Teaching myself a lesson in opportunity cost

Certainly you needn’t be a pack rat to understand the feeling of being extremely reluctant to throw away an item that actually has little monetary or even sentimental value. For example, I have shoe boxes full of pens (though not nearly as many shoe boxes full of shoes – just let my fiancé tell you) that I should just throw out, but don’t. They’re perfectly good pens. I don’t know how I accumulated so many, but while they may be superfluous, they’re functional and thus are not trash, I tell myself. But, of course, they aren’t really worth anything and I’ll likely never use them, so what’s the point of them taking up room in my closet or desk drawer?

In my shallow mixed league, Johnny Damon has become a box full of pens. My outfield is extremely strong in that league and I’ve been trying to trade from that strength all year without much success. Recently, I was able to move Hunter Pence for Aaron Hill in order to upgrade my middle infield, especially as Troy Tulowitzki nurses a broken wrist for the next month or so. I still have five outfielders better than Damon and Damon is now sitting in my utility spot and will be battling for playing time with the recently healthy Aramis Ramirez.

The question is why do I have Johnny Damon on this team at all. There are likely better fits for my team on the wire, since this is a shallow league. So, why haven’t I made this move? I guess the answer is that I still think Damon has some trade value due to his decent performance (mainly in the runs category), his name recognition and long history as a valuable commodity. However, realistically, my hope of swinging a deal that includes Damon is nearly exhausted. I was just unsuccessful trying to shop him along with Ian Stewart to upgrade my middle infield again. I may soon be left with no course of action but to drop Damon and pick up one of the serviceable corners on the wire and then shop a corner and try to upgrade elsewhere.

As I look back over the course of my relationship with Johnny Damon this year, I see it is the latest instance in one of my most chronic and debilitating fantasy behaviors. I’ve said many times here that I often get too attached to players who I feel are just good enough to help somebody else and therefore I hesitate to drop those players, even if they aren’t the best possible options for my team. I guess some might consider this a version of the endowment effect.

I write this column as much as a treatsie to myself as a piece of advice to you all (those who can’t do, teach; isn’t that what they say?). Consider opportunity cost. Yes, was I to drop Damon, he would likely find his way on to another team soon. And, yes, he may help that team in a fairly tight race in the runs category. But, what am I losing by owning Damon and rotating him between the bench, part-time utility player, and outfielder when my regulars have a day off or haven’t a game scheduled?

Let’s see. I could be spot starting. Somebody recently dropped C.J. Wilson for whatever reason and I wanted to pick him up to start against the Astros this past weekend, but couldn’t bring myself to drop Damon to do it. Wilson grabbed a win, and three wins separate five points in our current standings.

I’m taking that big ole “1” in saves in this league (yet I’ve still spent most of the season in second place). So, I could be using that roster spot to speculate on potential closers-to-be.

I could also just drop Damon for the best possible bat on the wire, or the player with the highest steal or homer potential. I could try to deal myself to an upgrade in other, more creative ways, as I mentioned above.

My point here is that perhaps it is not always the wisest course to attempt to extract the most possible value from your fringe commodities on the trade market. If you can’t make that flip in a timely manner, you may be losing more in opportunity cost than you retain in value-add to your team.

I’d also like to make a tangential point here regarding Damon and his current value. Damon is a significant contributor in the run scoring department; on my team’s roster, only Ryan Braun has scored more runs than Damon and my team is mid-pack in that category. But, anecdotally, of all the traditional counting stats, the least trade-able one-category producer is he who excels in scoring runs. Many owners just happen to see runs as a byproduct of overall offensive productivity, and to a substantial degree I wouldn’t say they are wrong. Owners also aren’t so likely to regard a difference of 10 runs scored over the course of a season as a profound difference between two players. Very rarely do you hear somebody say that a player is valuable because he scores a lot of runs and rarely is the runs category managed as attentively as, say homers or steals, during a draft or auction. In fact, how many of us can even name the top 5 or so in runs scored off the tops of our heads? When discussing A-Rod’s amazing career, how often do you reference his incredible seasonal run totals?

So, for better or worse, runs are tough to sell and much of Damon’s value is wrapped up in them. By the way, if he was stealing bases at 2001-2008 pace or hitting with some power as he did last year, he wouldn’t be burning a hole in my pocket—if he could give me roughly 40 combined homers and steals, I wouldn’t even care much how they were distributed.

I’m writing this piece a few days before it will be published; perhaps Damon’s stint won’t last until publication. My outfield boasts Nelson Cruz and the now returning to humanity Andre Ethier, both of whom spent time on the DL, so it was helpful to have some depth at the position. But right now I feel that roster slot could be better used in another way and moving Damon is feeling like extracting blood from a stone.

When reading fantasy articles, experts can make it seem like it is very easy to trade players, even fringe commodities. In reality though, it is often quite difficult and while it is always best to never give away anything of value, sometimes relenting to do so may be doing you more harm than good.

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Comments

  1. bill said...

    I would trade him to another team that needs runs/etc, that is below your competition, thus hoping to take a point away from your competition. Hurting them and thus helping you. You would basically take back nothing. Then dump the nothing for someone you want on the FA/waiver list.
    This is better than dumping him back on the market, where you might help your competition.

  2. eric kesselman said...

    I have Damon in the CR league and have also been trying to move him for ages unsuccessfully. Our league is deep and AL only, so his value should be higher but my experience has been very similar. Also I’m ahead in runs by a mile, so he is the perfect guy for me to move.

    I agree runs are often undervalued, any chance you can buy some if you’re middle of the pack?

  3. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Fantastic article Derek. Agree 110%.

    Swaps of “junk” only work when you want something of another’s junk or as toss ins. Sometimes, putting that player in as a toss in makes the other guy think you’re adding him as part of the “value” of the trade and such total value is diminished because the other pieces are inherently viewed as less valuable.

    The sad part is, you know someone will pick up Damon when you drop him. He’s likely better than the worst player on other teams. Unfortunately, you probably don’t want those worse players unless you have an immediate need to fill which is not satiable by the FA pool.

    Shame you won’t get any value.

  4. Jeffrey Gross said...

    To clarify:

    If I offer you (Player Package X) + Damon for (Player Package Y), I find this trade to go thru less often than Player Package X for Player Package Y and drop Damon. Unless of course someone could legitimately use Damon.

    Think of the economics of bargaining. Sometimes you are willing to pay a premium above an even swap when you are desperate or when you want the trade done ASAP (ie, for a specific upcoming start). However, the general rules of bargaining say the guy is either trying to (initially) low ball you or offer a value-parity trade. Hence, even if X=Y, the overwhelming subconscious economic assumption of an X+Z for Y trade is that X<Y and if that owner doesn’t need or value Z, then he sees it as a losing proposition.

    PLUS, and this is something MANY fantasy players overlook, in a 2-for-1 deal where you try and add a “sweetener” player like Damon to get something done, you are forcing your trading partner to make a drop. Lets say he doesn’t need/want Damon and has a more valuable player (to him) on the roster. Then Damon’s add is a nuisance and unnecessary problem from his perspective.

    Hence, you need to consider what, if anything, your opponent will drop if you offer multi-player packages like the classic 2-for-1 (though we all know that its more likely to be 4 for 3 or 3 for 2)

  5. Tom B said...

    I’ve been trying to trade my ‘Stacked Outfield’ all year – unsuccessfully.  Nobody values a good Outfielder these days.  Back in April I offered up Josh Hamilton for Randy Wolf – and thankfully the owner rejected it!  At the time Hamilton was slumping and Wolf had a solid April. 

    Anyways, playing the Lefty Righty and Home Away splits is a great strategy to get the most of a 5 deep Outfield – which is what I’m implementing right into First Place – and 12 points in every category except steals (where I have 11).

  6. Kcroaks said...

    Great article. IMO this is the toughest decision in fantasy baseball. At some point you do just have to cut bait if you can’t get something done via trade.

  7. Derek Ambrosino said...

    Great point Jeffrey, especially on the needing to drop a player to accept a 2-for-1. I’m fairly certain I’ve written about this in one way or another in past columns, and if not I certainly did in the comments sections here before I started writing. There really is no such thing as a 2-for-1 trade and that’s a reason why few of them go thru in proportion to how often they are offered. The player who is offered the trade takes into account the value of the hidden second player, but the person doing the offering usually does not.

    So, if I offer, say, Damon and Ian Stewart for Howie Kendrick, the fact that Damon + Stewart > Kendrick does not sum up the dynamic and does not alone imply this is a good deal for the other owner. The trade is really more like Stewart + (value of Damon – value of worst player on other team) for Kendrick. So, the upshot here is, does the value gap between Damon and the other player eclipse the value gap between Kendrick and Stewart? That’s largely the basis on which the other owner will consider the trade.

    I think I did actually go about my attempts to move Damon in the right way. I looked for a team with a weak outfield and a MI-eligible player a bit better than Stewart. It didn’t work.

  8. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @Derek,

    Absolutely and I think you drilled that point well. I was just trying to alternatively highlight that multiplayer trades cause subconscious discounts of the original players. The notion of X=Y, but X+Z for Y makes the owner think X is worth less than Y.

  9. Jeffrey Gross said...

    The only real way to honestly maneuver a multiplayer deal is two fold:
    1) the other guy needs depth that you can offer (rare) or you overpay en toto, which is oft irrational.
    2) 3-4 deals. I’ve seen this go through plenty, as it is easier to equalize overall perceptive values as more components are added to the deal. I just in fact pulled off one of said deals that I think some might appreciate:

    I (overstocked with OF and C) traded Jay Bruce, Ricky Nolasco, Buster Posey and Kris Medlen for Tim Lincecum and Neftali Feliz (he, overstocked with Ks and SVs)

  10. 3FingersBrown said...

    I had the same problem with Damon (in a H2H league that counts OBP as well as the standard 5 – so Damon’s value is even higher) until I recently dropped him in favor of Dexter Fowler, who I had originally drafted and then dropped when he was shipped down to AAA.

    It would have been nice to get something for him and I certainly tried, but with a team flush with run-scorers and high OBP guys, I needed steals and went the high risk/reward route and ditched Damon for Jose Tabata (who was then dropped for Roger Bernadina and in turn Fowler).

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