There are hordes of strategic principles that the fantasy GM can use when it comes to trading. One is the use of propaganda and another is to identify excellent players that are overrated, and will bring more in trade than they will likely produce. Easier said than done of course. Here is an example from my first trade of the year in my high-stakes league.
In April I was forced to make a trade for a closer. Sadly, I kept BJ Ryan this offseason, since he had a very favorable $12 contract that expired after this year. On April 16 it was announced that he had an elbow ligament problem and shortly thereafter was out for the year. I had Ryan in three of my four leagues, and the one I didn’t was an NL only. Ugh.
Given that I viewed myself as a strong contender, and my other closer was (and is) Bobby Jenks, it was immediately clear that I needed a top closer. At that time one of my my prime trade commodities was Brian McCann. I auctioned McCann last year for $12 and he was worth every penny! The problem though was that his numbers were simply not supported by his skills. He had a huge second half, his batting average was 30 points higher than it should have been, and his power appeared to be out of line with his minor league numbers.
When it comes to players like McCann (or Stephen Drew, who I discussed in a prior column) that I think are overrated, I am usually determined to trade them. They almost always have more value in trade than they will actually produce; most owners are not familiar with the more advanced “expected” metrics, or even when they are, they still tend to believe what they see rather than what should be the case. A full understanding of this principle and how to apply it in practice can easily be your most potent tactical weapon.
When applying this principle, it is almost irrelevant who the actual player is. If the player is overrated, then he must go, and usually early. If it is a guy like McCann, who I loved as a player, it makes it more difficult, but one has to divorce personal feelings for the good of the team. This is the fantasy version of Sal Maglie throwing at his mother.
Who was the best closer to target? I targeted Joe Nathan or Francisco Rodriguez. Nathan was on a sweet long term contract and his owner was no fool so he wasn’t going anywhere. The owner that had K-Rod also had Tim Lincecum, who I and many others coveted. However, I wanted him not to keep but as a trade commodity!
Lincecum was a special case, since he has huge talent, but no matter how talented he is, as a contender I will trade him almost every time. Trading young studs, especially pitchers, for valuable, reliable everyday hitters is a bread and butter move, and guys like Lincecum bring a pretty penny. Last year I made a similar trade, getting Justin Morneau in May for Alex Gordon. This is something that should be planned (or budgeted) for at auction or draft time, and not left to chance.
Lincecum, as talented as he is, was rushed to the majors and wasn’t likely to be an ace out of the box. But most people thought that he could actually be an ace or close to it; many of the comparisons were to Francisco Liriano. But the fact is that the Lirianos of the world are very rare, and given how fast Lincecum moved it is likely that he will have growing pains and streakiness. If I could get close to ace value, it is an easy deal.
So far, admittedly, Lincecum has been proving me wrong; though he is not yet pitching like an ace, he is pretty close. Nevertheless, it is the process that matters. Most times these guys disappoint.
So, how to get Lincecum? Since he was such a hot commodity, it was clear that I needed to have some negative publicity about him. So I went on a 10-day negative publicity campaign to his owner (though I don’t feel as slimy as a politician), who is a close pal who is always willing to talk baseball. This owner is no fool and is sharp and a tough negotiator.
Essentially, every day I was emailing and calling him with any scrap of news I could find; stuff on his unorthodox delivery, stuff on his college workload etc. One useful nugget was the group of players that had similar K/PA numbers.
Here is the list. Ignoring Lincecum, 4 were mediocre to non-existent in the Majors, Kazmir has been a disappointment, and the rest are all good. In a way this is sobering; if you asked Lincecum owners whether he would be a disappointment if he turned out like Josh Beckett what would they say? I bet most would say yes, and Beckett is clearly the best on this list:
Player Year K% Tim Lincecum 2006 30.90% Scott Kazmir 2002 28.60% Ryan Anderson 2000 28.50% Brad Lidge 2001 27.40% Josh Beckett 2001 26.80% Jesse Foppert 2002 25.90% Juan Pena 1999 25.90% Rich Hill 2005 25.50% F. Liriano 2005 25.50% Paul Abbott 1997 25.30%
Before you start emailing me, note that I am not necessarily saying that this list has any actual relevance to future stardom; Lincecum not only was number one on the list but far better than every other pitcher. The negotiating point to his owner was that even under a best case scenario there was only a 50% chance or so that Lincecum turned into a even an above-average pitcher, based on this list at least.
My position was that he could easily go the way of someone like Andy Benes, another hugely heralded pitcher who took some time to become valuable and had an excellent but perhaps disappointing career. Eventually, I wore him down and got him to deal Lincecum to me.
The deal: I traded McCann, Michael Cuddyer, and Luke Hudson for K-Rod, Mike Sweeney, Lincecum, and Rod Barajas. In a very deep league like my high-stakes league guys like Sweeney and Barajas have value; we have a 6200 AB minimum (with 14 hitters) and they get at-bats, plus have a bit of pop. I had essentially a zero as my second catcher in the NL and in my utility spot in the AL, so they at least had short term value. Of course I had no intention of keeping Sweeney for the long term; I was hoping to get a hot month or two. In fact, I dealt him in my very next trade.
So far this has been a fair deal; K-Rod has arguably been the most valuable closer, McCann has disappointed (not surprisingly), I traded Lincecum to get David Ortiz and got Cuddyer back in a later deal. I would love to have Lincecum for next year, but if you always play for next year you will always be waiting for next year.