The Verdict: not all trades are created equal

On May 21, the Supreme Court of Fantasy Judgment was presented with a case involving a dispute over a trade. This is not uncommon; a lot of the cases submitted to the Court are disputed trades. What made this case stand out was that the league had unique keeper requirements which ended up as the reason the proposed trade was ultimately rejected. As I have discussed before, trades in keeper leagues get more leniency because of the many factors that go into such deals besides pure present-day value. In this case, it was the keeper rules that ended up sealing its fate.

The trade was made in a 13-team mixed AL/NL keeper league whose teams are required to protect 13 players each year. However, players in CBS’ top 50 preseason ranking are ineligible to be protected. This means the top 50 players in CBS’ 2014 projections will be available in the pool of players to be drafted.

As with many rotisserie leagues, this is a 5×5 league for scoring categories to determine the standings and prize money. For offensive players, the five categories are on-base percentage, home runs, runs batted in, runs scored and stolen bases. For pitchers, the five categories are wins, earned run average, WHIP, strikeouts and saves. Statistics are cumulative throughout the course of the season; head to head games aren’t part of the league.

Team A traded Ben Revere (OF-PHI), Kyuji Fujikawa (RP-CHC), Hisashi Iwakuma (SP-SEA), and Adrian Gonzalez (1B-LAD) to Team B for Billy Butler (1B-KC), C.C. Sabathia (SP-NYY), Craig Kimbrel (RP-ATL), and Yoenis Cespedes (OF-OAK). No evidence was submitted indicating any alleged collusion or malfeasance, so the Court operated on the presumption that there is no collusive conduct between the parties.

At first glance, the trade looked inequitable. Kimbrel could be considered an elite fantasy player given his dominating numbers as one of, if not the most, premier closers in baseball.

But, because this is a keeper league, trades tend to be evaluated differently. A trade that may look uneven or lopsided could easily pass muster in a keeper league based on factors other than simply statistics. Grave Diggers vs. Chilidogs, 4 F.J. 5, 8 (January 2012). These other factors include salary cap flexibility, contractual status of players, and long-term planning at the expense of the current season. Smittydogs vs. Moneyball, 1 F.J. 32, 33 (June 2010); Winners vs. Seven Shades of Shite, 3 F.J. 97, 102 (July 2011) (holding that team owners in keeper leagues with no hope of contending in the current season must make critical roster management decisions of whether to trade established players to help build for the future).

However, this keeper league is unique in that the top 50 players cannot be retained. Because of that, the Court cannot know for sure whether any of the players involved in this trade will be eligible for retention next year. That does not mean we cannot speculate or make assumptions. Of all the players involved in this trade, the most likely candidate to be included in 2014’s top 50 rankings is Kimbrel. But even that is a stretch given he was not in the top 50 for 2013 according to three of CBS’ top fantasy writers (see

Assuming that none of the players involved in this trade will be ranked in the top 50 for 2014, then they will all be eligible to be kept next year. This bodes quite well for Team A, which is clearly getting the better end of this deal in terms of present day value as well as long-term benefits for next season.

This trade represented an even swap in terms of the players’ positions involved. It included the exchange of a first baseman, outfielder, starting pitcher and relief pitcher. Based on this, the deal did not represent a specific positional interest by one team. There were no salary cap or contractual ramifications in this trade since players are kept year to year assuming they fall outside of the top 50 preseason rankings. Furthermore, the record was devoid of any information regarding where these teams were in the standings or the composition of the rest of their respective rosters.

Since all of the foregoing factors and elements of a keeper league trade were eliminated from the analysis, we had to look at a statistical comparison of the compensation being exchanged. Again, we had an even swap of positions so we directly compared the players to one another.

As of May 21:

	          OBP 	HR	RBI	Runs	SB
Yoenis Cespedes	.286  	8	21	21	1
Ben Revere 	.291  	0	5	14	8

	              OBP      HR	RBI	Runs	SB
Billy Butler	     .375 	5	30	17	0
Adrian Gonzalez      .373	 4	29	11	0

	       W	ERA	WHIP	K	S
CC Sabathia	4	3.43	1.32	56	0
H. Iwakuma	5	2.37 	0.86  61	0

	       W	ERA	WHIP	K	S
Craig Kimbrel	0	2.60	0.98	28	14
Kyuji Fujikawa	1	6.75	1.17	12	2

The greatest disparity between the two packages is the comparison of Kimbrel to Fujijkawa, and Cespedes to Revere. Team A is exponentially upgrading by obtaining Kimbrel and Cespedes in exchange for Fujikawa (who has subsequently been lost for the year) and Revere. The exchange of Sabathia for Iwakuma is an essential wash given their statistics at the time. The same could be said for the exchange of Butler for Gonzalez.

For a trade to be deemed fair and equitable, there must be discernible benefits obtained by both teams. It is plainly obvious that Team A would have greatly benefited from this trade and likely ascended in the standings given the assets he would have acquired. However, the Court could not reasonably decipher any present or long-term benefit obtained by Team B in this trade. Given the statistical comparisons, the only advantage Team B could possibly have received is a slight upgrade with Iwakuma over Sabathia. Swapping Kimbrel for Fujikawa demonstrated no possible benefit even if Fujikawa returned and avoided season-ending surgery. Additionally, Revere was banged up and, when at his best, contributes only stolen bases. Cespedes is a much greater source of the same speed plus power and run production.

Typically the Court is extremely liberal in evaluating trades made in keeper leagues because we recognize the numerous factors that go into the analysis besides merely comparing statistics. This case was unique given the applicable rules for keepers. The Court did make broad assumptions that all players involved would be eligible for retention since they likely will not be in CBS’s top 50 preseason rankings for 2014. Of course, that is a fluid process depending on how these players perform the rest of the current season. But we can only evaluate the merits of this trade at the present time and make other assumptions and projections based on stats and data currently available.

In this deal, Team B was not receiving equitable compensation. According to the information known about this league, there were no discernible benefits being afforded to Team B to justify the inequity of the compensation. The Court’s role is to ensure that the integrity of the league is maintained by not allowing lopsided trades such as this from being processed. Based on the foregoing, the Court rejected the proposed trade.

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  1. Don Von Handburger said...

    The keeper rules in this league would give me a unique sensation – the sensation that I would want to quit the league and go find one that didn’t have stupid keeper rules.

  2. Dorsey said...

    Using only the two months worth of numbers we have for this season is somewhat superficial analysis, especially since Cespedes, Iwakuma, and Fujikawa are recent imports and don’t have established MLB track records.

    For example, Gonzalez has a career OPS 50 points higher than Butler and isn’t stuck in the utility slot. Iwakuma’s FIP is a run higher than his ERA, and Sabathia could reasonably be seen as a ROS upgrade, especially considering that Sabathia’s better team will allow him more opportunity to get wins.

    This trade would normally present a grey area, but the fact that Fujikawa is out for the season pushes it into unequitable territory.
    Even considering the weird keeper rule,who would keep a shaky pitching import coming off season ending surgery? He probably will go undrafted in most leagues next year.

  3. Jason said...

    The entire basis for articles like this is disgusting. If there is no collusion taking place, who are you to keep two managers from completing a trade? Why does past performance have to dictate how well these players will do moving forward? What happens if all of the players from the one side of the trade dominate and your rejection of this trade costs that manager a championship, and possibly hundreds or thousands of dollars? Or future championships and even more money for that matter. Your evaluation means nothing because you do NOT have a crystal ball any more than either of the two managers in question. If there is no cheating taking place it is absolutely not your place to stand between two managers who both want to do a deal.

  4. Jason said...

    Michael, what I’m trying to say is that by stepping in-between two managers who are not cheating and in 100% trust and honesty want to complete a deal with each other that they both can agree on and both feel are getting what they want, you are “acting” as a fantasy god. You are basically saying that your knowledge is superior to all. The only way you can logically interfere with a trade is if you can predict the future performance of all of these players and on those grounds say, “This trade is not fair”. Otherwise, you are basing it 100% off of past performance, which is absolutely irrelevant in almost every facet of life. That’s where I go back to my original statement that I cannot believe that an article/site like this exists. It’s an insult to fantasy baseball and people who realize that people who live in the past will always lose. The most successful people in life, in management, in fantasy, etc are the people who are on the cutting edge and are those predicting what will happen tomorrow and making calculated decisions for the future, not yesterday. Bottom line is that trades in MLB or in fantasy that look awkward today might look genius tomorrow, but you are too stuck being 1-dimensional to understand that.

    Best of luck –

  5. AM said...

    This sounds like one of the least fun keeper leagues ever.  Nonsensical keeper rules (what on earth is the point of not only excluding the best players but relying on one random sites’ composite ranking to determine eligibility??) combined with owners who will veto trades made in good conscience?  Don’t understand what this article is meant to illustrate other than to make the reader glad he doesn’t compete in such a ridiculous league.

  6. Michael A. Stein said...

    I understand the critique of this particular league’s keeper rules. But everyone does things differently and that is part of the beauty of fantasy baseball. Obviously the members of this league like the rules in place so it works for them.

    The fact that every league is (or can be) different and unique is why evaluating trades must be done on a case-by-case basis.  One trade may be fair and equitable in one league, but not another.

    While people should be able to manage their rosters according to their own preferences, including making trades that may not necessarily be considered intelligent, they still must make some logical sense from both side’s perspectives. There may not have been collusion here, but there was no rational basis for the team acquiring Fujikawa to make this deal. Of course no one can predict with certainty how the players will fare down the road.  But based on the way this league utilizes its keepers, there was no other option but to evaluate the players based on this year’s stats and projections.  That is why the deal was so imbalanced that it had to be rejected.

  7. Jason said...

    If you don’t have managers who can make competent trades, then you have the wrong guys in place. Otherwise it’s not your place to stand in the way of a trade. I would love for you to make a trade that you loved, and the league wouldn’t let it go through, only for that trade to cost you multiple championships in a keeper league. Now to complete the same deal you’d have to pay 10x more otherwise the league will reject that trade too. Think about how absolutely stupid that is.

    Bottom line is if there’s no cheating, you are no fantasy god and have no right to stand in the way of two honest managers who are both willing to complete a trade.

  8. Michael A. Stein said...

    I never proclaimed to be a “fantasy god” so if that is your interpretation then you are sadly mistaken.  Clearly there was a debate within this league as to whether this trade should be approved.  I provided an independent, third party OPINION about the deal.  Whether the league chose to abide by that opinion is their business.  If you are of the belief that all trades should be approved absent any form of cheating, then you are probably playing in a league with people you feel you can take advantage of.

  9. Don Von Handburger said...

    Isn’t it possible that one or more of Butler, Gonzalez, Cespedes, or Sabathia will be on whatever stupid arbitrary top-50 list this league uses?

    Isn’t Team B just assuming they are losing Sabathia and Cespedes anyway, and wants to get something in return for next year but the asinine rules of this league actually encourage him to get worse players, because they are less likely to be in the top-50 list?

  10. Cliff said...

    Jason-Ever heard the phrase “the past most often dictates the future?” While I understand the premise of your argument, and for the most part, agree that trades should only be overturned in the event of collusion between 2 owners, you are reading way too much into what is supposed to be an interesting and fun debate. It is short-sighted and outrageously naïve to think that a great deal cant be learned from the past. You claim that the leaders in management, life, and fantasy are the ones on the cutting edge of tomorrow’s next big thing…well without the lessons of the past and a thorough understanding of why certain things happened the way they did, you are not even coming remotely close to utilizing all the assets at your disposal.

    Furthermore, you incite that the author must feel he is some sort of “fantasy God,” but in reality, you are the one coming off as being on his/her high horse. The best line of your entire rant was when you wrote, “you are basically saying that your knowledge is superior to all.” But isn’t that the very thing you are doing yourself?

    By dismissing this series of articles and website altogether, aren’t you saying that you are simply too good for such a feeble dialogue? It would appear so.

  11. Michael A. Stein said...

    I certainly do not mind criticism or opposing views.  That sparks conversation and debate, which is a good thing for everyone.  I also understand that some people may feel that the service I provide is either unnecessary or that the conclusions reached are incorrect.  Clearly I am not going to please everyone simply based on the nature of litigation (either real or fantasy). 

    Let me set the record straight on something.  My decisions are simply opinions based on the facts and evidence I am given about a particular issue.  I don’t know the people in the leagues, and most times I am not provided all of the relevant information needed to reach a conclusion.  I look at particular dispute, whether it be a trade or some other issue, and I make an objective determination on how to resolve such an issue or make recommendations on how to proceed.  Whether the client chooses to adhere to my decisions is entirely up to them.  Some leagues and commissioners are not capable of self-policing, so that is why they elect to have my decisions be the deciding factor.

    For the record, I have only rejected maybe 5 or 6 trades over the past four years.  That represents a miniscule percentage of the total trade disputes that have been submitted.  That should tell you that I am all for teams being allowed to make trades, even if they are not completely equitable.  But a line must be drawn where some trades are so grossly uneven and make no logical sense that they should be rejected – especially taking into account the unique details of each league. 

    There are many schools of thought on how trades should be handled.  Everyone is entitled to their own opinions.  I make my decisions based on the specific details of each league.

    I don’t see how I could be called “one-dimensional” about this since I have approved dozens of trades that were hotly contested based on present-day value.  It doesn’t do me or anyone else any good to stand on ceremony and not be flexible in my train of thought when looking at a disputed trade that has both current and future implications.

  12. Jonathan Sher said...

    On June 7 the oracle of ultimate baseball wisdom was presented with a case involving a dispute over the value of a paid service called the Supreme Court of Fantasy Judgment, which charges $15 to offer a resolution of a disputed fantasy trade and encourages potential clients to amend their league constitution to make its paid service the substitute decision maker for the league commissioner.

    At issue is a case which Chief Justice Michael Stein selected for inclusion here because of the unusual keeper rules for the league in question, specifically, that teams must keep 13 players but can not keep players ranked in the top 50 in CBS’s preseason rankings.

    Since Chief Justice Stein’s selection turned on that single criteria, I will begin there. His analysis on that point begins and ends with following: “Of all the players involved in this trade, the most likely candidate to be included in 2014’s top 50 rankings is Kimbrel. But even that is a stretch given he was not even in the top 50 for 2013 according to three of CBS’s top fantasy writers.”

    On that basis alone Chief Justice Stein categorically rejects the argument that any of the eight players in the trade are more likely than others to be ranked in the top 50 next preseason.

    His argument is entirely unconvincing.

    To begin with, the Chief purports to rely on the fantasy rankings of two of three senior writers at CBS when that site provides another ranking for 5 x 5 rotisserie leagues and it is unclear from the record how the league in question selects the preseason record to be utilized.

    More concerning, for reasons not well articulated in the judgment, the Chief Justice assumed that Kimbrel was the most likely of the players to be ranked in the top 50:

    Both Cespedes and Sabathia were ranked in the top 50 in the preseason rankings for 2013 and well above Kimbrel, the former with an average ranking of 36 and the latter 42 among the three fantasy baseball writers cited by the Chief Justice. For Cespedes it was his first appearance in the top 50, but given his youth and well-rounded production, it is unlikely to be his last. Sabathia has been ranked in the top 50 for many years and many of his underlying performance statistics suggest he is as effective as ever: His swinging strike percentage is the second highest of his career. Simply put, on the balance of probabilities, it is more likely than not that both Cespedes and Sabathia are ranked next preseason in the top 50 and that neither will be allowed to be kept.

    Judgment be assumption is a poor substitute when there is ample evidence to the contrary that is simply ignored. Even Billy Butler has a higher average ranking than Kimbrel among the CBS writers in question with an average of 63

    Also concerning this oracle is the misuse of logic. It is bad enough that the Chief Justice assumed that a closer would rank higher than an elite outfielder and starting pitcher in a league where the inclusion of wins and strikeouts makes relief pitchers considerably less valuable. But even if Kimbrel was clearly the most likely to be ranked the highest in preseason 2014, it is a logical fallacy to then simply exclude from keeper analysis all other players. The issue is not which player is most likely to be ranked the highest but rather which players may be ranked in the top 50 and lose their future season value entirely.

    A proper judgment can only be rendered by assigning a probability for each player that he be ranked in the top 50. That probability would serve to discount the future value of that player.

    As I examine the entails of this judgment my vision is clear. If you are seeking an entertaining and well-constructed website, perhaps the Supreme Court of Fantasy Judgment is in your future. But if you are seeking resolution to fantasy trade dispute that are grounded in evidence and logic, you must search elsewhere.

  13. Brad Johnson said...

    If I squint hard enough, I can see why the “loser” accepted the trade.

    Fujikawa turned out to be a bust, but we didn’t know that for certain at the time.

    If the owner has a surplus of HR and a deficit of SB, then Cespedes for Revere could have made sense based purely on roto points.

    Some people would project A-Gon to be at least one tier better than Butler RoS.

    It’s not uncommon for a fantasy owner to prefer the pitcher with better stats over the pitcher with a better track record. It’s not entirely ridiculous to suggest that Iwakuma could outperform Sabathia RoS.

    I cannot fathom how this could be rejected. It’s not a great trade by any means, but it also isn’t the worst trade that I’ve seen this season.

  14. Simon said...

    It’s a recurrent issue with this series of articles that the author feels that he’s able to substitute his own judgement for that of the managers involved. It’s particularly disappointing when it’s done with basic analysis of superficial statistics. Also, the complete omission of the potential impact of the keeper rules is a further flaw in the analysis. I woulnd’t be shocked if all of Sabathia, Butler, Cespedes and Kimbrel ended up in the top 50 next year, which would vastly change the balance of this trade. But then, that’s one of the reasons that people should really stop interfering with trades just because they personally don’t like them, or wouldn’t have made them.

  15. Jason said...


    I was going to step away from this discussion, but I feel compelled to reply to your feedback since you took the time to put together some good thoughts. It’s the least I can do. I have just a couple of comments…

    I don’t disagree with the fact that the past does tell us a lot. But in the relative scheme of putting black and white decisions on things (approve trade or not approve), that mentality is like a fish out of water. If a manager was doing extensive scouting and knew Domonic Brown had changed his swing and had improved his game in “x” aspects and somehow saw this power binge coming and had to possibly fork out more than he wanted to get a player that was on the way to the ceiling, people in leagues like this might reject it, hence, screwing that manager from acquiring something that is worth 10x what it was yesterday. That there is why I’m saying that people need to stop trying to be “fantasy gods” and interfere with what might be beautiful foresight. My thesis is that nobody is a fantasy god any more than the next guy so anyone stepping inbetween a trade is creating an environment that eventually foster bad business, and consequences.

    Overall if you really think about it, in a way fantasy is a sports version of buying and selling stocks. One of the better investors of our time is Warren Buffett. There was an excerpt from one of his books that said this:

    “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man. (We can) conclude that Warren Buffet is the unreasonable man. (By doing) so it presumes that his investment approach represents progress in the financial world, an assumption (everyone) can strongly make. For when we look at the recent achievements of “reasonable” men, we see, at best, mediocrity and at worst, disaster.”

    The same applies to fantasy, and “buying and selling stocks” via trades. The reasonable men are those who will value every trade based off statistics of days past versus having foresight of what is to come in days forward. Those people will typically break even at best, but most of the time end up “broke”. This article and website to me speaks on this principle and everything that you shouldn’t do. Let the managers invest in these “stocks”. Let them dictate their own future. One of the commenters even identified the volatility of this “market” and not even knowing who the Top 50 players would be next season. Not only are these managers forecasting future performance, but they are also trying to be on the cutting edge of a list that will give them a series of constraints to build a team around. And yet the article above condones interfering with two non-conspiring, non-collusive managers trying to make their respective “portfolios” better. I’ll never be able to get on board with the interference of such actions.

    That’s all I have for now. Again, I appreciate the comments. Best of luck –

  16. web design said...

    Ho dovuto aggiornare la pagina tre volte per riuscire a leggere l’articolo. Però è valso la pena aspettare, ho trovato le informazioni che cercavo.

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