Polcats vs. 4 Ponies – 5 F.J. 21 (April 17, 2012) – Fantasy Baseball Trade (S.Strasburg/S.Miller/N.Syndergaard)


Polcats vs. 4 Ponies


Decided April 17, 2013
Cite as 5 F.J. 21 (April 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 Incontinent League previously had 11 teams during the 2012 season.  Entering the 2013 season, the league added a 12th team known as the Polcats.  To help build their franchise, the Polcats were able to keep one player from each of the 11 other teams after their initial ten keepers were claimed.

The Polcats traded Stephen Strasburg (SP-WAS, $4.40 in the first year of his existing contract with two years remaining) to the 4 Ponies in exchange for Shelby Miller (SP-STL, $0.50 in the first year of his existing contract with two years remaining), Drew Storen (RP-WAS, $0.70 in the first year of his existing contract with two years remaining), and Noah Syndergaard (SP-NYM, $0.50 in the minor leagues).

Issue Presented

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


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 Stephen Strasburg in exchange for Shelby Miller, Drew Storen and Noah Syndergaard looks inequitable.  Strasburg is an elite fantasy pitcher which would require additional scrutiny in a trade because of how valuable he is.  See Steelers vs. Patriots, 3 F.J. 216, 220 (November 2011).  Given that the Incontinent League is NL-only, Strasburg was arguably the second best starting pitcher behind Clayton Kershaw entering the 2013 season.

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).

We must take into consideration the fact that the Polcats just joined the league and were allowed to build their roster by selecting players to keep from each of the other 11 teams after those teams claimed their respective keepers.  As a brand new franchise, it is reasonable for the Polcats to try and build their team to sustain success in the future and not simply just for the present.  The league commissioner has testified that this is precisely what the Polcats’ motivation is with respect to the subject trade.

Granted, Strasburg is in the first year of his contract and the Polcats could have had him for two more years.  He is certainly one of the best young pitchers to build a fantasy baseball team around.  But for $4.40 per season, Strasburg represents almost 13% of the Polcats’ entire in-season salary cap.  That could be prohibitive for the Polcats to make further moves in an attempt to bolster his team.  By making this trade, the Polcats will save $2.70 which is significant.

Could the Polcats have obtained a better package of players for one of the preeminent pitchers in baseball?  That is distinctly a possibility.  However, teams are not obligated to shop players around for a more advantageous deal solely to appease potential criticism or second-guessing.  It is not up to the Court to make a determination on what is considered intelligent from each team’s perspective.  Allegedly unwise decisions should not be scrutinized or vetoed merely because they are allegedly unwise.  See Road Runners vs. Urban Achievers, 3 F.J. 47, 50 (June 2011) (holding that the main criteria for evaluating a trade is its inherent fairness, not whether it was an intelligent decision by a league member to make the deal).  Rather, the Court’s role is to ensure that the integrity of the league is maintained.  Victoria’s Secret vs. C-Train, 2 F.J. at 35.

When looking at the compensation provided by the 4 Ponies, the Court concludes that there is cognizable value.  Shelby Miller is regarded one of the best young pitching prospects in baseball and is now a fixture in the St. Louis Cardinals starting rotation.  While it is a small sample size, Miller is already 2-0 with a 1.46 ERA and is averaging just under one strikeout per inning.  He can be retained for the next two years as well for only $0.50 which could make him a tremendous bargain come 2014 and 2015. 

Drew Storen has been supplanted as closer for the Washington Nationals with their offseason signing of Rafael Soriano.  However, Storen will still have value in terms of ERA and WHIP as the setup man for one of the best teams in the league.  Finally, Noah Syndergaard is a solid prospect in the Mets’ organization who likely won’t be ready for the big leagues until at least 2015.  He was one of the centerpieces of the R.A. Dickey trade and could become a frontline starter down the road.  The Polcats could keep him at $0.50 indefinitely while he is still in the minor leagues.

Trading a player like Strasburg could undoubtedly change the landscape of the league in terms of the current standings.  The 4 Ponies are currently in 6th place and stand a better chance to ascend the standings by acquiring Strasburg.  The Polcats are currently in 12th place and will likely remain there for most of the season.  But as stated previously, they are a new franchise looking to build their roster for the future.  Sacrificing the present for the future is unquestionably one of the justifiable reasons for making trades such as this in keeper leagues.

This trade includes all pitchers, so neither team is at an advantage or disadvantage from a positional eligibility standpoint.  There are discernible benefits afforded to both teams despite the facially disparate value of the deal.  Had this trade been consummated in a non-keeper league, the Court’s evaluation may have been different.  However, this is a keeper league where teams have both short-term and long-term goals (especially a new franchise in the league).  Based on the foregoing, the Court approves the trade between the Polcats and the 4 Ponies.


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