The Verdict: non-keeper fantasy baseball trade dispute

Most of the trade disputes that get submitted to Fantasy Judgment for review come from keeper leagues. There is no question that the growing trend within fantasy baseball over the past decade has been leagues that allow teams to retain a certain number of players from year to year, usually for a finite period of time. The merits of a keeper league versus a non-keeper league is a topic we have already covered and can continue to debate another time. This particular decision epitomizes the difference in evaluating the merits of a trade in a keeper league compared to a non-keeper league. The ultimate decision is not what I want to focus on because that could go either way depending on who is involved in the trade. The point is that when evaluating a trade in a non-keeper league, it must be looked at with tunnel vision and only in the scope of the present and immediate future. The motives of each team involved in the trade must also be carefully examined because there is nothing at stake going into next season. This is why it is helpful to receive submissions and testimony from both parties.
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SUPREME COURT OF FANTASY JUDGMENT

Fielder’s Burgers v. PED-ROID-A

ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI FROM THE UW LAW LEAGUE

Decided August 12, 2011

Cite as 3 F.J. 140 (August 2011)

Factual Background

A rotisserie fantasy baseball league (hereinafter referred to as “Roto league” or “The UW Law League”) utilizing an auction-style draft on the Yahoo platform seeks an evaluation of a trade made between two teams within the league. This is a mixed AL/NL, non-keeper league where there is a fresh draft every year and teams are not permitted to retain players from season to season This Roto league also has a $260.00 in-season salary cap and $100 free agent auction bidding (“FAAB”) budget 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.

The UW Law League is governed by a written Constitution which contains a provision entitled “TRADING RULE.” The following represents the language contained in this provision and the established standard by which the league permits and reviews trades:

TRADING RULE:

A trade in this league is a contract of exchange between two parties. A trade is a bargained for exchange between two consenting adults based on their expectations and valuations of each player. I will not disturb those expectations and valuations unless there is an absolute necessity to do so (i.e., obvious fire sale or collusion) to maintain the integrity and spirit of competition. The courts of the United States will generally not inquire into the adequacy of consideration and neither will I. This means is that there is no collective veto of trade power vested in this league. The power of termination regarding an exchange of players will lie within 1) the discretionary power of the commissioner (myself) who will not veto trades unless they are grossly and clearly unconscionable or the byproduct of collusion or anti-competitive practices, and 2) the power of either party to the trade, for a period of 24 hours after the trade is approved. I will approve trades as soon as reasonably possible. The standard for “clearly unconscionable” in this league will be such that no reasonable person would ever have made this trade under the circumstances at the time of the trade. The standard is not “you could have gotten so much more for that player.” Valuations and future risk association is a matter between parties. There are also no implied or express warranties regarding promises or allegations of player’s value. Per the second restatement of contracts, a warranty cannot be created out of a statement of opinion or perceived valuation. If a party to the trade can prove fraud, however, I will rescind the trade beyond the 24-hour revocability period and make all changes retroactive. The economy is based on the exchange of perceived values and the ability of people to do so; sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. That is the gamble one takes when they make an exchange and you, by competing in this league, agree to undertake these risks and consequences when you assent to a trade.

Procedural History

Fielder’s Burgers have made a trade with PED-ROID-A. Fielder’s Burgers traded Prince Fielder (1B-MIL) and Lance Berkman (OF-STL) to PED-ROID-A in exchange for Clayton Kershaw (SP-LAD), Carlos Pena (1B-CHC), and Mike Adams (RP-TEX).

The team owner of PED-ROID-A is also the commissioner of the league. Given the language of the rule regarding the approval of trades, the commissioner will approve any trade so long as it does not violate certain conditions, including collusion or fire sale. After this trade was offered, accepted, and executed, several members of the league challenged its validity and demanded that the trade be vetoed or put to a league vote. Instead, the commissioner has submitted this trade for review to the Court.

Issue Presented

(1) Should the trade between Fielder’s Burgers and the PED-ROID-A 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. 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 has always held that the approval or rejection of a trade is based purely on its fairness, free from collusion, and in the best interests of the league. Whether a trade is intelligent or popular will not be part of the analysis. See 4 Ponies v. Beaver Hunters, 3 F.J. 26, 27 (June 2011). The virtue of a trade is measured in both quantifiable criteria and subjective needs of the teams involved. See Carson City Cocks v. Stud Muffins, 3 F.J. 23, 24 (May 2011).

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. See Smittydogs v. Moneyball, 1 F.J. 32, 33 (June 2010).

However, the UW Law League is not a keeper league so the evaluation of this trade must be made solely based on this year’s statistics, production, projections, and needs. By its very nature, the standard of review in a non-keeper league is much stricter than a keeper league because there is no consideration for future impact beyond this year.

One significant factor that the Court must always consider is whether there is any collusion or under-the-table dealings going on between teams. The allegations made against PED-ROID-A and Fielder’s Burgers are rooted in collusion. However, no evidence has been submitted demonstrating any illicit or deceitful schemes concocted between the parties. By his own admission, the commissioner states that he and Fielder’s Burgers made one previous trade earlier in the season. However, there is no known personal relationship between the two parties that gives rise to any elevated level of suspicion. Without any specific examples of alleged collusive behavior outside of the mere challenge of this trade, the Court holds that no collusion exists between the parties and will not be considered in the analysis.

At first glance, the trade of Prince Fielder and Lance Berkman in exchange for Clayton Kershaw, Carlos Pena and Mike Adams looks slightly uneven. Fielder is an elite offensive player ranked 15th overall in the league. His overall roto production has been tremendous in a contract year. Berkman has enjoyed a rebirth and a renaissance after an abysmal 2010 season. His power numbers and batting average are back at levels fantasy players grew accustomed to in the mid-2000s when Berkman was a top-10 player. These two players alone have provided and should continue to provide massive contributions in all roto categories except stolen bases. In the other package, Kershaw has emerged as an elite pitcher belonging in the same discussions with those such as Halladay, Verlander and Weaver. His production in all categories besides saves ranks among the top pitchers, and he leads the league overall in strikeouts. Adams has been a dominant middle reliever with astounding ERA and WHIP numbers. After being traded from San Diego to Texas, Adams finds himself in the middle of a pennant race and will also be called on to close games when Neftali Feliz needs a breather. Finally, Pena is a conundrum in both real and fantasy baseball. At the end of the year, his power numbers will look impressive. But his overall batting average is Mendoza-like and he is as streaky a player as there is.

After doing a statistical analysis and comparison, the numbers are equivalent enough to conclude that the value is comparable. While the offensive numbers do not match in totality (partially because it is two for one), the dominant pitching statistics make up the difference. Because of the specific manner in which standings and rankings are kept in a roto league, pitchers of Kershaw and Adams caliber will provide as much production in their pitching categories as Fielder and Berkman will provide in the offensive categories.

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). In this instance, the Court received submissions from both parties which it will rely on to determine individual objective and subjective motivations for entering into this deal.

The following is the submitted testimony of the commissioner of the league who also happens to be the team owner of PED-ROID-A:

“My trade to Fielder’s Burgers was not a fire sale, and it involved no collusion. Though the absolute value of the players may seem to weigh the trade in my favor, a look at the real effects of the deal show that its impact is fair between us. Then to why this trade works for both of us is that Fielder’s Burgers is punting batting average. Since May 1, Carlos Pena has hit 22 home runs and batted in 55 runners, for a 40 HR/100+ RBI pace. Berkman has hit 16, by comparison, over this stretch. Additionally, Berkman hit .262 in May, .221 in June, and .250 in July. Surely, there is a batting average difference between the two players, but if you ignore batting average, Pena has shown more power, plays in a more homer friendly park, and the R/RBI differential will not be so much more than the value of Mike Adams, who is a top 100 player this year and will get save opportunities in Texas when Feliz is used in three straight or is ineffective, per the Texas manager. In my opinion, the Rangers superior defense outweighs much of the change in park effects, and the save chances only increases Adams value down the stretch. Note further Berkman’s nagging injuries. He has missed almost 15 percent of the season as a starting player.

Fielder’s burger needed pitching, and I gave him one of the best pitchers in baseball and a top of the crop reliever. Fielder’s Burger’s ERA and WHIP at the time were 3.94 and 1.30. 7 Players had ERA’s north of 3.50 at the time of the trade, and five had WHIPs above or at 1.25. Fielder is also within striking distance of three to four people in strikeouts. Many of the people he has room to gain points against are at the top of the standings, where the race is very close. More than half the league is fewer than 14 points out of first. Fielder’s Burger’s is the last place team, and I believe I was the FIFTH (not sixth, as previously stated) place team at the time of the trade, however, Fielder’s Burgers has been an active player all year and has never considered himself, as some are claiming, “out of the race.” Our league does not prohibit trading with bottom of the standing teams, and it is not as though I traded with one of our league’s two inactive managers.

As I said, he is receiving the pitching boost he needs to gain a LOT of points down the stretch and a rare source of Ks (best K9 in lg) with great ERA/WHIP too. To presume that the rest of fielder’s team will continue to struggle in ERA and keep him at the bottom of the standings is unfair in my opinion. There is no indication that Zack Greinke will continue to struggle, and he is loaded now with elite RPs set to lower his ERA/WHIP and bolster K/9 production. It is not inconceivable that Fielder’s Burgers finishes in third place or better based on improvements in pitching down the stretch. Though he is currently 38.5 points out of third (and 44.5 points out of first), he has at least 20 points he can readily gain in pitching, and every point lost by someone above him, moves him doubly close to the top. His hitting also has plenty of room to improve in the second half, even without fielder and Berkman. I of course refer to guys like Uggla, Zimmerman, etc.

Given that we did not collude, we did not cheat, that the trade fit both out needs, we executed the trade as was, and I do not believe any rules of the league or of fairness were violated. We will fully respect and adhere to the ruling of the court.

In response, the Court received the following submission from Fielder’s Burgers justifying its position:

I’m writing this to further explain the recent. Kershaw-Adams-Pena for Fielder-Berkman trade. As of right now my team, Fielder’s Burgers, is in last in batting average, and has been all year. I’m sitting at .257 with the nearest team being .259, but most other teams being in the upper .260s to .270s. I made this trade understanding that I would have little hope of improving my average over the next month and a half. However, Carlos Pena has similar power numbers to Berkman, and Berkman’s performance has steadily grown worse over the course of the season. A few points in average, maybe an extra HR or two and a few more RBIs is all Berkman may give me over Pena. Fielder is a loss batting-wise, but I am making up for that loss with pitching.

In regards to pitching, I’m within striking distance to get more points on ERA/WHIP/Ks—all of which Kershaw and Adams provide. Moreover, a few more wins out of Kershaw and a few more saves out of Mike Adams will benefit my team. This is not and was not a fire sale—I’m simply doing what I think is necessary to give myself even a remote chance at moving into a position where I get paid at the end of the season.

Both parties made compelling arguments justifying why they entered into this trade. The commissioner concedes that the package he is receiving in Fielder and Berkman has more value. Simply comparing statistics is not a sufficient method of evaluating whether a trade should be approved or not. The animosity stemming from the league’s challenge of this trade appears to be centered on the fact that there is no rational basis for Fielder’s Burgers to give up so much to a team in contention for the playoffs. The scope of the Court’s authority is to govern and advise when there is a dispute as to the validity of trades, rulings, decisions or other issues that arise within the league. See Silveramo v. Nation, 2 F.J. 38, 41 (October 2010) (holding that making a judgment on whether an individual did something stupid falls outside of the Court’s jurisdiction). It is not up to the Court to make a determination on what is considered intelligent. Unwise decisions should not be scrutinized or vetoed merely because they are unwise. See Road Runners v. Urban Achievers, 3 F.J. 47, 50 (June 2011) (holding that the main criteria for evaluating a trade is its inherent fairness, not whether it was an intelligent decision by a league member to make the deal). Rather, the Court’s role in this jurisdiction is to evaluate the objective merits of a deal and ensure that the integrity of the league is maintained. See Victoria’s Secret v. C-Train, 2 F.J. 32, 35 (October 2010).

Here, there are apparent benefits obtained by Fielder’s Burgers in the package he received. Others may not agree with the strategy and thought process of Fielder’s Burgers. However, it is well-established law that teams that pay to participate in fantasy leagues should be given the freedom to manage their teams accordingly. See 4 Ponies v. Carson City Cocks, 3 F.J. 13 (May 2011). If they truly received nothing of value in return for Fielder and Berkman, then that would be indicative of collusive intent or potential abandonment. That is not the case here. The package of Kershaw, Adams and Pena does have value and demonstrates a thought process that was laid out in Fielder’s Burgers’ aforementioned submission.

Finally, commissioners are constantly under more scrutiny than the other members of the league simply because of the power and authority that is granted with such a position. As such, league commissioners should be cognizant of the perception of whatever decisions they make because they will be analyzed under a very thick microscope. See America’s Team v. The 1987 Denver Broncos are Cartman’s Father, 3 F.J. 51, 53 (July 2011). The mere fact that the commissioner of the league is potentially getting the better end of a trade is not in and of itself prejudicial or unscrupulous. As Commissioner, he must make decisions that are in the best interests of the league. However, he is also entitled to manage his team to the best of his ability and try to win. See A-Holes & Pujols v. Mad Cow Disease, 3 F.J. 44, 46 (June 2011). The potentially questionable conduct is the fact that the commissioner can approve his own trades. See Roto Fantasy Baseball League v. Fantasy Baseball Rookie, 1 F.J. 28, 31 (April 2010). The Court recommends for next season that the commissioner consider a better system of checks and balances for any trades he himself is involved in. This would help alleviate a certain amount of perceived impropriety, even if it is unfounded.

Based on the foregoing reasons, the Court decides that the subject trade is fair, equal, and free of collusion. The trade should be approved as it comports with the best interests of the league.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

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Comments

  1. David Wade said...

    The PED-ROID-A owner is notorious for being a wheeler-dealer.  He likely offered several packages per hour until the other owner, worn down and willing to see the benefit on his side for that particular combination- or just worn down to the point that he didn’t feel like rejecting any more trades, finally accepted.

    If you’ve seen the documentary “Fantasyland”, think of the annoying kid that drives to Ron Shandler’s house, hounding him for a trade.  That’s the PED-ROID-A owner, in a nutshell.

    With all that, an aggressive trader still doesn’t translate to a “cheating” trader.

  2. Chris said...

    The bigger problem above is that the rules treat the commissioner differently from other owners: he can reject or put to a vote their trades, but they cannot do the same to his.

    Either some other owner should be authorized to evaluate the commissioner’s trades or all trades should simply be subject to league vote at the request of any owner.

  3. PED-ROID-a said...

    I don’t offer *that* many trade offers…but in this situation, that was not the case. We had been going back and forth over a pitching for hitting deal for weeks. I had tried to acquire Uggla and Berkman starting in early/mid july, but his hot streak complicated everything.

    I do make a ton of trade offers, and yes, can be pesky at times. But I dont think i’ve ever “worn” someone down. I just like to start low with offers, and thats obnoxious at times….

    Sorry all! It’s just my fantasy playing personality

  4. PED-ROID-a said...

    @Chris,

    I disagree. I can see how it appears that way, but I hold myself to the same std as I hold the league. The purpose of vesting the “veto” power outside the league is to prevent trade vetos based on “itll upset my team’s lead” or chances of winning. Our league has 7/8 people in contention for first. Any trade that benefits one of the 7/8 teams would probably be vetoed merely to prevent that team from improving its chances

  5. PED-ROID-a said...

    I think the real solution is to utilize Fantasy Judgment’s service for all trades. Third party arbitration is the most fair, objective review

  6. Michael A. Stein said...

    No question that having your trades reviewed by a third party like Fantasy Judgment will remove any impropriety (shameless plug).  But if you choose to keep things in house, there should be another party involved to review trades made by the Commissioner.  In one of my leagues where I am the Commissioner, I have sole authority to approve all trades.  But any trade that I am involved in must be approved by the Co-Commissioner.

  7. Matt said...

    All leagues need an assistant commish to go along with a commish. No league should have one owner with all the power.

    Because what usually happens is the commish seems to think he’s above everyone else. That he can reject trades between 2 teams if the trade makes one team better than his own or has players involved he wants. It also allows him to have his own trades go through that if 2 other teams were involved, the trade would be rejected.

    PED-ROID-A seems like the guy who wants all the power and wouldn’t give anyone else equal power not because he’s worried the assistant commish would cheat, but because the assistant commish might fix the one sided trades PED-ROID-A makes and may let fair trades pass that PED-ROID-A rejected.

    I’m assistant commish in my league and we all have equal say. We vote on the message board and if enough owners don’t like the trade including the commish’s trade it gets reversed. Any league the trades should be reviewed by other owners including the commish trades. And PED-ROID-a you gotta stop using third party people to decide if one of your trades are good or not unless your gonna let all owners use a third party source. You can’t put yourself ahead of everyone else. Either have your trades reviewed by the other owners of the league and go with their decision even if it doesn’t favor you or let everyone have another source decide their trades as well. Don’t decide you have the right to reject other owner trades then say the owners can’t reject yours.

  8. Mike said...

    In leagues I would run, another owner (generally designated ahead of time) would be available to approve of the commissioner’s trades.  That said, I’ve played with guys like PED-ROID-A in the past, and the best approach is to generally avoid dealing with them and attempt to get the other owners on board with the same policy.  It rarely ends well for the other party.

  9. Terry Hazelbaker said...

    You guys who veto trades, outside of the condition of collusion, are the absolute worst kind of fantasy owners.  Everybody must play by your pre-decided opinion of player value.  Why not just make it easy for your leaguemates and rank the players 1-500?  That way at least everone knows the value of a dollar, so to speak. 

    Vetoing trades, outside of collusion, is nothing but jealously and the leagues that do it need to get better owners. (Here’s a hint, you get better owners by not being trade nazis.)

  10. Alan Wiesenhahn said...

    Terry, you are spot on. It is impossible to gauge value in fantasy due to roster depth. I could have three top tier firstbaseman and trade one away for a little lower than market value simply to get a position I needed. Sometimes “ripping yourself off” is a good strategy to simply get a deal done. I dont play in leagues with vetoes, leagues who score “wins” for pitchers, or leagues who make a single plus stolen base more valuable than a double.

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