Trade strategy: Fantasy baseball meets fantasy football

Week 10 of the fantasy football season is upon us, and the trade deadline is fast approaching in most leagues. While most fantasy players consider baseball and football to be two separate games that have very little to do with each other, this is far from the case. There are absolutely ways to gain (or lose) fantasy baseball advantages during your fantasy football season.

Perhaps the most prominent deals with trading. While the players involved in trades are different, the trade negotiations themselves are similar. A fish is a fish, just as an owner who is always looking to rip someone off will do so regardless of the game format.

Therefore, if you are playing in your football league with some or all of the same owners who play in your baseball league, be sure to take notes on your trade discussions with them. This information can be directly applied to your baseball league.

Conversely, you also must be aware of the negotiation tactics you employ yourself, as a respectable opponent will understand this and be paying attention to them as well.

Because so many owners (at least at the conscious level) don’t realize this and treat the two as separate games, they will be less likely to conceal certain tendencies and won’t take their baseball behavior into account when playing football (and vice versa).

Here’s an example. I found myself in a scenario this past week that I felt was worth relaying.

Fantasy baseball situation

In one fantasy baseball league this year, I made a trade with an owner in which I initially offered Oliver Perez for Jacoby Ellsbury. I knew he really wanted Francisco Liriano, and I was willing to give him up if it really came down to it, but I thought I could get Ellsbury for less.

This might not seem like the best idea in retrospect, but keep in mind that (1) I needed steals, (2) Ellsbury was playing very well (though some regression was to be expected), (3) that it was a keeper league in which Ellsbury has a very favorable contract and (4) that this happened in May, when it was highly questionable whether Liriano would be keepable.

After negotiations dragged on for a few days, the best I could come up with was Liriano for Ellsbury and a second-round minor league draft pick. While I was satisfied with the trade at the time, I wrote down in my book on this owner that I appeared to have caved in to his demands. This meant that I needed to make a conscious effort not to use this tactic again for a while or risk this owner thinking he’s in control.

This can be a very effective negotiating tool (particularly in leagues where you aren’t always against the same set of opponents), but one that needs to be used with some caution.

To touch on the appeal of it, when you’re spending days talking down the value of the player you want (in a logical, reasoned, non-extreme manner), the other owner will often (at least at the subconscious level) downgrade his own expectations. This is human nature. Even if you can’t get the player for your original offer, this tactic may still allow you to get him for less than what you’re willing to offer—something that may not have been possible if you started with a higher offer and didn’t drag things out as much.

This type of move is akin to the “squeeze play” in poker. In Dan Harrington’s Harrington on Hold ‘Em: Volume II, he warns about that play: “Don’t try this move if you’ve already made it once at the session (even if you actually had a hand that time). It’s a big move and people will remember, so don’t overdo the play.” Luckily for fantasy owners, only one owner will be aware of this move as opposed to the whole table of players, so you can use it on different opponents over a short period of time if necessary.

Parallel fantasy football situation

Right now, I find myself in a fantasy football trade negotiation with the same owner from my baseball example. We’ve been talking about Larry Fitzgerald for a few weeks, but I’ve been unwilling to give up one of my top running backs (LT, Michael Turner and Brandon Jacobs) that he demands. Now that I’ve all but clinched a playoff spot, though, I’m willing to trade Turner (who has a rough playoff schedule) for Fitz and a lesser running back.

The problem, as you may have surmised, is that this again will look as though I’m caving in. If I offer Turner, during baseball season next year he may believe that he can get what he wants simply by waiting me out. This is a terrible position to find myself in.

I probably will forgo offering Turner because I care much more about fantasy baseball and because Fitz wouldn’t be a huge upgrade over my current wideouts. If this were a baseball league, though, I would have a tough decision to make.

Lessons

I think there are a couple of lessons we can learn from all of this. The first is that the negotiation tactic I used has some drawbacks. After you use it on an owner once, you may have to forgo an otherwise favorable trade—possibly more favorable than the original trade—down the road to avoid having to overpay in every negotiation going forward.

Depending on how risk-averse you are, you should consider reserving the move for your more important negotiations. Of course, owners are far less likely to alter their judgments of elite players simply because they get a low-ball (or slightly better than low-ball) offer, so judge the situations according.

If you consider yourself a very good negotiator or have the image of a shrewd negotiator, you might be more willing to make this move since it will be easier to rebound even if you have to use it twice in a row.

For example, I could simply explain the Michael Turner situation to the other owner, saying that I wanted to hang onto him for a couple weeks to make sure I got a playoff spot or something like that. I could say that I’ve soured on Turner, though saying that would make it difficult to trade him for Fitz. I could make the move and then lay down the law at the beginning of the baseball season. These kinds of considerations boil down to how well you know yourself and your own capabilities.

You’ll have to weigh these considerations on your own, but I hope it gives you something to think about.

Final note

Even if you don’t like fantasy football, it could be worth playing with the owners in your baseball league simply as a means of gaining information. Use it as a lab, as a way to test out negotiation ideas and to discover tendencies of your opponents. It might seem like a lot of work, but even if you do zero draft prep, pay minimal attention to your actual team, and don’t care one ounce about the final results, you have four months where there is no baseball and you can talk trades whenever you have some free time.

This might sound a little extreme and might not be for everyone; it’s just something to think about if you’re looking for additional ways to gain an advantage over your opponents.

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