The Verdict: FAAB is all about the timing

Many fantasy baseball leagues use an auction bidding process to determine waiver-wire and free-agent acquisitions. Sure, there are still some old-school leagues that employ the “first-come, first-served” approach to transactions, but free agent auction bidding (“FAAB”) is quite popular in leagues of any format.

A lot of strategy goes into the bidding process because most leagues set a finite amount of fake money for each team to use. There are many other rules and regulations that leagues implement with their own FAAB process, including the roster status of players.

I recently decided a case for Fantasy Judgment in which a league submitted a dispute over a commissioner’s decision to revoke a FAAB acquisition because the player being acquired was not technically on a major league roster at the time. This league’s rules explicitly required that only players on a major league roster can be acquired, and the determining factor of whether a player has been promoted to the major leagues is the transaction page on the major league team’s official website.

Monday, the team known as the V-Men bid $3 on Andrew Lambo and won him. As of 8:28 a.m. on Tuesday, Lambo still had not been called up according to the Pirates’ transaction page on MLB.com. The commissioner determined that Lambo was not eligible to be bid on and removed him from V-Men’s roster, thus restoring Cliff Pennington, whom he had cut to make the transaction.

The owner of the V-Men has challenged this decision, arguing inconsistency in the commissioner’s decision-making process. However, this was not the first instance of a situation like this arising in this NL-only roto league.

On Aug. 6, the Urban Achievers acquired free agent Wilmer Flores. The night before that, the commissioner noted that the Mets announced they would be promoting Flores for the next day, but it was not yet listed on their transaction page. When the commissioner woke up the next morning at 7:30, he checked the transaction page, and it was listed.

No one involved knew exactly what time the transaction was posted, as these are not time stamped. However, CBS posted the following at 12:16 a.m. on Aug. 6:

The Mets officially promoted third baseman Wilmer Flores from Triple-A Las Vegas Monday. He has had a great year at Triple-A with a .322 batting average, 15 homers and 86 RBI over 106 games.

Based on the fact that an exact time couldn’t be determined, the commissioner determined that he couldn’t—and shouldn’t—invalidate the transaction. This determination was not challenged despite the V-Men initially having concerns but later dropping the issue. While the V-Men initially raised an issue, he later that day determined that he no longer had a concern.

The V-Men now argue that, “Whatever logic you used to determine Flores was in play last week should apply to Lambo.” However, the commissioner argues that this is not a comparable issue in that Lambo is still not on the Pirates’ roster. He argues this is more analogous to a situation earlier in the year with Zack Wheeler.

On June 25, Victoria’s Secret bid on Wheeler and won him. At that point, he had started one game for the Mets on June 18 but was sent back down and was to be recalled to start again on June 25. He had not been recalled as of Monday night/Tuesday morning June 25, and so it was determined that he was not eligible to be bid on. As a result, he was returned to the free agent pool.

The V-Men sought a reversal of the commissioner’s decision and requested that Lambo be added back on to their roster.

The issue presented to the Court was straightforward, but it also required a delicate balancing of strict rule interpretation and allowing a league commissioner the flexibility to make a judgment call. The commissioner is empowered with the tasks of creating the league’s rules, settings, and guidelines (Bryan La Hair Club For Men vs. League Commissioner, 4 F.J. 26, 28 (April, 2012)).

He can achieve this goal either by writing a constitution or clearly laying out the parameters of the league within the host site’s settings. But no matter how meticulous or diligent a commissioner tries to be, he cannot reasonably foresee every possible issue or situation that can arise during a season. To hold them to such a standard would be unfair. See Z Wolves, et al. vs. League Commissioner, 3 F.J. 212, 216 (Nov., 2011).

The FAAB settings used by this league are standard for CBS leagues where the auction runs overnight and as frequently as the league desires. However, it is up to each individual league to determine the eligibility of free agents and whether they are permitted to be acquired.

Here, the rules are clear that a player must be on a major league roster. The league uses a team’s transaction page as the deciding factor whether a player is on a major league team.

The commissioner does not need to justify or validate his reasoning for having such rules in place, but it is clear that the Angerthal League is within its right not to permit minor league players to be added as free agents. See A New Hope vs. On the Juice, 1 F.J. 4, 7 (Sept., 2009), (holding that it can be important to understand the theory and rationale behind certain rules).

It is apparent that there have been at least two previous scenarios in which a minor league player was on the brink of being promoted during the time a team attempted to acquire him via the FAAB. Given there were shades of gray in these instances, the commissioner was required to make a judgment call in deciding whether the transactions should be approved.

The commissioner did not allow Wheeler to be added because he was not promoted back to the Mets at the time the FAAB ran on June 25. On the other hand, the commissioner did allow Flores to be added on Aug. 6 because it could not decisively be determined exactly what time the Mets announced his promotion.

Despite having different conclusions, it is clear that the commissioner was consistent with the criteria he used to reach both decisions. Commissioners should have a certain amount of autonomy to make decisions within the league. See Flemish USA vs. League Commissioner, 2 F.J. 35, 36 (Oct., 2010), (holding that league Commissioners are entitled to arbitrarily make decisions that do benefit the league as a whole).

But just as importantly, the Court recommends that commissioners enforce all rules and guidelines consistently. If the Commissioner makes an exception for someone, it should be explained thoroughly. See Machine vs. Fantasy Football League Commissioner, 2 F.J. 1, 3 (Sept., 2010). It is apparent that the league commissioner did explain his rationale behind both previous decisions.

In this case, Lambo technically was not promoted to the Pirates before the FAAB ran in the early morning hours of Tuesday. This is evidenced by the fact Lambo still was not listed on the transactions page later that morning.

This is distinguishable from the Flores incident because at least CBS had a time-stamped update about Flores’ promotion at a time before the FAAB ran. Plus, he clearly was added to the Mets roster by the time the commissioner awoke the next morning. Here, Lambo is still not listed on any transaction on the Pirates’ website at the time of the Court’s decision.

Typically, the Court will uphold a commissioner’s decision so long as it is in the best interests of the league overall and absent any self-serving motivation. Fair and Balanced vs. League Commissioner, 5 F.J. 1, 2 (Jan., 2013). The Court agreed with the commissioner’s thought process and decision to reject the acquisition of Lambo.

It is unfortunate that there are shades of gray in determining whether a player can be acquired because of the reliance on a major league baseball team’s announcement of a transaction. But that is the way the rules are written and should be enforced consistently. Based on this, the Court affirmed the commissioner’s decision to remove Lambo from V-Men’s roster, as the present case was analogous to the Wheeler situation as opposed to that involving Flores.

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Comments

  1. Nick said...

    We have a very similar rule in our league and run into the same problem.  In our league, all FAAB bids are processed at the time of the first pitch of the first game on Tuesdays.  CBS and Rotoworld have time stamps on the transactions but it’s not always correct.

    Do you have any suggestions on how we could do this so that we don’t run into this problem?  It seems to happen a few times every year.

    Is there a better source for the information?

    Thank you.

  2. Michael A. Stein said...

    Thanks for the comment Nick.  Unfortunately relying on third party technology does not always lead to definitive and accurate results.  The time stamps on CBS, Rotoworld or any other source that isn’t directly affiliated with the MLB team should be taken with a grain of salt.  However, since the MLB team pages do not time stamp transactions, we may need to rely on those other sites.  If that is the case, you should try to be consistent throughout your league with how these transactions are handled. 

    I think it is inevitable you will run into this dilemma if your league prohibits adding players not on a MLB roster.  You will end up doing the same thing the league in my case above did – evaluate each incident on a case-by-case basis and make the best judgment call you can.  If you want to completely avoid this dilemma, then perhaps you could consider adding minor league slots on your rosters.  That way you can pick up minor leaguers and there would never be an issue of whether he is on a MLB roster.

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