Fantasy 101: The Art of the Deal

Nobody fancies himself a plaything of destiny. A small, powerless kite twisting in the winds of fate. We all like to feel like we have control over our future — to believe that no matter what cards we are dealt, we can manufacture a winning hand. This is as true in life as it is in fantasy baseball, and when it comes to the latter, nothing wields the power to flip fortune on its head quite like a trade.

Trades are one of the more exciting aspects of fantasy baseball in that they provide owners with the opportunity to drastically alter the composition of their teams. In the blink of an eye, roster weaknesses can be patched up. Strengths can be fortified. Positional logjams can be cleared. For those unhappy with the makeup of their teams (or those of us who just really, really, really want to own lovable man-child Willians Astudillo), trades provide an opportunity for immediate improvement.

Now, completing a trade may seem simple in theory. But in reality, a lot of work goes into it, and there are many things to keep in mind when sending out or fielding offers. Here we’ll cover some of the central tenets of trading and share a couple of general but important tips.

 

Assess Your Surpluses and Needs

 

No trade occurs in a vacuum they’re too dark and dusty inside to get anything accomplished. Dad jokes aside, trading Edwin Encarnacion for Trea Turner might seem like a no-brainer on paper. But if your team is projected to lead the pack in stolen bases and is lagging behind in homers, this swap could actually do you more harm than good.

The whole point of trading is to improve your team, and doing that requires an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. This can require a good amount of research and legwork. Fortunately, modern technology has blessed us with an army of robot slaves that do all our menial tasks for us. If you feel like paying for the luxury of it, there is draft software out there that can analyze your team and your league to help you determine where your roster needs the most help. FantasyPros and RotoLab both offer draft/roster analysis software for a nominal fee, and there are other options out there as well if you want to poke around.

Truth be told though, not all of us have the disposable income required to make it rain on every shiny piece of analytic software that walks our way. If you’re a scrappy, bootstrapping, old-fashioned American like me (read: broke), you still have options for roster analysis. Namely, spreadsheets.

Simply plug your players’ rest-of-season projections into a spreadsheet and tally up your team’s expected production in each category. Then compare the results with a reliable benchmark. Chris Towers over at CBS actually released a great article with rotisserie hitting category benchmarks last year, and hopefully a 2019 update is in the cards. Otherwise I recommend looking at the leagues you played in the year prior to get an idea of how much production you’ll need in each category.

So for example, if the team that won home runs in your league last year hit 235 dingers, you’ll know that you’ll likely need close to that many homers by season’s end to compete in the category. If your roster is only projected for 180 homers, you’ll know to make adding a power bat a priority in any trade offers.

It’s obviously not an exact science, but it does the trick. And just like unsolicited life advice from your dad, it’s free.

 

Assess Other Owners’ Surpluses and Needs to Find a Match

 

Knowing what players you need to add in a trade in order to improve is only half the battle. It takes two to tango, after all. Once you’ve nailed down which categories in which you need to improve, you should make a shortlist of the players you want to target to fill those needs. Then you should study the rosters of the owners who have those players.

A guy like Khris Davis may be exactly the type of power hitter you need, but if his owner is relying on Davis’ home run production to compete in the category, the chances of your offer for him being accepted becomes drastically lower. However, if that same owner has a glaring lack of saves and you can afford to include a closer in your offer, you may be able to entice him into making the swap anyway.

The best trade partner is one who has an excess of what you need and a deficit in what you’re looking to move. Things won’t always work out so conveniently, but understanding the needs of your potential trade partner makes crafting an offer easier and more successful.

 

Communicate

 

Being a trade partner is a lot like being a romantic partner: the best ones are generous, kind, and communicative.

Congratulations, you’re not just learning how to trade here, you’re learning how to love.

In all seriousness, communication can make or break a trade. Plenty of owners take the shotgun approach to trade offers, repeatedly spamming their leaguemates with different variations of an offer hoping something gets accepted. Not only is this approach likely to get on the other owners’ nerves after a while, but it’s significantly more time-consuming than opening a dialogue with the owners with whom you want to trade. Try messaging owners directly and explaining what players are your targets and with whom you’d be willing to part. Once you’ve set the parameters of a potential deal, swapping offers becomes significantly easier and more likely to result in a successful trade.

One caveat: When communicating with your trade partner, do not openly trash the players you’re targeting in an attempt to make the other owner more likely to move them. For example: “I think David Price‘s elbow is a ticking time bomb, but I’d be willing to take him off your hands in exchange for Tyler Glasnow.” I have seen people try to pull this move countless times, and not only does it not achieve its intended effect, but it makes the owner think you’re a big ol’ butthead. And nobody wants to trade with a big ol’ butthead.

 

Do Not Make Lowball Offers

 

Speaking of being a big ol’ butthead, do not start off trade negotiations with a lowball offer. I know, I know  it’s tempting to see whether there’s somebody in your league silly enough to trade you Max Scherzer for Tyler Clippard. Surely there’s no harm in sending out a Hail Mary of an offer like that just to see if someone will accept, right?

Wrong! What people who make lowball offers don’t understand is that trading is a delicate dance, and a single misstep can throw the whole endeavor into disarray. Sure, there’s a very, very, very slim chance that your lowball offer will be accepted. But it’s significantly more likely that the other owner will interpret the offer as an insult to their intelligence, lowering your chances of making a deal and increasing the likelihood that they’ll ignore your next offer.

What’s worse, if you garner a reputation as somebody who consistently makes lowball offers, people will be less likely to trade with you, even when you eventually do offer something reasonable. After all, if half the offers you send out are ridiculous, owners might assume you know something they don’t even when you finally want to make a fair exchange. For the sake of your time, energy, and reputation, it’s better to just act in good faith and avoid lowballing.

 

Even Out Your Proposals

 

So this is more of a hit-or-miss piece of mental trickery than anything else, but I have found it to work on occasion with certain trade partners. Imagine you’re offering a 3-for-1 swap where you give up three solid pieces in exchange for a superstar. Even if the trade seems fair on paper, the other owner is not super likely to accept. Why? Because people tend to make quick, direct comparisons when they try to determine value. And when the other owner reviews this trade, he’s likely to compare the superstar he’s giving up with each player you’re offering individually and feel like he’d be getting shafted.

The trick here is to even out your offer. Instead of making a 3-for-1 offer, expand it to a 3-for-3 offer where the two additional players coming back your way are your trade partner’s worst assets (and the two players he’d likely drop anyway to clear roster space if he were to accept your original 3-for-1 offer). Now, when the other owner reviews the offer, he sees a trade where he gives up the best player in the deal, but he also swaps two of his worst players for clear upgrades. Sometimes this small shift in perspective is enough to nudge an offer across the finish line.

Your mileage may vary with this tactic, but I have seen it work on a few occasions.

 

Do Not Focus on ‘Winning’ the Trade

 

Would you rather have a suitcase full of cash or a pool noodle? Obviously the cash, right? Because it’s way more valuable. But what if you were on a sinking ship in the middle of the ocean? See, context is important when it comes to value.

And I know what you’re going to say: Couldn’t I just use the suitcase full of cash to bribe a bunch of nearby mermen into escorting me to shore? The answer, of course, is no; mermen do not recognize human currency, only clam-bucks.

But back to my original point: Context determines value. As mentioned at the outset, trades should be about addressing your team’s needs. Sometimes that means trading the better overall player for one who gives you a big boost in one category in which you’re lagging. This concept becomes really important to understand later in the season, when the trade deadline is approaching. Sometimes trading six weeks of Paul Goldschmidt for Billy Hamilton really is the best decision you could possibly make.

Just kidding, it’s never a good idea to trade for Hamilton. But the point still stands: It’s better to lose the trade and win the league than vice versa.

 

Side Note: To Veto or Not to Veto?

 

Some leagues offer owners the opportunity to veto trades. Generally, if a majority of the league (or the league manager) vetoes a trade, the trade does not process.

There is a lot of potential for abuse when it comes to vetoing trades, which is why some leagues do not even allow it. The general consensus is that vetoes should be reserved for situations where two teams are colluding with one another (i.e. one owner is knowingly trading his best players to another team solely to help that owner win). However, some owners will veto trades that they don’t think are “fair” or that harm their own chances of winning.

The fact is, none of us can predict the future. You may be tempted to veto your leaguemates’ Bryce Harper for Scooter Gennett swap because it doesn’t seem fair. But what if Gennett kicks things into another gear and hits 40 homers next year? Or Harper gets flattened by a falling piano and misses the entire season?

We simply do not know how things will shake out, and that’s exactly what makes fantasy baseball so fun. So when it comes to vetoes, barring something totally egregious that wreaks of cheating, I would recommend holding off. Not only because we should all be allowed to run our teams the way that we want to, but also because it’s more realistic.

After all, nobody steps in to stop the New York Mets from running their team into the ground every year. Why should your league’s version of the Mets be afforded that luxury?

Graphic by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Jonathan Metzelaar

Jonathan Metzelaar is a writer and content manager with Pitcher List, and co-host of the On the Barrel podcast. He enjoys long walks on the beach, quiet dinners by candlelight, and essentially any other activity that will distract him from the perpetual torture of being a New York Mets fan. He's written for Fangraphs Community Research and created Youtube videos about fantasy baseball under the moniker "Jonny Baseball."

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