4 Ponies vs. Beaver Hunters – 3 F.J. 26 (June 8, 2011) – fantasy baseball trade rejected (C.Hamels)

SUPREME COURT OF FANTASY JUDGMENT

4 Ponies vs. Beaver Hunters

ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI FROM THE INCONTINENT LEAGUE

Decided June 8, 2011

Cite as 3 F.J. 26 (June 2011)

Factual Background

A rotisserie fantasy baseball league (hereinafter referred to as “Roto league” or “The Incontinent League”) utilizing an auction-style draft and transaction platform seeks an evaluation of a trade made between two teams within the Roto league.  This is an NL-only keeper league where each team is permitted to maintain up to ten (10) players during each off-season with each individual player allowed to be kept for a maximum of three (3) years.  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 $36.00 in-season salary cap that is applicable for all teams.   

As with many rotisserie leagues, the subject Roto 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.

Procedural History

The 4 Ponies have made a trade with the Beaver Hunters.  The 4 Ponies traded Jhoulys Chacin (SP-COL) and Jordan Lyles (SP-HOU) to the Beaver Hunters in exchange for Cole Hamels (SP-PHI) and Leo Nunez (RP-FLA).

According to the Commissioner of the Incontinent League, several members of the league have challenged this trade as being too lopsided.  There are no known issues between the two teams involved in the trade, or with other teams that have challenged the validity of the trade. 

Issue Presented

(1)   Should the trade between the 4 Ponies and the Beaver Hunters 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.  The standard of review has been that people pay money to purchase a team in a league, draft their team, and manage it accordingly.  Whether success is bred from that individual’s decision-making is purely left to some skill, luck, dedication, and savviness.  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.

Another factor that the Court must always consider is whether there is any collusion or under-the-table dealings going on between teams.  The Court has not been presented with any evidence of such malfeasance, so assumptions will be made that this is not an issue. 

The Court has always held that the approval or rejection of a trade is based purely on its fairness, 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.  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).

At first glance, the trade of Jhoulys Chacin and Jordan Lyles in exchange for Cole Hamels and Leo Nunez does not look even.  The reason for initial pause is because Hamels is unequivocally one of the top pitchers in both real and fantasy baseball, and any trade he is involved in should likely have a player of equal or approximate value on the other side.  One exception to this is in a keeper league where teams out of playoff contention are looking to build for the future by trading expensive, star players in exchange for cheaper prospects.  It should be noted that this trade was made for Week 10 of the fantasy baseball season and no team in the Incontinent League has been mathematically eliminated from a playoff spot or precluded from a monetary prize.  Another reason to question the trade on its face is the inclusion of Nunez WITH Hamels in the deal.  Nunez does not possess the same name recognition as Hamels, but all he has done is lead the National League in saves thus far in 2011.  Given the Incontinent League is NL-only, Nunez has considerable value now as the best closer in the league.  On the contrary, both Chacin and Lyles are prospects in theRockiesand Astros organizations respectively.  Chacin has almost a year’s worth of big league experience and has had some moderate success thus far.  Lyles only recently made his debut and will likely be sent back down to the minors.  Neither of them elicits the same projected value to warrant comparison to Hamels and Nunez collectively.

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 at issue involves three starting pitchers and one closer.  Prior to the trade, the Beaver Hunters (in 10th place at the time) had a pitching staff that consisted of Hamels, Yovani Gallardo and Johnny Cueto as its best starting pitchers.  They also had Nunez, Carlos Marmol and Craig Kimbrel as closers.  Based on this, it can be justified why the Beaver Hunters would trade Nunez because they are still left with two top closers and can compete for points in the saves, ERA, and WHIP categories.  However, removing Hamels from their staff significantly weakened their starting pitching.  Additionally, the Beaver Hunters current offensive roster consists of Ryan Braun and a plethora of average platoon players.  Granted, they have Ryan Zimmerman and Buster Posey on the disabled list which has affected their team.  But the overarching commentary on the Beaver Hunters’ roster is that they are in desperate need of offensive help.  Trading Hamels and Nunez would make more sense if the Beaver Hunters were acquiring commensurate players to improve their offense.  Chacin is a young and rising pitcher who has shown flashes of brilliance early in his career.  But he is hardly as productive or consistent as Hamels.  Lyles is another young prospect with the Astros who recently made his major league debut due to injuries inHouston’s rotation.  However, with Wandy Rodriguez set to be activated from the disable list this week, it is likely that Lyles will be sent back down to the minors as the corresponding move.  Based on the aforementioned reasons, the Court cannot reasonably infer how the Beaver Hunters are benefiting from acquiring Chacin and Lyles.

In terms of keeper league status and salary cap value, this trade doesn’t make sense either.  Nunez only costs $0.10 and is in his final year under contract, which means he will be available in the 2012 draft.  However, Hamels is only in his first year under contract and can still be kept for an additional two years at $3.10.  It must be considered where these players are in terms of their career which is helpful in analyzing possible motivation to perform.  Hamels is arbitration-eligible after the season when his current contract expires with the Phillies.  He is clearly motivated to justify seeking an arbitration award comparable to Tim Lincecum’s record-setting deal.  After he likely agrees to a one-year contract with the Phillies, he will be pitching in 2012 as a pending free agent.  This should serve as an extra motivating factor for him to succeed as he will likely be seeking Roy Halladay/Cliff Lee type years and dollars on the open market.  The Beaver Hunters have him locked up under contract for these important seasons.  To trade him away for unequivocal value in return is incomprehensible.  Even assuming arguendo that Jhoulys Chacin’s potential is equivalent for Hamels’ current value, Chacin is only signed for one more year before he re-enters the Incontinent League’s draft.  So the Beaver Hunters are missing out on one whole year of productivity in this exchange.  From a financial standpoint, the Beaver Hunters are only gaining $1.70 in net salary cap space by making this trade.  In a league with a $36.00 salary cap, that does not represent a significant enough amount when dealing with a players of Hamels’ magnitude.

As referenced in Smittydogs v. Moneyball, 1 F.J. 32, 34 (June 2010), the dichotomy between the 4 Ponies and the Beaver Hunters’ motivations is precisely why the Court must look at trades in keeper leagues differently than non-keeper leagues.  If this trade had been made in a non-keeper league, the Court would vehemently reject it. 

It should be reiterated that the Court typically favors a league owner’s ability to make trades and manager the roster according to his/her own preferences and judgments.  When a person pays money to participate in a fantasy league, the presumption is that he/she is permitted to make whatever decisions they feel are best for their team.  However, when a trade such as this is proposed, it throws off the competitive balance of the league and creates a slippery slope for future trades.  The Court has no issues with the idea of trading Cole Hamels and/or Leo Nunez.  However, given what the Beaver Hunters were receiving in return, the Court cannot endorse such a maneuver due to the inequity of the return package.  Based on the foregoing reasons, the Court hereby decides that the subject trade is unfair, uneven, and should be modified before being granted approval.  The trade should be rejected as it fails to comport with the best interests of the league.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

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