The ethicist part two: pulling a fast one

I am not attempting to appropriate Randy Cohen’s job, I swear. But it just so happens I ran up against another ethically questionable move in one of my leagues this week. Since last week’s column got a pretty good response, I’d like to get the readership’s feelings regarding a maneuver many of you have probably encountered or even attempted.

Friday afternoon, I got a call from my co-manager who saw a trade proposal come through his iPhone. He was cautiously giddy when he told me that another owner had offered us Troy Tulowitzki for Joakim Soria. I was actually off from the day job that day and had seen the announcement that Tulo was going to miss six to eight weeks after breaking his wrist the night before. A few hours later, Tulo’s owner posted on the messageboard that he was taking offers in an attempt to move the injured star for a discount.

How do you guys feel about owners trying to pull a fast one and dump guys right after they get hurt and when the ink announcing their imminent DL stint is still wet?

Personally, I can’t say that this practice is actually unethical because it is incumbent upon any actor in a trade to do his/her homework on all the players involved. The tried and true mantra of “buyer beware” is in full effect here and I respect the idea that all is fair in love and war. That said, I do think it’s kind of dirty, or classless, especially in a league of friends.

There are two slight variations of this situation though, one of which I think is fully above board and one I feel to be ethically unacceptable. So, I might as well discuss them as well.

Sometimes you have a player on your team who you know is dealing with lingering injuries and it’s basically just a matter of time before he goes on the DL. I have no problem with any owner shopping this player disclaimer free. A player is not considered broken until he’s broken. I don’t consider this even remotely unethical. Like the original scenario, you are attempting to capitalize a knowledge gap regarding a player’s health, but at this point it is entirely speculative.

There is a variation of this situation that I have seen happen that is unacceptable, though. If you have a live trade offer on your table and the player you are going to give up suffers a serious injury, you can’t pull the trigger on that trade within even 24 hours of the news of the injury becoming public. It is unfair to obligate an owner to have to cancel that trade within minutes of an injury occurring because this is not always possible. Surely, there does reach a point at which an owner must be accountable for his/her own negligence, but courtesy and fairness dictate to me that such a period mustn’t be any shorter than a full day at the absolute minimum.

Have any of you ever been burnt by another owner accepting a trade off minutes after an injury to ship you broken goods?

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  1. eric kesselman said...

    Not disclosing a significant recent change in injury status is definitely unethical in my mind. It can be a bit tricky figuring out where the line is about what you have to disclose, but thats way over it.

    Also, in both of these posts I’m a bit surprised at the number of comments that talk about whether its friends or not friends, an annual league, etc. These factors don’t really play into the morality of the situation. Figuring out how it helps or hurts you in the long run is generally not the approach to solving moral dilemmas.

  2. Howard said...

    If the question is ethics, this is clearly unethical.  You are knowingly trying to pull a fast one.  Usually if I get an offer that seems too good to be true I check it out. 

    If I had Soria & this was offered to me immediately after the injury (assuming nonkeeper league), I would not only reject it, but I would email all other owners or post on the message board what this owner tried to do.

    It’s things like this why leagues have trade review periods/commisioners/veto processes.  It ruins the integrity of the league to try and put a bad trade through off breaking news.

  3. db said...

    Many years ago I instantly accepted an offer of Marc McGwire for Frank Thomas that was offered to me immediately after a big injury to McGwire and before it was widely known.  The commish cancelled the trade, and the owner admitted he did it more as a joke and didn’t expect it to be accepted (not realizing that the injury was not disclosed in the player’s comments).  I think this was the right result.  If you disclose, obviously it is no issue.

  4. Derek Ambrosino said...


    Also, in both of these posts I’m a bit surprised at the number of comments that talk about whether its friends or not friends, an annual league, etc. These factors don’t really play into the morality of the situation.

    This could quickly and easily devolve into a discussion of philosophy and/or semantics, but suppose one leans toward meta-ethical relativism, circumstance, culture, and atmosphere would certainly be worthy of consideration.

    Anthropologically speaking, across various cultures there seem to be a number of principles that approach absolutism – unprovoked murder of fellow fellow clansmen, parents and children having sex with one another, etc. However, the vast majority of moral questions have been reconciled differently by different cultures. In regard to my article, I see the third scenario as roughly akin to those acts that are universally forbidden, while I see the second act as akin to those which are almost universally permitted. The original premise leaves a considerable amount of room for the moral relativism of various league cultures.

    Figuring out how it helps or hurts you in the long run is generally not the approach to solving moral dilemmas.

    I’m not exactly sure of the intended context of this statement.

    If you are referring to how [an action] helps or hurts a fantasy team in the long run, then it is most certainly relevant. If we’re in a non-auction keeper league and your team is out of it already, I may think you would be genuinely interested (and likely to benefit from) dealing a healthy Soria for an injured Tulo. …But, in this sense “ethics” are limited to disclosure and not justice as each party is pretty much trying to bend the other over as far as possible by the very nature of the interaction and competitive dynamic of the league.

    If you are referring to how [an action] may benefit your relationship with the other parties in the league, and hence how your action would be perceived by your peers, then we are right back squarely in the heart of moral relativism. Perhaps, within this group what you might be tempted to concede the “objective” minimum moral obligation is considered to be far below the minimal moral obligation, in which sense you acting indepedently might render judgment of your action immoral. Ultimately, the question comes down to whether you feel the consensus of the league matters.

    Also, the trade review feature isn’t instituted as a matter of selfless morality. Quite the contrary, it’s actually an institution of self-interest. I’m not interested in protecting owner C against being exploited by owner D for the sake of protecting owner C. Rather, I’m interested in having that oversight to protect my team from owner D building a juggernaut by exploiting teams other than my own.

  5. Andrew said...

    Regarding the situation that you find acceptable, I’m glad you brought this up.

    I play in many leagues every year, but this is one rule that has to be in place in order for me to take part in a league.

    Personally, I think it should extend beyond injury, though. In deeper leagues where the waiver wire is practically empty, it’s not uncommon for players to be demoted to the Minors, sometimes even when a demotion could not have been foreseen.

    Accordingly, I’m of the opinion that anything that severely alters the stock of a player (injury, demotion, real-life trade) should make a deal null and void if accepted immediately afterward.

    Some fantasy players define a trade as completed once an owner clicks accept, but I disagree. After all, what’s the point of a trade if only one party wants to do it at the time of acceptance?

  6. eric kesselman said...

    I really don’t think we need to go into philosophy, anthropology, or deeply into ethics just to note that most moral analysis we generally do doesn’t really start with ‘how does it help me?’ or ‘how well do i know the guy?’

    That’s the only point I was making there.

  7. Bob said...

    This happened to me last year in a league I’ve been commissioner of for a long time with a guy I’ve been friends with for a long time.  Let me know if you guys think he pulled a fast one or not.  I made an offer to him for Coco Crisp (needed speed in a deep league) right after he suffered the injury.  I saw the video of him falling in the outfield with the seagulls all around.  I knew he was injured but the early reports were that he wasn’t injured that badly and he’d be back in action soon.

    On Friday I went straight to my friend’s house from work where I had no access to news reports.  He said he’d been thinking about the Crisp trade but he wanted something more so I threw in a minor leaguer of no real consequence (F-Mart).  He agreed to the deal without informing me that Crisp had been re-examined and was scheduled to go for an MRI, which indicated that he was hurt more seriously than originally thought, and as you know he ended up having season-ending shoulder surgery.  My trading partner’s defense was, “You knew he was hurt” and he felt no obligation to share that day’s developments with me.  I felt that he crossed the line when he asked for more in the trade, as if there was nothing additionally wrong with Crisp.  Any thoughts?

  8. Steve said...

    I think it depends on the type of league.  If you’re in a league with a bunch of friends like I am, then I would disclose, since these people ARE afterall your friends.  If it’s a league where you don’t know most of the people, then I say go for it.  See what you can get.  The other scenario where it might be ok, is in a keeper league with a team hopelessly out of it.  In our league there are already 3-4 teams that have no shot at “the money” (first 4 places).  Those teams might like a guy like Tulo for next year.

  9. Derek Ambrosino said...


    I’m inclined to agree with Josh. As long as the other owner knew that you knew Crisp was hurt, I think it’s unreasonable to then dissect that knowledge into, “well, how much did he exactly know about the injury.”

    Have you ever been in a conversation with somebody and had them ask if you have ever read a certain book, and you reply that you did when really you had only read a little bit of it, a review/summary, or heard an interview with its author? I’m sure most of us have been in some variation of a situation like that. Is it then the other party’s fault if he starts speaking to you about the details and depths of the book forcing you to feel embarrassed or like an idiot?

    I think this is a similar situation – he took your statement at face value; I’m not really sure what he should have done otherwise.

    Like Josh said, had you not expressed any knowledge of Crisp’s situation, then I might be inclined to feel differently.

  10. Derek Ambrosino said...

    just to note that most moral analysis we generally do doesn’t really start with ‘how does it help me?’ or ‘how well do i know the guy?’

    Well, my point is that’s a reductionist way to frame those questions.

    “How well do I know you the guy” is a way to reduce the idea of moral relativism. The question is really, what is the largely shared morality among this group within the context of the league?

    I’d be willing to bet that you allow “how well do I know this guy” to influence your opinions on what it “right” to do in a situation all the time, that is unless “Eric Kessleman” is an alias and you are reallly Larry David. Full disclosure -I often do exercise my own sense of judgment that is at odds with the shared moral (and social) sensibilities of my groups of friends. And, frankly, they often think I’m a dick for it and I often get into long discussions with them explaining why I don’t think I have any obligation to care about things that they assume I should.

    “How does it help me” is not a valid premise on which to base morality, for sure. But, asking yourself whether you can genuinely see the other person seeing a benefit from the deal is a useful proxy in terms deciding whether offering a player whose stock has just shifted is crossing an ethical line.

    If I’m offered Tulo in a league whose structure dictates that I might be interested in an injured Tulo then that mitigates my assumption of deceit on the part of the other owner. Instead of thinking, “he’s trying to catch me sleeping,” I’m thining, “Well, maybe he’s trying to catch me sleeping, but this is actually a mutually beneficial deal, so may he isn’t; maybe he assumes I know and should still be interested.”

    Here’s another question: What if instead of asking for Soria, he asked for somebody with much less value, say, Aaron Heilman. Is that offer immoral, essnetially? If the ethics lie solely in the deception, then it shouldn’t really matter how much he capitalizes on that deception, i.e. whether the deal is fair?

    Of course, practically speaking, offering Tulo for Heilman is de facto disclosure because the deal is so lopsided on its face that any “reasonable man” would conclude that there’s something wrong with Tulo. Therefore, the actual deception is the player he is asking for as much as in the non-disclosure of injury status.

    Think about it – the player he asks for is inferior to Tulo enough that he’s hoping it will look like a no-brainer, but the disparity small enugh that he’s hoping it won’t automatically set off my alarm. He’s hoping I’m so giddy at the offer that I accept without doing homework and he’s looking for that balance where the offer itself won’t compel me to do new homework. It’s a fairly shrewd attempt, I must say.

    League settings create additional plausible variations of intent, or different ways to perceive value and benefit.

    And, finally, who is to say what somebody else may think is fair and beneficial. I’ve seen a lot of people give their informed consent to some awful trades in my day. In fact, I often don’t capitalize on the trade market enough because I underestimate how stupid people are – I’ve seen trades go through that I wouldn’t have even had the gaul to propose.

    with all this virtual ink spllage, I’m just trying to show that it is not so easy to pinpoint where an ethical breech is, or to even establish when one is taking place.

  11. Josh Shepardson said...

    Sorry Bob, but in your case, where you’d seen Crisp go down and suspected he was injured I think that’s a shame on you situation.  I would feel completely different if you hadn’t seen the play itself, and suspected injury as you described.

  12. Nutlaw said...

    Uh yeah, okay, fine. Sometimes people knowingly agree to bad trades. However, if one GM attempts to disadvantage another GM in trade by withholding information, it is immoral. Whether that immoral behavior is accepted within the group is another matter, but it’s pretty fair to say that attempting to cheat or swindle other people is widely recognized as immoral behavior in most situations.

  13. injunsteve said...

    In July of the 2007 season in my Dynasty League the ABombs offered his Dan Haren to Los Chupacabras for Hanley Ramirez.  This seemed like a fair trade at the time it was offered.  Hanley was coming off of an impressive rookie year, but Hareen seemed more proven.  Within hours of the trade offer Hanley suffered a shoulder injury.  Los Chupacabras accepted the offer when he found out about the news.  There was an uproar in the league, but in the end we have a no trade veto policy.  The shoulder injury wound up only keeping HanRam out for 4 games.  Hanley went on to post a .968 OPS with 29 HR and 51 SB, becoming one of the top 5 players in baseball.  I guess the moral of this story is you reap what you sow.

  14. Bob said...

    You see, I’m coming from the perspective that Nutlaw more astutely expressed.  If I had known Crisp was being re-examined and sent for an MRI, I probably wouldn’t do the deal and I definitely wouldn’t have increased my offer.  In the play I saw, Crisp fell backward on his ass.  How do you end up with a shoulder injury doing that?  My trading partner withheld vital information that gave him an advantage in the deal.

  15. Jason B said...

    “I’ve seen trades go through that I wouldn’t have even had the gaul to propose.”

    Candidly, I don’t think anyone has Gaul anymore.  The French and Belgians kind of divvied up the remains.

    You, however, may have been lacking in *gall*.

  16. Brad Johnson said...

    This is simple, always do a news search on google (sorted by post time) before doing a trade, just to be extra sure.

  17. Derek Ambrosino said...

    Touche, Jason B.

    I have a personal policy regarding my THT writing and my day job, which is basically that I don’t mind taking some time away from my busy day job to respond to comments, but unless its uncharacteristically slow, I forego the proofreading as a way to cap my insubordination.


    If one GM attempts to disadvantage another GM in trade by withholding information, it is immoral

    Where do we draw the line? Must I tell my prospective partner – hey, buy if you want, but you should know that you’re getting a guy who has an unsustainable .383 BABIP? I mean, the statement above is far too open ended for a more academic discussion on what is and what is not ethical.

    attempting to cheat or swindle other people is widely recognized as immoral behavior in most situations.

    Yes, and no. Attempting to cheat people is immoral in the context of tradinh; attempting to swindle them is the essential nature of the whole process. The reconciliation here is that you have to swindle them within the boundaries of good ethics. Any attempt to “sell” your player can be construed as being dishonest and witholding information can be seen as tantamount to deception – so the question really becomes a lot more nuanced; which types of dishonesty are acceptable and which aren’t? …That’s a question that is most likely going to lead down the path or moral relativism to discern an answer.

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