I don’t need to know my role; I know my rights

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!

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Comments

  1. JB (the original) said...

    Tough call, because then you have to look at the collusion aspect (if there’s money involved, ‘say buddy, I’ll give you 15% of my winnings if you make this lopsided trade with me’).  I’m in a non-keeper 14 team roto, and with all the injuries (esp. 1B) it’s hard enough to get anyone to trade as it is.  At best, you might get the reverse, where a contender running up against IP or GS might be willing to trade 2-3 quality pitchers for a decent 1B, which ordinarily would look suspicious, but under the conditions….

  2. KY said...

    The “right to trade” is different from the “right to trade for next year” isn’t it?
    “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.” 
    This has not been the experience of our league.  We have a rule that no traded player can be kept. This leaves the only reason to trade a player as to help your team this year.  People don’t like the limitation of not wanting to trade a player that they might freeze, but the only people who care about that are contenders.  Bottom feeders would not want to trade a cheap player no matter what trade rules are in place.  A team that’s in it would only want to trade a cheap player if they got all stars in return.  So the price of this rule to the trading market is mostly on contending teams who can not move their prospects for high priced talent.  Only if they want to move a prospect for speculation on even talent are they limited by the rule.  And since they will play next year too, they don’t really have incentive to trade those players anyhow.  Would the Yankee’s trade Jesus Montero if they were not getting Cliff Lee?  No. 
    “My final point here is somewhat rhetorical. What happens if you take the sentiment underlying the trade ban to its logical conclusion?” 
    I don’t understand how that is the logical conclusion, it is not a matter of which teams effect the race, it is a matter of how they effect it.  Bottom feeders and contenders are equally at liberty to improve their teams via pickups.
    “And, for that matter, why must one wait until the trade deadline to determine a team is out of contention.”
    You are right, the time limit does not work.  That is the brilliance of the “no player traded may be frozen” rule.
    Its not a matter of right, its a matter of aesthetics.  As a league, what do you want to be the things that determine who wins?  We like the ability to spend $260 in draft money and $60 in bid money better then the next guy to be the driver of who wins the league.  Instead of who can pull of the biggest trade of prospects for all stars.  Both take skill, the latter is just not a skill we find interesting.
    I agree with you that you can’t do the middle ground of having a date or a number of teams, none of that works and creates bad incentives or pushes back the date at which you determine yourself “out of it”.  But the two extremes do seem to work.  Its a matter of what skills you enjoy having determine your league.
    For us, the ability to take $260 and produce say one more productive player with your money then the opponent did was an interesting skill.  To have that nullified when your prospects sold for 2 all stars but your neighbors sold for 3 was not that interesting to us.  Sometimes you get 3 all stars because you drafted better prospects, but other times its due to friendships or moods.  For those reasons we choose not to value dump trades as a skill on par with drafting and bidding.

    What are your thoughts on the extreme of not allowing traded players to be kept the next year?  To us, that is the logical conclusion of the desire to let drafting and bidding determine the winner, not the elimination of bidding.

  3. eric kesselman said...

    I agree its a problem, and I think I’d prefer an earlier trade deadline (harder to call anyone out of it) to a rule that said you can only make a trade based on exact standings distances.

    I also agree with the thoughts behind one of the comments, that the problem is not so much discouraging active and engaged owners. The problem is a guy wanders off for a month, is mildly following the league, then decides to do something and doesnt actively shop around or post before make a bad, lazy, but well intentioned trade.

    This is one reason our leagues tend to use tiered and flat prize structures, with special penalties for the bottom 3 teams. It’s good to keep everyone motivated.

  4. Eddie said...

    At least in H2H leagues, the problem of teams of determining who is a ‘non contender’ is easier solved. Anyone who is mathematically eliminated from the playoffs is barred from trading with those who can still qualify.

  5. Derek Ambrosino said...

    Rhonda,

    If you think a trade is grossly unfair on value alone, and you are not the supreme libertarian GM, then I would suggest you protest it. That should be your course of action regardless of what time of the year it is. Of course, the requisite number of protests to veto a trade or force a review aren’t mustered, then everybody’s hands are pretty much tied.

  6. Derek Ambrosino said...

    Kevin,

    I understand your point, but my experiences have not exactly been the same. Certainly, in the league I refer to in the above post, there are absolutely no deadbeat owners. Even in the case you describe, I still think you have to err on the side of freedom, even if somewhat begrudgingly. Isn’t that what they say about freedoms, that your commitment to them is tested when they’re used to act in a way you disapprove of?

  7. Derek Ambrosino said...

    JB,

    Collusion is a whole different deal. In fact, in the league I mentioned above, I actually consider the fact that the other contenders made what is basically a handshake agreement not to trade with non-contenders tantamount to collusion. Now, it’s not colluding for their own betterment, but selective restrictions of freedom is collusive by nature regardless of utility.

    It’s almost impossible to actually identify and prove when collusion takes place, so it’s kind of like the boogeyman of fantasy baseball. In spirit, I wouldn’t like to intervene to protest any trades – if people think they are improving their own team, let them act as they see fit. If they are really making bad decisions, then they’ll pay for it and learn the hard way. It is constantly a test for me to maintain that perspective because I’m not extremely active in trades and as somebody who leads an often busy life I don’t have the time to always be the first predator to fleece the sucker. So, I know the lack of these protections isn’t usually to my benefit. …But, the real reason I do support some form of trade review/veto channel is because it allows you to treat all egregiously imbalanced trades as proxies for collusion.

    It’s like setting your spam filter one level higher than you think you might need – it may block some legit transactions, but because of that you know it’s catching all the BS.

  8. Derek Ambrosino said...

    KY,

    I agree it’s a different dynamic for keeper leagues, which is why I specifically alluded to non-keeper leagues in the second sentence of this piece.

    don’t understand how that is the logical conclusion, it is not a matter of which teams effect the race, it is a matter of how they effect it.  Bottom feeders and contenders are equally at liberty to improve their teams via pickups.

    Right, it’s a matter of how they affect the race. And, that’s exactly my question – why? Why should they be at liberty to improve their teams through one channel, but not the other?
    As far as your ban of keeping traded players, it certainly restricts some freedoms, but more importantly it doesn’t do so selectively. Everybody is equally subject to this rule because it creates what the league has determined to be the right incentives. So, I think if it works well for the league and people are happy with it, then you did a good job. The questions facing all regulators aren’t limited to how much to regulate, but why to regulate, in which ways, what to incentivize, value, and reward.

  9. Brad Johnson said...

    I honestly have never experienced this sentiment, perhaps a more inchoate version like “it sucks that owner X fleeced owner Y so late in the season when owner Y wasn’t even playing for anything.” I can admit to being annoyed but the thought of banning that kind of behavior never crossed my mind.

    I would assume that if you really wanted to deal with this, you could set the trade deadline to the AS break (Yahoo doesn’t offer it, but it can be artificially enforced by commissioner). I like a mid-August deadline myself.

  10. Rhonda said...

    I think your position is very well reasoned and for the most part I agree with it.  That said, I’m in a 12-team H2H league whose rules allow up to 4 objections to a given trade.  If a trade receives more than 4 objections it goes to the commissioner for review.  Some of the owners are reluctant to ever object to a trade and have called out an owner who posted a strenuous objection to a trade that took place this year.  The trade occurred a few weeks before the trade deadline.  A non-contending team gave Evan Longoria to a contending team and received John Buck and Carlos Ruiz in return.  The trade received only 4 objections so it did not go the commissioner for review.

    A second trade just days before the trade deadline from the very same non-contending team received only 2 objections.  The non-contending team gave Dustin Pedroia to a different contending team and in return got Gio Gonzalez.  Any thoughts on how to handle this kind of situation in light of your arguments above (which, as I said, I really do agree with).

  11. Kevin said...

    It’s not that I disagree, but you seem to be operating under the assumption that these trades truly benefit both teams, when the true impetus for restricting this behavior is that the non-contending teams often haven’t been paying attention for months and don’t realize the effect the trade has on their team and the league in general. In the leagues where I know my fellow managers to be dedicated owners, I don’t see a problem with these types of trades.

    Maybe a better solution would be to restrict trades of this nature based on some measure of activity?

  12. KY said...

    I see, I can’t read. 

    I’m lost as to how this became a problem at certain point in the season then without collusion.  If a team is bad at trading they are bad the whole time.  Bad trade early in the year will hurt even more then later as the beneficiary has more time to reap rewards.

  13. Brad Johnson said...

    So today I woke up to discover that one of the owners in my league dumped his roster. I’ve since undone all 13 of his moves and locked his ability to add/drop. Fair response? There were plenty of in-season warnings that roster dumping would result in a locked roster and because the owner has been absent most of the season I already planned to replace him.

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