Fantasy Baseball: Leagues With Friends – Volume 3 (Trade Negotiations)

Leagues With Friends – Volume 3

By: Kyle Brown (@CavghtLooking)

Insights into the problems of trade negotiation language.

During the ten years that I have been the commissioner of the fantasy baseball league called The 12, there have been numerous disputes over trades. Initially the disputes centered around the lopsidedness of the trades being made more than anything else.  However, the nature of the trade disputes has evolved quite a bit since we moved the league to a keeper format a few years ago.  When we formed this league a decade ago, we admittedly did not have the foresight necessary to anticipate the kinds of problems that could result from leaving our trading mechanism unregulated.  However, after encountering some of the issues that have arisen over the past ten years, I feel I can offer some insight into the problems with trade language.

It seems that the genesis of the problems is the fact that Yahoo still does not provide year-round access for its keeper league format. What this means is that all of our offseason trades must be conducted using the imperfect mediums of phone calls, text messages, and various internet chat services. This is not to say that my managers only use the “Offer Trade” button on Yahoo to negotiate trades during the season, but they do tend to rely on it for what we now refer to as an official offer.

Here is an example of how a trade negotiation can become problematic:

Team A: Hey man, what would you want for Giancarlo Stanton?

Team B: Umm, I could consider something like Bumgarner and Chapman. Might take a little more though…

Team A: I could do something like that, what about a 3rd round pick for the “little more” you might need?

I have come across managers who would say that Team B has just given Team A an official offer. I have also come across managers who would say that there has not been anything close to an offer presented by either team. When talking trade with another manager the line between duplicity and savvy negotiation can be very blurry. Many managers use words like “would” and “could” to try and manipulate another manager into giving away pertinent information.  If Team B responds to Team A’s dangling of a 3rd round pick in a positive way then Team A knows that they might be able to get the deal done with a pick that is lower than the 3rd round. However, because Team A didn’t use any potentially duplicitous modifiers like “would” or “could” Team B might think that they have an official offer of Stanton for Bumgarner, Chapman and a 3rd rounder on the table. So let’s imagine Team B responds with:

Team B: Yeah, that does it. Good deal.

Team A: Whoa, whoa, that was just a feeler, I think I’d be comfortable parting with a 5th round pick. I guess I feel that a 3rd seems a little high.

Team B is now in a very bad position. They can either try to call out Team A for being sneaky and underhanded or they can submit to the shady tactics. The former action would probably lead to a breakdown of the negotiations and kill the deal outright while the latter would get a deal done at the cost of being unfairly manipulated. What they really should do (warning: imminent shameless plug) is contact their commissioner and have him or her contact Fantasy Judgment for a ruling. However, what I am really trying to accomplish in this article is plot out measures that can be taken to prevent this kind of dispute from ever happening.

During the course of the MLB regular season, my league managers have never had an issue with duplicitous speech in trade negotiations because Yahoo’s “Offer Trade” button provides an official mechanism. Unfortunately, just because we have not had a problem yet does not rule the possibility of one coming up in the future.  Until now, all of our trade language disputes have come up during the offseason when the Yahoo page is inactive. Without the “Offer Trade” button available, managers have to reach a verbal or written agreement in order for a trade to be sent to the league’s email list.

Disputes have been reported when a manager has egregiously reneged on a trade or when one manager felt unfairly manipulated in a trade negotiation. Thanks to the technology we have at our disposal, these negotiations and conversations have been recorded on computers or phones so making an official ruling on the merits has never been a difficult task.  That said, in order to avoid problems in the future, I decided to institute a league-wide warning about trade language and put forward general guidelines for trade negotiations. Knowing that the managers in my league are generally very liberal, I did not want to inhibit their managerial freedom in any way.  As a result, I ruled that all trade negotiations, discussions, and offers were not binding and enforceable until the words “Official Offer” appear before it. 

Considering the example above, when Team A says “what about a 3rd rounder…” Team B knows that this is not yet an official offer. Thus, instead of Team B being left to guess whether or not Team A is actually offering a deal or merely dangling something in front of him in order to leverage the deal in his favor Team B can simply respond by asking, “Is that an official offer?” I felt that this policy allows managers to speak to each other in a way that is relatively unencumbered while blocking off the possibility of duplicitous speech.

Without the language of “Official Offer” in place, a manager is forced to guess whether or not an offer is legitimate or not. It is in the space of this guesswork that duplicitous managers are allowed to reign supreme at the expense of the more trustworthy and upfront negotiators. When managers in my league are negotiating during the season or in the offseason, they can now decide exactly how they want to talk to each other without having to guess about another managers intentions. I am not sure that the system is perfect, but I have received positive feedback from all of my managers that it is helping the overall situation.

In addition to being the commissioner of The 12, I am aalso  regular league member in another keeper league.  During this offseason, I was on the losing end of a trade dispute because there was no official trade negotiation language in place. After many emails back and forth, the trade negotiations in question ended like this:

Team C: I do have a few offers in place and I want to consider all of them before I make a decision.

Me:  Ok, it doesn’t need to be much in return, a 10th round pick in 2014, 2015 and 2016 would do it.

Team C: I’m willing to give a 10th in 2015.

Me: Sweet, let’s do it. Post it to the league.

Team C: I just need to make sure I have everything ironed out.

As you can see, I thought there was a real offer being made when Team C said he was willing to do option X. Team C, on the other hand, got me to agree to option X in order to leverage it against me and try to get more in the deal. Team C was under the impression that by telling me that he wanted to consider all deals before making a decision he was free to get me to agree to a deal and then go look for a better one using my agreement as leverage. Did I act too quickly? Should I have been more cautious with my language? Yes. This dispute is partly due to my own overenthusiasm. However, when I put forward a suggestion for the final piece of a potential trade and I get the kind of response that you see in the above example, I feel I am justified in thinking that a deal has just been agreed upon. If Team C had truly wanted to consider all of his offers then he could have merely said, “Ok, I’ll keep that in mind and get back to you.” If he had responded in that way then we would not have had a trade dispute.

What did end up happening was that I was left blowing in the wind while I heard about several other offers that Team C had received (I had no way of knowing if they were real or not) and was “forced” to up my offer in order to get the deal done. I emailed it to another manager in the league and to the commissioner. The fellow manager saw a problem with the negotiations and felt that I was unfairly manipulated but unfortunately the commissioner of the league felt that everything was copacetic. When the manager told me that he was “willing to do” X what he really meant was that he was willing to see if I would do X so that he could try to get me to do X+Y. If there had been official trade language in place then we would have been forced to use binding term “Official Offer” and could have avoided a disagreement. When the trade was done the difference was not gigantic but there should be principles of decency and right and wrong in fantasy baseball. As Walter Sopchak would say, “this is not Nam, there are rules.”

All things considered, if you are the commissioner of a fantasy league you should institute some kind of trade language guidelines to ward off shady dealings in trade negotiations. These guidelines are even more important for keeper leagues that exist throughout the offseason when the official trade mechanisms offered by your fantasy platform are offline. Duplicitous trade negotiations can fracture a league very quickly so I urge every commissioner out there to try and regulate the trade negotiation frontier before they get blindsided by a furious manager who has been unfairly manipulated and have to dig into chat records and text messages to make a ruling. Furthermore, all commissioners should read the Commissioner’s Guide at Fantasy Judgment for quality league management advice.

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