback goes quite that far.

    Replying to Toffer’s point, I’m not talking about persuading teams to make moves counter to their own interests. I would agree that would be unethical.

    I don’t think that giving a team some advice on how to improve goes quite that far either.

    Are you guys saying there should be a prohibition on talking about the fantasy value of players among league members? Are you guys saying that, for example, sending a link to an interesting Hardball Times Fantasy Focus story is out of bounds? Are you guys saying that countries shouldn’t give foreign aid to poorer nations if, in part, they do so to promote economic stability and discourage violence and terrorism? OK…probably going a tad too far there.

    In any case, I would never offer advice with the expectation of receiving any consideration and I would never offer advice that was dishonest and wouldn’t actually benefit the team receiving it. Furthermore, I try to be an open book. For better or for worse, when anybody comes to me with a question, I try to honestly answer it, or politely demur. Even competitors.

  9. Scooty Puff, Sr said...

    Ok, I’ll give you the breach of etiquette.  Give me poor sportsmanship and I’ll call it even.  It’s up to his fellow owners to enforce a code of conduct and refuse to trade with him.  I wouldn’t (and haven’t) let that kind of thing fly without consequence. 

    As far as suggesting that another owner pick somebody up, well, advice is free and I certainly don’t see anything wrong with it.  Presumably your colleague knows why you are suggesting it and can make up his or her own mind.

  10. Mad Bum said...

    Real life teams hold fire sales as well. They may not do so as publicly as Shandler did, but after awhile everybody learns what the price is for the fire sale players. Since fantasy is supposed to be a reflection of real life baseball, it doesn’t really offend me as to what Shandler is doing.

    As for providing helpful advice to loser teams. I do it all the time. It helps build rapport with another owner who you may want to deal with later on, or the following season. If you check, you might see that a lot of teams trade with the same people over and over because there is trust there. It’s the same reason people are reluctant to trade with someone who has burned them in the past or who is a jerk about trades are is always trying to rip you off. there’s no trust. if it builds trust, it’s alright.

  11. Fowlezeroth said...


    you have to build trust by selling off your team in my league. I know guys who would not trade matt kemp to save their mother’s life. that dude speaks only spanish has an extremely large forehead and has been caught touching his &*!@# during draft day.

    i for one think that there is no such thing as morality in a game.  its fantasy dudes. it counts for nothing.

  12. kwak said...

    In my keeper league (i’m commish) i instituted a rule to help prevent tanking. We are in a 3-year “contract” where we all bought in. As part of my pay out there is a Dynasty Winner, the team that has the best overall finish over a three year span wins an extra $200. Hopefully that will prevent gratuitous tanking. Plus, the 5th place guy gets his choice of draft spot the next year, and on down from there, with 3-2-1 getting the last spots.

  13. Owen said...

    I just joined a keeper Survivor league.  The last place team each year gets kicked out.  We start with 9, and by the end of year 3 we only have 7 teams competing.  This helps tanking too.

  14. Millsy said...

    We’ve run into this problem the past couple years in my keeper league (actually, I think I had something to do with it).  This year we implemented a consolation tournament (winner gets an extra keeper slot or minor league slot for one season).  I’m all for allowing people to trade what they want (though sometimes I vehemently argue with trades that make my competitors any good…whether or not they’re worse than the deals I make).  No one likes it…and there’s ways to incentivize not totally dumping.  It’s going to happen, though, and it actually brings some realism to the league (especially when you have contracts, options, minors, etc.).  The same thing happens in MLB (see CC Sabathia…I’m sure the Mets weren’t too happy about that one).

    Either way there’s risk involved on both sides.  I’m in first-ish place in my league just traded cheap contracts of Andrew Bailey, Antonio Bastardo, and Adam Lind for Mark Texeira thinking those guys were at peak value to a team at the bottom of my division who wanted to rebuild…he’s beating me this session 10-6 day :-(.  Lind alone has outperformed Tex…followed by my #1 pitcher, Peavy going down…and my top closer, Francisco, going back on the DL.  Woops!

    These things don’t always backfire…but don’t freak out too much.  I think I like the relegation rule, lol.

    As for pushing a fellow owner in the right direction…no problem there.  Now if you use a FA pickup or something and send him the competitor’s way for nothing…that’s another thing.

  15. Rico said...

    1. Shandler

    Unethical? Wow…really?? Let me put it this way – if Shandler’s gambit has offended, outraged, or has otherwise ruffled your feathers, well then…you squat to pee. Unless Shandler promised the offering owner that he would not divulge said offer, or, there is a league rule that forbids the advertising of trade offers, then Shandler did nothing unethical, immoral, or beyond the pale. He simply used a guerilla marketing technique (unconventional marketing intended to get maximum results from minimal resources).

    I understand that the ‘advertising’ of trade offers can irritate some team owners and/or make them uncomfortable (I get that way when my 15 year old son walks around wearing his jeans 8” LOWER than his boxers). It’s really no different than an auction and it could be a good thing for everyone (NOT the boxers 8” above your jeans, but the advertising of trade offers). You can gain valuable insight into your competitors and their strategies, re-establish market values on players, etc. If you want to make an offer without the rest of the league being privy, then advise as such to the team that you’re making an offer to.

    2. Dumping

    In both of my leagues (NL-only/4×4/keeper/22 years and AL-only/4×4/keeper/18 years) our anti-dumping rule is posted below.

    During the season you may trade only ONE (1) ‘Premium Player’ per season to a team. A ‘Premium Player’ is defined as:
    (a) a player with a salary of $25 or more
    (b) a player in the final year of a contract
    (c) a player in the final year of an extended contract

    This doesn’t actually prevent dumping, however, it does makes it more equitable while preventing a single team from loading up in one fell swoop. It also creates better commnunication among team owners; to stay competitive they often have to talk with every team in the league as opposed to only talking/trading with their ‘inner circle’.

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