The most obvious gains from trade

I’m traveling, so I’m going to be nasty, brutish and short. Players who gain multi-position eligibility during the season are like gifts. Some are expected and some are not. Either way, they fall into one of two categories—the new iPhone or the bulky sweater.

Nearly anyone needs a new iPhone (don’t be literal with me here). So this is like when a player that “plays” like a third baseman gets some kind of middle infielder eligibility—like when Troy Glaus almost got shortstop eligibility a few seasons ago. When a decent player (or better) at a “stacked” position gets eligibility at a more rarefied position—like Chone Figgins at second base—this is a great (and maybe expected) gift. Alternatively, when a player gets eligibility at a more stacked position—like Ty Wigginton or Martin Prado at first base, when they had eligibility at second base—this is like the bulky sweater, rarely used and mostly shoved into the back of the closet.

A lot is made of players with multi-position eligibility, and indeed it never hurts to be eligible at more positions. But it should be barely notable to be a bulky sweater. Sure, if you need a very temporary replacement for your regular first baseman who’s out on bereavement leave for the week, it is helpful to have the extra position flexibility that the bulky sweater affords. But if you find yourself playing the bulky sweater regularly in his more stacked position (roughly in this order, from less to more: catcher, second base and shortstop, third base and outfield, and lastly first base), then you’re missing out on an easy trade opportunity.

If you don’t need to play the bulky sweater/iPhone at his more rarefied position—perhaps your second baseman, Robinson Cano, is better than your fourth outfielder, Chase Headley, and so you’d rather play Ben Zobrist in Headley’s place instead of Cano’s. Fine, but some other team doesn’t have the likes of Cano at second and has Freddy Sanchez there instead. You should easily be able to get a better outfielder than Zobrist in exchange for him, since Zobrist’s value as a second baseman is much larger to the new owner. This is a mutual gain for trade.

Mutual gains from trade is the easiest and best way to make great trades. These trades are not trades that rely on differences of opinion about players—there’s no buying low or selling high here. You are simply trading a need for a need, so to speak. It is the easiest way to turn any gift into an iPhone. I regularly examine my opponents’ rosters, looking for players who are being played at excessively stacked positions: Maybe one team’s playing Martin Prado at third or Victor Martinez at first.

Two things are helpful for trying to pry away a Victor Martinez from an owner playing him at first or corner infield. One, a first baseman on my roster that’s a bit better than Martinez there—say, Billy Butler. Two, a weak catcher on my roster that is I can cut after the trade or a decent catcher that I can trade on to another team that has a weak catcher. However, if I have Joe Mauer, the trade is still worth doing if I can quickly turn either Martinez or Mauer on to another team for a talent eligible somewhere else.

Now the brutish part: If you are the one regularly wearing tons of bulky sweaters, with Placido Polanco at third base, Michael Cuddyer at corner infield, Buster Posey at first base and Miguel Tejada in your utility spot, you should stop letting your mother lay out your clothes.

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  1. Kenji Uehara said...

    I can be even more brutish: I may wish to play Victor at first base, or Cano at utility, specifically to keep that player off everyone else’s roster.

    I have Mauer and Victor (and Carlos Santana) on my roster, and neither of my two main competitors has even a single top-10 catcher: they’re scrabbling together waiver wire trash.

    So I won’t be trading any of my C’s, even though I can only play two out of the three each week, because if I do, they may end up in one of THOSE lineups a trade or two later, and I much, much prefer that they have such a large hole in their lineups.

    Yeah, I’m a dick.

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