Now that the trade deadline has passed in almost all leagues, I’d like to discuss a topic that I probably should have brought up a few weeks ago. In non-keeper leagues, some people believe that teams out of contention should not be trading with teams who are in contention. They say that the bottom-feeders should not be affecting the championship race if they are clearly not part of it. Others say that all teams should try to compete to the best of their abilities until the last day of the season and should be able to utilize any possible channel to do so, including trades. I happen to be in the second camp. I understand the sentiment of those in the first camp, but I just think that it’s an emotional argument as opposed to a rational one; it may feel right, but I don’t think it is. I also think it’s something of a typical myopic entitlement of the wealthy, but I’ll save that rant for the very end of the column.
Let me start off by saying that if your preference is to not allow this kind of trading and you are commissioner of a league, the honor system or a vague appeal to the integrity of the league offered in a message board post are not legitimate or sufficient means of instituting this kind of “rule.” Such a trading ban should be introduced as an “article” of a league constitution.
…No team further than X points of first place shall make a trade with a team that is within Y points of first with less than Z amount of time remaining in the season.
The X, Y and Z values should be subject to robust, transparent and iterative discussion and the final outcome explicitly agreed upon by the majority of the league.
With the token tolerance out of the way, let me offer three points on why I disagree with such a proposed trading ban. First, I’ll appeal to principles – two core principles of good commish-ing. You want the owners in your league to compete hard and be dedicated to the league. Many leagues have problems with deadbeats. The type of behavior we are discussing is the total antithesis thereof. As a commissioner, you want to encourage and reward such dedication, as that is the signature ingredient to a great league experience. As an overarching principle to constructing and running a league, I’m against positively reinforcing disengagement.
Also as a matter of principle, I don’t like the notion of codifying a double standard, ostensibly rescinding basic tactical tools to improve one’s team. If there was a Fantasy Baseball GM’s Bill of Rights, I’d figure the right to trade would be included.
Therefore the only behavior that is fully ethical is that each team tries its best to better itself and compete with full vigor until the last possible day of the season, while making use of any strategies and tactics available to the league at large.
Second, the notion of who is and who is not “out of it” is necessarily subjective. Sure, if you do the league constitution thing, you can democratically reach an agreement on the cutoff, but crazy things can happen, and given enough trials they will. For instance, this issue came to head in a league that I’m involved in about a week ago when one of these trades went down. The contending team who made the trade with the non-contender argued that the team who the accusers labeled as a non-contender was in contention for the last money spot as recently as about a month ago. If this team could lose 20-plus points in a month, who’s to say that team is unable to regain them?
It’s not as if this banishment is reserved exclusively for the last-place team. The potential gap in interpretation regarding who is and is not a contender is actually rather wide, and I think a commissioner would realize that if he/she asked the league’s opinion on the matter. To offer another example here, a few columns ago I noted that I was pretty much waving the flag in one of my leagues and trying to stockpile keepers. Today, I’m actually 11.5 points behind the league leader, and 7.5 points out of the money. (In fairness, I did note that I thought, and still think, I have an outside shot at the money.)
I’m not sure the rest of the league considers me a non-contender. But, if they did that would basically leave only five teams, all within a few points of one another with the freedom to trade.
A final point here is that contending teams are often just as reluctant to help a fellow contender as they are intolerant of non-contenders trading with contenders. So, such a trade ban could conceivably suffocate their entire trade market. …Unforeseen ramifications of well-intentioned behavior.
My final point here is somewhat rhetorical. What happens if you take the sentiment underlying the trade ban to its logical conclusion? Why should the notion of the bottom-feeders playing their part and not affecting the championship stop at forfeiting the freedom to trade? Why not decree that these teams shouldn’t be allowed to use the waiver wire either? Grabbing a newly anointed closer putting in the winning bid on a key September call-up might mean a league title too, right? What rational, academic argument is there for precluding a non-contender from trading, but allowing him to “affect the race” in other ways? And, for that matter, why must one wait until the trade deadline to determine a team is out of contention. If non-contenders shouldn’t affect the championship race, why are they allowed to do so pre-deadline; some teams would be unanimously agreed to be “out of it” long before the deadline.
The common thread of all my arguments is the notion that such a ban is predicated on interpretations that are both arbitrary and subjective. The arbitrary and subjective nature of these arguments is compounded by the fact that the behavior they promote undermines many characteristics of the ideal GM. Frankly, I think the ban is rational only from the perspective of self-interest.
Now for my pseudo-political rant… This philosophy also plays nicely as a microcosm of the inclination by the wealthy to be exclusionary and promote means to enhance their own wealth at the expense of those not in their club. The kicker is that they don’t just ignore the moral or ethical implications of such a perspective, but actually conjure a distorted purview in which such behavior is the right thing to do. And, they do this by appealing nebulous and abstract palaver, like the “integrity of the league,” ignoring the self-evident contradiction of classifying an owner doing everything he can to, legally, succeed as a threat to a league’s integrity and restricting others’ freedoms as the means to protect it. Quite an Orwellian dialectic if you ask me!