The Verdict: fantasy baseball trade dispute

As I have explained before, I run a business called Fantasy Judgment, an independent, expert dispute resolution service for fantasy sports leagues. Part of why I was asked to write for The Hardball Times was to share with you some of the cases that are submitted and the decisions written resolving such issues. Before anyone goes on the attack with accusations of self-promotion, this goes to the very heart of my column that analyzes various issues within the fantasy baseball universe. Most of the issues that come across my desk are trade disputes, so I wanted to share a recent decision with you to show how we evaluate proposed trades and come to our decisions.

THE SUPREME COURT OF FANTASY JUDGMENT

Smittydogs v. Stud Muffins

ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI FROM THE INCONTINENT LEAGUE

Decided April 22, 2011
Cite as 3 F.J. 10 (April 2011)

Factual Background

A rotisserie fantasy baseball league (hereinafter referred to as “Roto league” or “The Incontinent League”) utilizing an auction-style draft and transaction platform seeks an evaluation of a trade made between two teams within the Roto league. This is an NL-only keeper league where each team is permitted to maintain up to 10 players during each offseason with each individual player allowed to be kept for a maximum of three years. Each team is also permitted to keep two minor league players which are in addition to the 10 players kept. This Roto league also has a $36 in-season salary cap that is applicable for all teams.

As with many rotisserie leagues, the subject Roto league uses the standard 5×5 scoring categories to determine the standings and prize money. For offensive players, the five categories are: (1) batting average; (2) home runs; (3) runs batted in; (4) runs scored; and (5) stolen bases. For pitchers, the five categories are: (1) wins; (2) earned run average; (3) WHIP (walks+hits/innings pitched); (4) strikeouts; and (5) saves. Statistics are cumulative throughout the course of the season and there are no head-to-head games contained within the Roto league.

Procedural History

The Smittydogs have made two trades with the Stud Muffins which can be evaluated concurrently. The Smittydogs traded Todd Helton (1B-COL) and Brooks Conrad (3B-ATL) to the Stud Muffins in exchange for Jason Motte (RP-STL) and Mitchell Boggs (RP-STL).

Issue Presented

(1) Should the trades between the Smittydogs and the Stud Muffins be upheld and approved?

Decision

The Supreme Court of Fantasy Judgment typically favors individual fantasy sports participants and teams’ ability to make moves, transactions and trades. The standard of review has been that people pay money to purchase a team in a league, draft their team and manage it accordingly. Whether success is bred from that individual’s decision-making is purely left to some skill, luck, dedication and savviness.

The Court also acknowledges that the analysis for evaluating trades is much different in a keeper league than a non-keeper league. A trade that may look uneven or lopsided on its face may receive a different opinion when it is involved in a keeper league. The reasons for this are obvious, but must be restated. In a keeper league, teams that are having unsuccessful seasons are more likely to continue to pay attention and make moves that will set themselves up for better success in the following season. They can do this by acquiring young talent that is not under contract within the league, or by dumping salary (assuming it is an auction league) and allowing greater financial flexibility to sign key players in the next season’s draft. In non-keeper leagues, there is no rationale for thinking ahead, nor is there any need to stockpile young, inexpensive talent.

Another factor that the Court must always consider is whether there is any collusion or under-the-table dealings going on between teams. The Court has not been presented with any evidence of such malfeasance, so assumptions will be made that this is not an issue.

At first glance, the individual trades of Todd Helton in exchange for Jason Motte, and Brooks Conrad in exchange for Mitchell Boggs look slightly uneven. However, when viewed in totality as if it was a two-for-two trade, the deal makes more sense. It should be noted that the Smittydogs acquired Ryan Franklin (RP-STL) earlier in the season, and he has since lost his job as the closer for the St. Louis Cardinals. Clearly this served as a motivating factor for Smittydogs to acquire two potential candidates that will be obtaining Franklin’s save opportunities.

When analyzing the fairness and equity of a trade, the Court will consider each team’s individual needs to assess whether the trade subjectively made sense from each team’s perspective. See Cajon Crawdads vs. Carson City Cocks, 1 F.J. 41, 42 (June 2010) (upholding a trade for Jason Bay because of the Carson City Cocks’ desperate need for a starting outfielder due to the demotion of Cameron Maybin). Here, the Smittydogs were in need of saves due to Franklin’s demotion, so there was an inherent need to acquire potential replacements for him.

Todd Helton was once one of the premiere players in the league and a top option in terms of fantasy production. However, due to age and injuries, he has been sapped of the power and run production the fantasy baseball community was accustomed to for almost a decade. At this point in his career, Helton cannot be relied upon to play every day, nor can he be relied upon to contribute mightily in any of the roto categories.

However, he is still capable of reaching .300 with 15 home runs and 75 RBIs if he remains healthy enough. He will be afforded every opportunity to play consistently for a Rockies team that is expected to contend for the National League West title. It makes sense that he would be desirable by the Stud Muffins in exchange for a couple of Cardinals relievers without a track record of success.

The puzzling aspect of this trade is Brooks Conrad who is nothing more than a bench player. He was given significant playing time in 2010, and besides a game-winning grand slam home run, he did nothing remarkable other than make errors filling in for Chipper Jones. Conrad’s role is solely as a reserve, and he hasn’t even been given an opportunity to start a game yet in 2011. That being said, his inclusion in these deals doesn’t increase or decrease their value.

None of the players involved cost significant salary dollars, and their values only net a $0.10 difference which is hardly enough to consider as a factor in the trade. Additionally, none of these players are projected to be long-term assets for either team.

As referenced in Smittydogs v. Moneyball, 1 F.J. 32, 34 (June 2010), the dichotomy between the Smittydogs and the Stud Muffins’ motivations is precisely why the Court must look at trades in keeper leagues differently than non-keeper leagues. However, had this trade been made in a non-keeper league, the Court would still likely approve it.

These two trades were made concurrently and subsequently evaluated in totality for judicial economy and ease of reference for the parties. Based on the foregoing reasons, the Court hereby decides that the subject trades are fair, equal, and free of collusion. The trades should be approved as they comport with the best interests of the league.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

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Comments

  1. chuck said...

    seriously? THIS is the trade that you review?  helton sucks and the other guys are ladies-in-waiting.  as soon as franklin figures it out, he’ll be back. 

    how about a trade like roy halliday for fausto carmona?  how do you justify THAT trade?

  2. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Your standard of review is must stricter than mine! I use the legal std of unconscionability or collusion as the basis for recission!

    But a fair decision here. Here here.

  3. Karl Weathers said...

    When you misspell one of the best players in baseball’s name, you lose any clout behind your complaint, Chuck.

    I’ve been a critic of Michael’s work at times, but he offers a unique product, and I’m glad that he at least starts the piece off with the disclaimer that the piece is somewhat of sample of what to expect in his paid site.

    I agree with his analysis, and it’s a fun read.

  4. Michael A. Stein said...

    @Jeff – I have to use a strict standard of review because pure subjective analysis only goes so far. Creating truly objective criteria and delving deeper into the though process behind a trade helps maintain objectivity in making a decision.  Plus, it helps create a much more creative written decision.

    @varmintito – while this particular trade is mundane and doesn’t have prolific superstar players involved, it still must be treated with the same care and attention as any other deal.  People have many reasons to object to a trade, no matter who is involved.  That is why the impartial analysis and decision is helpful because I am far removed from the situation with nothing to gain or lose either way from the trade.

    @Chuck – I can only review the trades that get submitted to me.  I have nothing personally to do with them or the people who make them.  As for your hypothetical trade of Halladay for Carmona, that would certainly be met with stern criticism and a likely denial from the Court unless there was overwhelming evidence of a true benefit (either current or long-term) for the team trading away Halladay.

    @Karl Weathers – thanks for the support and kind words.  See…I do listen to my readers!

  5. Jim said...

    I’m pretty sure most here are making the assumption that Helton was not the Smittydogs starting 1B or even CI. I would like to know if he was getting much playing time before making a decision. If Carlos Delgado is his 1B at this point I’d wonder if he was really trying to win by dumping Helton for 2 RP. I’d like to see what the team’s hold before and after the trade to be able to make an informed decision.

  6. varmintito said...

    I’d be interested in hearing the owner who objected to this trade try to justify the objection. 

    This is the most straightforward trade of supporting players imaginable—a just-above-replacement value CI (at least a dozen better 1B in the league) and a totally worthless throw-in for a two-reliever closer handcuff, neither of whom has the ERA/WHIP/SO combo to provide much value as a middle reliever, with no guarantee that one of the two will get the full-time gig thereby allowing the owner to drop the other and seek to fill the roster spot with something more useful.

    And, as noted, none of these players has keeper value.

    Gimme a break.  Whoever objected to this was just being a dick.

  7. mrkwst22 said...

    Hell….I ok all trades. Collusion is part of baseball, and if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying! Right, Chief? Now where’s that slump buster?

  8. Brad Johnson said...

    I’m with Varm, whoever lodged the complaint should have been immediately overruled by the commissioner. If the commissioner was involved in the complaint…yikes. That it got so far as to seek a paid third party opinion is ridiculous.

  9. Nick said...

    Allowing team owners to veto or protest trades by other teams is a mark of a bad fantasy league. Trade vetoes cause arguments and ruin leagues. They also discourage trading, especially after other trades have been debated. People play fantasy sports for fun. Trading is fun. If you are forced to defend your trades it spoils the fun and the league. If you have a commissioner he can prevent collusion and cheating, so there is no reason to allow trade vetoes—especially annonymous ones.

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