The mysteries of bulk buying

I have a confession to make; with a few choice exceptions, I don’t understand humungous eight-, 10- or 12-player trades. I don’t want to paint these moves with a broad brush, but often times it seems like the owners involved in these trades are trading just to trade. A few weeks ago, in my admittedly lowest caliber league, the following trade went down:

Team A gave up:

Rafael Furcal
Austin Jackson
Franklin Gutierrez
Cliff Lee
David Aardsma
Jered Weaver

to acquire, from Team B:

Joe Mauer
Michael Young
Alex Gonzalez
Roy Halladay
Wandy Rodriguez

My first three reactions to seeing this were, in order: What the hell is going on here?; I think Team B got taken; and I’m really tempted to make a post on the message boards asking each owner to explain, in detail, why each thinks this was a good trade in the context of their own teams and the overarching strategy behind making the deal.

I mean, how do you even evaluate trades of this size with so many high-quality players involved? Is there really a point to putting Cliff Lee in an 11-player deal that nets you back Halladay? If Team A took Lee out of the deal and Team B took Halladay out, would the teams all of a sudden not be agreeable to the swap? I understand that there is a difference in value between the two, but it just seems kind of unnecessary.

When attempting to evaluate trades like this, I find myself trying to group either similar players or shared positions and either identifying relative advantages or canceling out whole portions of the trade like I’m crossing out long terms in an equation. So, here I’d start by saying that I’d rather have Lee and Weaver than Halladay and Rodriguez, for example. But, this is where it gets messy. How heavy is that advantage; how evenly matched does the rest of the trade have to be for me to be want to make the trade? It seems like the tendency in evaluating deals like this is to round off value – these three pieces are basically equal in value, basically being the key word.

I’m not going to spend a whole paragraph waxing philosophical about why people engage in these massive trades. To be sure, some are well thought out and sensible when subjected to scrutiny and others are whimsical and indicative of an owner’s desires for novelty.

The piece of practical advice I’d like to give is that the more players involved in a deal, the harder it is for an owner to properly evaluate it. So, perhaps it’s worth it to try this tactic to attempt to fleece others.

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Comments

  1. Kevin said...

    We often have massive trades like this in our keeper league, but since we’re also trading for different contract lengths and dealing with salary caps it makes a little more sense to be ‘throwing in’ a lot of different players.

  2. Tony Starks said...

    About a month ago I had made a similar type of deal with 8 total players (all SP’s) involved. I’m not sure who got fleeced but it’s always fun to see a blockbuster go down.

    Team A got:
    Price
    Cain
    Buchholz
    Romero

    Team B got:
    Halladay
    Hanson
    Latos
    Dempster

  3. Bobby Mueller said...

    That’s an interesting trade, it looks like two teams traded most their starting rotations. A month ago, these numbers would be different, but this is how that trade looks based on today’s stats.

    2.42 ERA, 3.59 FIP, 3.95 xFIP—Price
    3.34 ERA, 3.82 FIP, 4.72 xFIP—Cain
    2.45 ERA, 3.45 FIP, 4.26 xFIP—Buchholz
    3.71 ERA, 3.47 FIP, 3.53 xFIP—Romero

    2.19 ERA, 2.78 FIP, 2.94 xFIP—Halladay
    4.13 ERA, 3.26 FIP, 4.02 xFIP—Hanson
    2.45 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 3.52 xFIP—Latos
    3.61 ERA, 4.03 FIP, 3.73 xFIP—Dempster

    It looks like the Halladay, Hanson, Latos, Dempster group is superior.

  4. Brad Johnson said...

    I’ve got an even bigger one for you from my keeper league. The league leader is a compulsive trader. Unfortunately, 4 teams just gave up on the season by mid May and all 4 teams had a very tenuous grasp on the keeper mechanism (unlimited keeps, cost of previous auction draft price + $7). The result was teams thought guys like Casey McGehee on a $3 contract were prime keepers and traded marquee non-keepers for marginal players.

    Anyway, I’m off topic, onto the deal at hand:

    League Leader trades:
    Mark Teixiera
    Ichiro
    Carlos Marmol
    Dan Haren
    Zach Greinke
    Cole Hamels

    4th place guy trades:
    Alex Rodriguez
    Carl Crawford
    Jayson Werth
    Russell Branyon
    Erick Aybar

    One thing to note, the top team had way too many pitchers at the time of the trade and our league in general has way too many pitchers employed in relation to the innings cap. So good pitchers value is being driven down a little.

  5. Derek Ambrosino said...

    Kevin,

    I didn’t get into detailing my “choice exceptions” but your scenario is the main guiding principle for them. The more your league is structured to be like the actual MLB, the more sense it makes to see deals approximate what they may look like in real life. So, giving up a stud and a mid-tier player for a stop gap and a glut of prospects is totally normal and understandable – especially when your league has minor league roster spots, tiered contracts/pricing, etc.

    Bobby,

    That was a monster trade too, but I could at least see being able to clearly determine whether I would want to do it. It’s apples for apples – a bunch of apples for a bunch of apples, sure, but they’re all apples.

    Brad,

    If your league leader has a stangle hold on categories that lend themselves toward SPs and he needs speed, then he looks like he came up. But, again, these trades are often big enough messes, with enough variables that I’m often at a loss for what to make of them. In all honesty, if I set a trade proposal that consists of more than 5 total players and isn’t readily apparent that the deal favors me, I almost always just reject without further thought. That may be naive, but it’s just my character as a fantasy onwer.

  6. eric kesselman said...

    I don’t understand when you write “I mean, how do you even evaluate trades of this size with so many high-quality players involved?”

    Why don’t you evaluate it the way you should any other trade, with dollar prices? If you use dollar prices, whats the big deal with a 5v5 instead of a 2v2? Not to raise the spectre of the Quant debate, but it feels like you are trying to intuit your way through evaluation here instead of throwing out some prices and saying ‘hey team B, this is off by 12$!’

    Likewise, I am confused when you write ” If Team A took Lee out of the deal and Team B took Halladay out, would the teams all of a sudden not be agreeable to the swap? I understand that there is a difference in value between the two, but it just seems kind of unnecessary.”

    If you get that they have different values, why is hard to follow?

  7. Brad Johnson said...

    Prices do a relatively poor job of capturing specific statistics that each team requires. We’re not talking about a trade on April 1st, this is a mid-season move. In a roto league that means each owner will have built up strengths to trade for weaknesses and it also means that trades that don’t add up in the price column can still be mutually beneficial.

    For instance, in my primary league, if I can add one base stealer (for maybe Hawpe or Bay), I will almost certainly gain 4 points in the standings by the end. For those 4 points I might be willing to trade a $15 player for a $10 player. The same holds true in a 5 for 5 deal, it’s just magnified.

    In my experience, I’ve made large scale deals of this nature when I think I’m selling overrated elite players for underrated elite players.

  8. eric kesselman said...

    First off, if your prices are good they reflect your leagues standings, not some ‘absolute’ numbers. If sbs are super tight, your SB valuation should be higher.

    For those of us without good models, I agree with your point, but the objection appeared largely to be a complaint that team B got killed in basic value. I have a hard time being sympathetic to such a complaint without any attempt to actually price it out.

    If you then want to argue from there, ‘Yeah, I lost value but it was a great fit….’ that is totally reasonable.

  9. Brad Johnson said...

    If you have a model that accurately captures price relative to league standings, then that’s a fair point. I would hazard a guess and say that almost all fantasy players do not have such a model, including several who think that they do.

    I think the point of the article is simply to point out that sometimes teams make big trades that don’t appear to make sense.

    That trade that I quoted made no sense for either owner. Both teams got worse. The team that traded all the pitching downgraded his staff to Lincecum, C Bills, Peavy, Burnett, and filler. The other guy got more talent but traded all his best offensive players and had to dip into an empty waiver wire for his 5th OF.

  10. Derek Ambrosino said...

    If you have a model that accurately captures price relative to league standings, then that’s a fair point. I would hazard a guess and say that almost all fantasy players do not have such a model, including several who think that they do.

    First off, I’m going to call, “Bingo!” right here.

    I know you’re a brilliant guy, Eric, so I would assume you have a model that’s much closer to ideal than most. If you have that tool, btw, and it can do what you imply it theoretically can – forget using it to win CardRunners, patent that puppy and sell subscriptions.

    The other thing that makes these trades difficult to judge (besides Brad’s point) is that there are many roster implications of many trades like this. You are reconfiguring your team in a big way, and other questions like waiver wire replacement value come in.

    For example, I improve my OF, but gave up two MIs, so I have to consider the difference in my weakest OF vs the guy I get, in relation to the replacement value of the MIs on the waiver wire vs. the MIs I traded. And, the players also come with different skill sets to boot.

    My point is just that it’s very complicated to make these trades and they have long reaching ripple effects, often times. I could see myself proposing trades like this, but if I’m not in the market for a calculated self-driven massive roster/skill set shake-up, I’m pretty much going to ignore anybody’s attempts to propose an unsolicited trade of this nature to me. As I said, maybe I just lack the quant chops to distill them for what they are. If so, so be it.

    I usually attempt crystalize my own needs and seek them while introducing a few additional variables into the equation as possible. These trades are the opposite of that, for better or worse.

  11. eric kesselman said...

    I’m not brilliant, but hey it’s an easy mistake to make smile

    Sadly, Bill and Robert are the brilliant ones with the super sharp model. I just steal what I can.

    I understand there are other implications other than pure value, but you should almost always START there when analyzing a trade. How can you not?

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