The Verdict: the court rejects a disputed fantasy baseball trade

As the Court has frequently discussed, there is a different analysis of trades made in a keeper league as opposed to a non-keeper league. In keeper leagues, trades that do not have equivalent present-day value can typically pass muster by demonstrating some other intangible or long-term benefit to the team unloading current talent.

However, the case below deals with an NL-only league where former MVP Joey Votto was traded for a package that could not be justified. The Court does not often reject trades because people should have the freedom to manage their teams accordingly. But when trades like this come up for review, the Court will reject them if there is no discernible benefit provided to both parties.

SUPREME COURT OF FANTASY JUDGMENT

Team Sabo vs. 4 Ponies

ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI FROM THE INCONTINENT LEAGUE

Decided May 1, 2012
Cite as 4 F.J. 50 (May 2012)

Factual Background

A rotisserie fantasy baseball league called The Incontinent League (hereinafter referred to as “roto league” or “IL” is an 11-team NL-only keeper league utilizing an auction-style draft and transaction platform. Teams are permitted to maintain up to ten (10) players during each off-season with individual players allowed to be kept for a maximum of three (3) consecutive years under contract. Each team is also permitted to keep two minor league players which are in addition to the ten players kept. This roto league also has a $26.00 draft salary cap, as well as a $36.00 in-season salary cap that is applicable for all teams.

As with many rotisserie leagues, the Incontinent 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) 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.

The Incontinent League submitted a proposed trade between two league members and seeks an opinion on whether the trade should be approved.

Procedural History

Team Sabo made a trade with the 4 Ponies. Team Sabo traded Drew Stubbs (OF-CIN, $2.40 in the first year of his contract), Starling Marte (OF-PIT, $0.50 in the minor leagues), and Francisco Rodriguez (RP-MIL, $0.50 in the first year of his contract) to the 4 Ponies in exchange for Joey Votto (1B-CIN, $4.60 in the second year of his contract with one year remaining) and Tyler Clippard (RP-WAS, $0.50 in the first year of his contract).

Issue Presented

(1) Should the trade between Team Sabo and the 4 Ponies be 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 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 some skill, luck, dedication, and savviness. See 4 Ponies v. Carson City Cocks, 3 F.J. 13 (May 2011).

It is well documented that there is a different analysis of trades in a keeper league as opposed to a non-keeper league. A trade that may look facially uneven or lopsided could easily pass muster in a keeper league. Trades made between teams in a keeper league need to be analyzed by other factors besides merely comparing 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).

The Court will evaluate the objective merits of a deal and ensure that the integrity of the league is maintained. See Victoria’s Secret vs. C-Train, 2 F.J. 32, 35 (October 2010). The Court will not undermine a fantasy owner’s ability to manage his/her team unless a deal is unfair or inequitable, ripe with collusion, or not in the best interests of the league. Whether a trade is objectively intelligent or popular will not be part of the analysis. 4 Ponies vs. 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. Carson City Cocks vs. Stud Muffins, 3 F.J. 23, 24 (May 2011).

No evidence has been submitted indicating any alleged collusion or malfeasance. As such, the Court will operate on the presumption that there is no collusive conduct between the parties.

At first glance, the trade of Drew Stubbs, Starling Marte and Francisco Rodriguez in exchange for Joey Votto and Tyler Clippard does not look fair and equitable. In this deal, Votto is the only player regarded as elite. He is indisputably one of the best fantasy players in baseball, especially in an NL-Only league such as the Incontinent League. Any trade involving premier fantasy players is going to require additional scrutiny merely because of how valuable they are. See Steelers vs. Patriots, 3 F.J. 218, 220 (November 2011).

In this case, Votto, the 2010 National League MVP, is by far the best first baseman in the IL. Drew Stubbs is the best player included in the package for Votto. Stubbs is a starting outfielder for the Reds who has a respectable mix of power and speed, but he is prone to striking out and does not hit for a high average. Francisco Rodriguez and Tyler Clippard effectively cancel each other out as viable set-up relievers on their respective teams. Starling Marte is an outfield prospect for the Pirates who will likely not make an impact for at least another year. Overall, the trade is heavily weighted in favor of Team Sabo who is acquiring Votto for inequitable value.

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). This trade involves a first baseman in exchange for a starting outfielder and an outfield prospect, as well as a swap of relief pitchers. Presumably positional needs were a factor in the parties’ rationale for making the deal.

Team Sabo clearly obtains an upgrade at first base as Votto will supplant his current starter, Todd Helton. However, as stated previously, Votto is the best first baseman in an NL-Only league and is a considerable upgrade over anyone else. On the other hand, the 4 Ponies are now left with Anthony Rizzo, Matt Carpenter, and Aubrey Huff as the only players on his roster eligible at first base.

Currently, Rizzo is in the minor league for the foreseeable future as the Cubs will want to be patient with one of their top prospects. Huff is on the disabled list with personal and emotional issues. He has not produced consistently since 2010 and it is questionable how much playing time he will receive when he does come back because Brandon Belt appears to have been given an opportunity to establish himself as the Giants first baseman. Finally, Carpenter is playing now because of the injury to Lance Berkman. When Berkman does return, Carpenter will likely be relegated to a reserve role. Under no circumstances can the Court comprehend how the 4 Ponies benefit from this drastic downgrade at first base.

An argument in support of the trade on behalf of the 4 Ponies could be their desire to improve in stolen bases given Stubbs speed. Stubbs has stolen 70 bases combined over the past two seasons and already has four this year. However, the 4 Ponies also have Hanley Ramirez, Angel Pagan and Andres Torres on his roster as viable stolen base candidates. The increase in stolen bases that the 4 Ponies could potentially obtain pales in comparison to the decrease in home runs, runs batted in, and batting average that can be expected with this trade.

In terms of the contractual and financial ramifications of the trade, it makes sense on both sides. Team Sabo is adding $1.70 to their salary cap in the deal, but Votto only has one more season under contract after this year. Currently in 4th place, Team Sabo is clearly operating under a “win now” mentality. On the other hand, the 4 Ponies, currently in 10th place, do save $1.70 which they can use during the season, and they can keep Stubbs for another two years if so desired.

By trading Votto, it appears that the 4 Ponies are conceding this season and trying to build for the future. See Winners v. Seven Shades of Shite, 3 F.J. 97, 102 (July 2011) (holding that when a team in a keeper league no longer has any hope for contending in the current season, he/she must make a critical roster management decision of whether to trade off established players in exchange for unknown entities in building for the future).

While this is normally a justifiable reason to make a trade that doesn’t have present-day equivalent value, it does not apply in this scenario. First of all, the season is only in its 5th week. It is far too early to make any concessions based on the standings as of May 1. Second, the Court fails to see how this trade remotely benefits 4 Ponies now or in the future. The increase in stolen bases, the money saved, and Starling Marte’s potential are not sufficient enough to justify trading the preeminent first baseman in this NL-Only league.

The Court has no issues with the idea of trading superstar players so long as the package in return is equitable and makes sense given the needs of both teams. 4 Ponies v. Beaver Hunters, 3 F.J. 26, 29 (June 2011). Based on the foregoing reasons, the Court hereby decides that the subject trade is not equitable and should be rejected. The parties should have an opportunity to amend the deal to comport with the best interests of the league.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

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Comments

  1. Simon said...

    Not that I think this was a good deal, but saying that people shouldn’t decide to punt a season this early is pretty ludicrous. Plenty of people punt seasons before a ball has been pitched, and are correct to do so, just based on the quality of the roster that they can assemble. Also, the earlier you decide to move on, the more value you should be able to get for players like Votto.

  2. Michael A. Stein said...

    The fact he appeared to be punting the season at this early stage was one of the factors in determining the trade should be rejected.  Of course punting a current season in the hopes of building for the future is one of the cornerstones of making trades in keeper leagues.  The fact it was done at this point in the season, especially for the players involved in the trade, helped tip the scale against the deal because the projected future value in no way equated to trading Votto.

  3. Braves Fan said...

    I’d argue that selling impact players later rather than sooner would garner a greater return. Desperate teams trying to climb their way to the top from 2nd or 3rd place in August/September are much more likely to overpay for an impact player that they need. Only then will it become clear where they can make up the most ground and who would help them out the most (and also impact players who may, by then, be expendable). One month is still way too soon to decide whether or not a season is lost. Punting a season this early is very ludicrous.

  4. Simon said...

    Two things: Firstly, people will give up more long-term for 4-5 months of a player like Votto than for 1-2 months. Secondly, in a league with a load of keepers like this, if you think it’s inappropriate to punt a season at this stage, you don’t know what you’re doing. There are many rosters that have precisely zero chance of being competitive because they are rebuilding or whatever, and that’s before a season even starts. Considering this as a reason in itself to reject a trade is terrible – that’s not to say that the trade in question should have been allowed, but at least reject it for decent reasons.

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