The Verdict: Offseason keeper league trade dispute

There truly is no offseason in baseball – both real and fantasy. Many keeper leagues allow trades after the conclusion of the previous season and prior to the start of the next one. Given the nature of keeper leagues, trades do not always involve packages of absolute equivalent value. But when analyzing whether a trade should be permitted, it is necessary to evaluate other factors such as the salary cap implications, length of contracts, and the long-term effect on both teams. This is why there is a distinction between trades in keeper and non-keeper leagues.

The general standard is that trades should be allowed so long as there is no evidence of collusive conduct between teams, both teams agree to the terms, and a discernible benefit can be derived on both sides. Sometimes that benefit may not manifest itself in present-day statistics or performance. But in a keeper league, there is inherent value in acquiring young prospects who cost very little while gaining salary cap flexibility. Below is a recent case submitted to the Supreme Court of Fantasy Judgment involving a disputed trade in a very large keeper league.

SUPREME COURT OF FANTASY JUDGMENT

Grave Diggers v. Chilidogs

ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI FROM THE WESTERN NY ROTISSERIE BASEBALL LEAGUE

Decided January 26, 2012
Cite as 4 F.J. 5 (January 2012)

Factual Background

A fantasy baseball league called the Western NY Rotisserie Baseball League (hereinafter referred to as “Roto league” or “WNYRBL”) is comprised of 22 teams and has been in existence since 1987. The WNYRBL, hosted on CBSSports.com, utilizes an auction format for its annual draft and bidding on free agents when making transactions. Each team has a draft budget of $260 and an after-auction salary cap of $325. It is a mixed AL/NL keeper league where each team may keep a minimum of five (5) players and a maximum of fifteen (15) players from one season to the next within its 23-man roster.

As with many rotisserie leagues, the WNYRBL 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) homeruns; (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.

Because this is a keeper league, players may be signed to contracts as part of their retention from year to year. The rules regarding players’ contracts is as follows:

XV. LONG TERM CONTRACTS

A player whose been under contract for two consecutive seasons at the same salary must, prior to the freezing of the rosters in his 3rd or option season, be:

1. Released;
2. Signed at the same salary for his option year; or
3. Signed to a guaranteed long term contract.

If released, the player returns to the free agent pool and becomes available to the highest bidder at the next auction.

If signed at the same salary for the option year, the player must be released back into the free agent pool at the end of the season.

If signed to a guaranteed long term contract, the player’s salary in each year covered by the new contract (which commences with the option year) shall be the sum of his current salary plus $5.00 for each addition year beyond the option year. In addition, a signing bonus, equal to one half the total value of the contract, but no less than $5.00 shall be paid.

Trades are permitted during the offseason. According to Section XI of the WNYRBL’s rules, trades are permissible after the last day of the season until rosters are frozen, which is two weeks prior to the draft.

Procedural History

The Grave Diggers have made a trade with the Chilidogs. The Grave Diggers traded Mitch Moreland (1B-TEX, $3.00 with one year of eligibility at this salary remaining) and Brent Morel (3B-CHW, $3.00 with one year of eligibility at this salary remaining) to the Chilidogs in exchange for Jose Reyes (SS-MIA, $38.00 with one year of eligibility at this salary remaining) and Javy Guerra (RP-LAD, $14.00 and in the first year of his short-term contract).

Issue Presented

(1) Should the trade between the Grave Diggers and the Chilidogs 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 participate in fantasy leagues, and generally they should be afforded the freedom to manage their team accordingly. Whether success is bred from that individual’s decision-making is purely left to skill, luck, dedication, and savviness. See 4 Ponies v. Carson City Cocks, 3 F.J. 13 (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).

Another factor that the Court must always consider is whether there is any collusion or illicit dealings going on between teams. The Court has not been presented with any evidence of such malfeasance, so no analysis of potential collusive activity will be conducted.

At first glance, the trade of Mitch Moreland and Brent Morel in exchange for Jose Reyes and Javy Guerra looks imbalanced. Reyes is clearly the best player involved in this trade and has exponentially more fantasy value than both Moreland and Morel. The fact that he is being traded for players with far less value precipitates the need to analyze the merits of the trade beyond mere statistics.

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).

A player’s value is not necessarily equivalent to the accumulation of several other less valuable players’ statistics. See Team Sabo v. Nub Vader, 3 F.J. 55, 56 (July 2011). The Court has no issues with the idea of trading superstar players, such as Reyes, so long as the package in return is equitable and makes sense given the needs of both teams. See 4 Ponies v. Beaver Hunters, 3 F.J. 26, 29 (June 2011). Here, it is empirically evident that Reyes and Guerra have better statistics and value than Moreland and Morel. As such, there is no need to break down each player’s individual statistics for comparison. Rather, the Court must look at other intangible factors to determine whether this trade should be upheld.

The approval or rejection of a trade should be based on whether the deal is fair, 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 will consider each team’s individual needs to assess whether the trade subjectively made sense from both perspectives. 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). A trade will be rejected when the Court cannot objectively ascertain any benefit to one of the teams and the net result in no way makes a team better now or in the future. See Los Pollos Hermanos v. Little Stumps, 3 F.J. 192, 195 (October 2011).

The record is devoid of the current rosters for both the Grave Diggers and Chilidogs. However, we can still determine certain needs and priorities of both teams based on the information provided. The Grave Diggers finished in last place in 2011 and clearly want to improve this season.

By acquiring Reyes and Guerra, the Grave Diggers will unquestionably improve their rankings in several rotisserie categories based on the players’ past performances and projected statistics. On the other hand, the Chilidogs finished in 4th place in 2011 and appear to desire younger players with upside, and to have more salary cap flexibility for the auction draft. For the 2012 season, the Chilidogs will save $46 by making this trade. This is a significant amount considering it represents approximately 17% of the draft budget allotted.

This trade, as with any other, is not free from risk for the team acquiring the established talent. Reyes, 28, is anything but a lock to stay healthy and produce for the entire season. He will be playing for a new team with a lot of pressure on him to justify his six year/$106 million contract. He is coming off a season where he went on the disabled list twice with hamstring injuries. His stolen base totals have not come anywhere near his totals from 2005-2008, which is due to many factors including age and injuries. Additionally, Guerra may not be the closer again for the Dodgers as Kenley Jansen may get an opportunity to seize the job.

The dichotomy between the Grave Diggers and the Chilidogs motivations is precisely why the Court must look at trades in keeper leagues differently than non-keeper leagues. See Smittydogs v. Moneyball, 1 F.J. 32, 34 (June 2010). Team owners in keeper leagues must make critical roster management decisions with respect to trading off established talent in exchange for unknown and less expensive commodities to help build for the future. See Winners v. Seven Shades of Shite, 3 F.J. 97, 102 (July 2011). Had this trade been made in a non-keeper league, the Court would ardently reject it.

Based on the foregoing, the Court approves the subject trade between the Grave Diggers and the Chilidogs. It is understandable why a trade such as this would receive opposition because there is a dramatic difference in the present day value of both respective packages. See Cowboys vs. Knights, 3 F.J. 147, 150 (August 2011).

However, there are other factors to consider when determining whether a trade should be approved besides the actual statistics on the back of a baseball card. Here, a trade was proposed and agreed to between two teams with differing priorities. While the trade is comprised of two packages that cannot be considered completely equivalent, it is free from collusion and has discernible benefits for both parties. See Specialists vs. Knights, 3 F.J. 151, 154 (August 2011). As such, 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. Hunter said...

    Moreland, too, had an injury last year that allowed him to play but it is speculated the injury sapped his numbers.

    I think it’s more than possible Moreland returns this year and puts up numbers comparable to Gaby Sanchez or even Ike Davis….which, for $3 is good value.

  2. Al Gellin said...

    Can you share contact info for the league? I live in Western New York and would like to touch base (pardon the pun) with this league.

  3. Millsy said...

    “Had this trade been made in a non-keeper league, the Court would ardently reject it.”

    I am not convinced that you can make this ruling without knowing the rosters of each team, even in a non-keeper league. 

    For example, assume Chili Dogs’ first baseman was injured and he is short on a backup, while he has a very capable backup SS and starting DH already rostered.  Meanwhile, Grave Diggers has no reasonably rosterable SS, but has Mitch Moreland and Brent Morel just sitting on the bench taking up space. 

    It very well could make sense in the net Roto Points calculation to trade Reyes for Moreland, and I don’t think you have enough information to make that distinction here.  In a 22-team league, you’re fighting for guys that just get at bats after an injury, especially if they are relatively deep rosters.  This trade would make even more sense if Grave Diggers were short on SB and Chili Dogs needed a slight boost in power numbers.

  4. Rick said...

    “Had this trade been made in a non-keeper league, the Court would ardently reject it.”

    I do not think that it matters that it is a keeper league or not.  A more appropriate statement would be:

    “Had this trade been made after the auction in a non-keeper league, the Court would ardently reject it.”

    There is a huge difference in trades in-season and off-season.  The ability to re-allocate Reyes’ salary in the auction turns it into a value question.  As it has already been stated Reyes at $38 might not be a good keeper.  Likewise, depending on the league’s valuation of closers, Guerra at $14 might be at value and the team that traded the two might have just not kept either for the flexibility at the auction.

    At this point it really does not matter what is received in return as the Reyes/Guerra side has marginal value in a pre-draft trade.

    In season, non-keeper, this trade would need to be rejected.  The discussion that is in the ruling pertains to in-season keeper leagues more than the situation that was presented.

  5. Signals said...

    Your repeated use of the signal “See” is improper. In many of the citations, simply citing to the relevant authority, without a signal, would have been sufficient.

  6. Simon said...

    This discussion minimises the difference in salaries to a huge extent. I’m not sure that Reyes is worth $38, or Guerra worth $14. In that case, especially if there are reasonable options available in free agency, getting two cheap young players in return is a very decent deal. A more accurate way of analysing the deal is to work out who could be purchased with the $46 difference, and add that to the deal (because the player benefitting from increased cap space will undoubtedly use it, and the player who gives up cap space can no longer sign players he would previously have been able to afford). $46 is a whole lot of cap.

  7. Brad Johnson said...

    What we have here is a simple case of somebody who buys into Morel’s big second half. And as Simon pointed out, it’s arguable that Reyes should be kept at $38. It’s probably better to at least try to redraft him at a similar cost.

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