4 Ponies vs. Cajun Crawdads – 5 F.J. 184 (August 24, 2013) – Fantasy Baseball Trade Rejected (B.Posey/S.Strasburg/I.Desmond)

SUPREME COURT OF FANTASY JUDGMENT

4 Ponies vs. Cajun Crawdads

ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI FROM
THE INCONTINENT LEAGUE

Decided August 24, 2013
Cite as 5 F.J. 184 (August 2013)

Factual Background

A rotisserie fantasy baseball league called The Incontinent League (hereinafter referred to as “roto league” or “IL” is a 12-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’s commissioner submitted a proposed trade between two league members and seeks an opinion on whether the trade should be approved.

Procedural History

The 4 Ponies traded Buster Posey (C-SF, $3.40 in the first year of his existing contract with two years remaining), Stephen Strasburg (SP-WAS, $4.40 in the first year of his existing contract with two years remaining), Jordan Schafer (OF-ATL, $0.10 in the first year of his existing contract with two years remaining), Alexi Amarista (2B-SD, $0.10 in the first year of his existing contract with two years remaining), and Jonathan Broxton (RP-CIN, $0.10 in the second year of his existing contract with one year remaining) to the Cajun Crawdads in exchange for B.J. Upton (OF-ATL, $3.00 in the first year of his existing contract with two years remaining), Ian Desmond (SS-WAS, $1.90 in the second year of his existing contract with one year remaining), Josh Collmenter (RP-ARZ, $1.00 in the first year of his existing contract with two years remaining), Andrew Cashner (SP-SD, $0.20 in the second year of his existing contract with one year remaining), and Juan Lagares (OF-NYM, $1.00 in the first year of his existing contract with two years remaining).

Issue Presented

(1)   Should the trade between the 4 Ponies and the Cajun Crawdads be approved?

Decision

The Court has consistently ruled that people who participate in fantasy leagues should be given the freedom to manage their teams according to their own preferences.  Whether success is bred from that individual’s decision-making is purely left to some skill, luck, dedication, and savviness.  See Gangrene Master Yoda vs. Team Dizzle, 4 F.J. 284, 285 (October 2012); 4 Ponies vs. Carson City Cocks, 3 F.J. 13 (May 2011).

When presented with a dispute over the fairness or equitability of a trade, the Court will evaluate the objective merits of a deal and ensure that the integrity of the league is maintained.   Victoria’s Secret vs. C-Train, 2 F.J. 32, 35 (October 2010).  Typically, the approval or rejection of a trade is based on whether the deal was made without collusion, has equitable consideration, and comports with the best interests of the league.  See 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 Buster Posey, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Schafer, Alexi Amarista and Jonathon Broxton in exchange for B.J. Upton, Ian Desmond, Josh Collmenter, Andrew Cashner, and Juan Lagares looks inequitable in terms of present day value.  Both Buster Posey and Stephen Strasburg are considered elite players in this NL-only league so we must analyze this trade with great scrutiny merely because of their presence in the deal.  See Steelers vs. Patriots, 3 F.J. 216, 220 (November 2011).

The motivations of both teams seem readily apparent and in good faith.  However, a trade of this magnitude must be looked at very closely to ensure its present-day inequity does not go against the spirit of the league.  That is because lopsided trades can throw off the competitive balance of a league and create a slippery slope for future trades.  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.  See 4 Ponies vs. Beaver Hunters, 3 F.J. 26, 29 (June 2011).

The Incontinent League is a keeper league which can lead to a different evaluation of a trade as opposed to a non-keeper or redraft 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 interesting thing about this trade is the fact that the 4 Ponies, who are only 3.5 points out of one of the prize-winning slots, are essentially making a dump trade. Normally dump trades are made by teams who are out of contention and looking to build for the future with less expensive salaries or younger prospects.  While dump trades can affect the competitive balance of the league, they still deserve rational consideration unless there is specific prohibition of such actions in the league’s rules.  See Yankees vs. Tips, 5 F.J. 98 (July 2013) (holding that the Court must defer to the league’s rules which specifically prevented dump trades from being allowed).  Here, there are no such rules so the Court is free to evaluate this trade on the merits.

It makes perfect sense why the Cajun Crawdads would want to make this trade as Posey and Strasburg would be monumental acquisitions in their pursuit of prize money this season.  Posey is unquestionably the best fantasy catcher in this NL-only league (.301 with 14 homeruns, 63 RBI, and 48 runs scored), and Strasburg (6-9 with a 3.00 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 162 strikeouts) represents one of the top starting pitching options despite his win-loss record.  In addition, both players are only in their first year under their current contracts so the Cajun Crawdads would be able to retain them through 2015.

Generally speaking, the remaining parts of the package (Schafer, Amarista and Broxton) are of minimal consequence and do not factor into the weight of this trade whatsoever.  They are merely window dressing in this deal so we will focus squarely on the value of Posey and Strasburg.  We must now analyze whether the package of Upton, Desmond, Collmenter, Cashner and Lagares is sufficient enough to pass muster.

Ian Desmond is the best player in this package given his statistical production at a scarce position like shortstop.  Desmond is a five-category player with his .276 batting average and 17 homeruns, 59 RBI, 62 runs scored and 16 stolen bases.

B.J. Upton is undoubtedly the biggest disappointment in both real and fantasy baseball.  After signing a lucrative free agent contract with the Braves where he is playing in the same outfield as his brother, Upton has regressed to the point where he hardly cracks the Braves’ starting lineup on a regular basis.  His .184 batting average along with eight homeruns, 21 RBI, 27 runs scored and 11 RBI is hardly worth cracking the starting lineup for an NL-only fantasy league team as well.

Andrew Cashner was previously regarded as a solid prospect and has bounced back and forth between the bullpen and starting rotation.  He has now found a home in the Padres’ starting rotation and has had reasonable success despite having a history of injuries in his brief career.  Cashner is a power pitcher who is clearly transitioning from a power thrower into a pitcher which is demonstrated by his decrease in strikeout rates.  He has the advantage of pitching in spacious Petco Park so he is a viable middle of the rotation fantast starting pitcher.

Josh Collmenter is merely a middle reliever on the Diamondbacks who have had one of the most volatile bullpens in baseball this year.  His success has earned him a more prominent role late in games, but there is no reason to suspect he will be given the opportunity to close games.

Finally, Juan Lagares has emerged as the Mets’ everyday centerfielder.  But that is more as a result of the defense he plays rather than his offensive production.  His BB/K ratio is horrendous and he has not demonstrated any sustainable power or run production.  He is young and certainly has room for improvement, but he does not provide the kind of offensive production that an NL-only fantasy team should reasonably rely upon.

We must look at the sum of the parts when evaluating the overall compensation being provided for an elite package consisting of Posey, Strasburg and others.  The 4 Ponies would really only be getting a solid shortstop who is only under contract through 2014 and a decent starting pitcher in Cashner.  Other than that, they would obtain an expensive fantasy disaster in Upton along with a marginal middle reliever and an outfielder only known for his defense.  Is that sufficient compensation for Posey, Strasburg and others?  The Court does not believe so.

A trade will be rejected when the Court cannot objectively ascertain any benefit to one of the teams and the net result in no way makes a team better now or in the future.  See Los Pollos Hermanos vs. Little Stumps, 3 F.J. 192, 195 (October 2011).  It is normally acceptable for teams in keeper leagues to make trades that do not have equivalent present-day value, but a deal so completely lopsided and against the best interests of the league will be rejected.  Smittydogs vs. Moneyball, 4 F.J. 57 (May 2012) (rejecting a trade of R.Braun and E.Jackson for R.Delgado, D.Gordon and B.Abreu); Team Sabo vs. 4 Ponies, 4 F.J. 50 (May 2012) (rejecting a trade of J.Votto and T.Clippard for D.Stubbs, F.Rodriguez and S.Marte).

The fact this trade could have playoff implications within the IL is not in and of itself a reason to reject a trade in terms of the best interests of the league.  Any trade consummated could have a serious effect on the league.  The Court must intervene since it cannot objectively discern enough of a benefit for the 4 Ponies to accept this package in exchange for Posey, Strasburg and others.  We are not saying that the 4 Ponies were obligated to seek more in compensation from the Cajun Crawdads or anyone else for that matter.  They are free to do so after this decision is finalized.  But the Court must reject this trade as it is currently constructed because the disparity in value is too much to overcome in terms of other keeper league rationales.

Our responsibility is to maintain the integrity of leagues.  We advocate for the ability to manage teams according an owner’s preferences.  But there is a conflict when an owner’s desire to manage his team manifests itself in a truly lopsided trade at the expense of the league.  We cannot allow that to happen.  Based on the foregoing, the Court rejects the proposed trade between the 4 Ponies and the Cajun Crawdads and remands back to the parties to negotiate a more equitable deal.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

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