Open secrets

Recently, Ron Shandler of Baseball HQ did something that perhaps many fantasy players have been tempted to do. Having decided to start “playing for next year”, Shandler had several high value players that he wanted to trade for players with better prospects or fantasy contracts and he made this information public knowledge. Of course, he got many (I think five) offers, but he felt that they were all low-ball offers from owners that were notorious low-ballers. So, he made all the offers public to his league, so that each team would “know” that there were many interested owners and that they had better up their offers. Predictably, the rest of the league was upset, but some teams made better offers and perhaps made those offers sooner than they would have if Shandler hadn’t revealed the details. So, was this a good move by Shandler?

The easy and often heard answer is “yeah.” These answers acknowledge that Shandler may have broken an Omerta code of silence in fantasy. This code is a part tacit agreement, part cultural norm (like not wearing white after Labor Day). But, fantasy baseball is a zero-sum game where winners win by, in part, making losers lose and “the ends justify the means.”

However, revealing the details of trade offers may not be a good strategy, especially in a league like Shandler’s where you are likely to make many trades with owners. Here are some things to consider if you’re thinking of “pulling a Shandler:”

(Don’t reveal) Private information may be useful to you.
If you have two (or more) teams making offers to you and each team knows (or even just suspects) that the other team has made an offer, you will get better offers. Revealing the details of your offer gives your opponents something to shoot at, though. The counteroffers that you’ll get may only be slightly better than the offers you revealed. Removing suspense removes much doubt.

(Do reveal) To show that indeed you really do have all the offers that you claim to have.
Ideally, you’d like to tell your opponents that you have lots of good offers while not necessarily telling them who made the offers or what players where involved. Of course, your adversary may just assume you are lying (or exaggerating). Talk is cheap, after all.

(Don’t reveal) Your talk is credible.
Have you had negotiations with these teams before where you pulled out in favor of a different trade? Then, perhaps, your claim of other offers (without actually naming names) will be more credible. On the flip side, have you been caught in a lie before where you claimed to have a better offer but then accepted your opponent’s initial offer? Then this owner isn’t likely to trust your protestations for a while.

(Don’t reveal) If players know or expect that you’ll reveal a trade they may make you fewer offers because they don’t want the fact that they are willing to trade certain players made public knowledge.
Once the entire league knows that I am willing to trade a certain player and the price I want for that player, I’m not likely to get a good deal for that player in future negotiations. (On a related note: ever go for a job interview where the employer asks you what salary you’d be willing to work for?) Owners may also make more low-ball offers to you.

(Do reveal) Your opponents never make serious offers.
Most players prefer to get an offer than to make an offer. Often these teams will initiate trade talk by making a low offer that they know you’ll never accept just to get negotiations going but never subsequently counteroffer. If they never make a serious offer it can be hard to get any information about what they are looking for and how much they value your players. Revealing these low-ball offers can be a way to get serious teams to make serious offers and give you some information.

In summary, I would be wary of Shandlering in leagues where I was likely to want to deal with these owners again, though not because I am worried about their fragile feelings. There are many ways to get what I want without dropping this atom bomb. If I was stuck with a bunch of low offers, I would first hint that I had some other offers, possibly implicitly threatening that I would cut off negotiations with a team if it didn’t start making serious offers (this needs to be done politely – just say that you don’t think there’s a potential trade to be made at this time). If this didn’t work, then I’d perhaps reveal that I had X number of offers.

If I really felt that revealing the details of a trade would yield a much better offer, I would probably ask first. Take the best offer currently made and ask that owner if you can reveal it. Of course, you don’t need his permission to do it, but asking first is likely to make him less worried about you in future trades. If that owner says no, then ask him if he feels like he has truly made the best possible offer.

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