Polecats vs. 4 Ponies – 5 F.J. 57 (May 26, 2013) – Fantasy Baseball Trade Review (T.Cingrani/D.Haren/R.Ludwick)

SUPREME COURT OF FANTASY JUDGMENT

Polecats vs. 4 Ponies

ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI FROM
THE INCONTINENT LEAGUE

Decided May 26, 2013
Cite as 5 F.J. 57 (May 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 Polecats.  To help build their franchise, the Polecats were able to keep one player from each of the 11 other teams after their initial ten keepers were claimed.

The Polecats traded Ryan Ludwick (OF-CIN, $0.30 in the first year of his existing contract with two years remaining) and Dan Haren (SP-WAS, $1.00 in the first year of his existing contract with two years remaining) to the 4 Ponies in exchange for Tony Cingrani (SP-CIN, $0.50 in the first year of his existing contract with two years remaining).

Issue Presented

(1)   Should the trade between the Polecats and the 4 Ponies 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 Ryan Ludwick and Dan Haren in exchange for Tony Cingrani looks fair and equitable.  None of the players involved in this trade are considered elite for purposes of requiring additional scrutiny simply because of how valuable they are.  See Steelers vs. Patriots, 3 F.J. 216, 220 (November 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 Polecats, a new franchise in the Incontinent League, have made several trades already this season dealing off high-priced talented players in exchange for less expensive and younger players.  See Polecats vs. 4 Ponies, 5 F.J. 21 (April 2013); Polecats vs. Moneyball, 5 F.J. 25 (April 2013); Polecats vs. Team Sabo, 5 F.J. 28 (April 2013); Polecats vs. 4 Ponies, 5 F.J. 32 (April 2013); Polecats vs. 4 Ponies, 5 F.J. 36 (May 2013).  It has been disclosed that the Polecats’ strategy upon entering the league was to trade away expensive players and build a foundation for the future.  This is one of the key elements of participating in a keeper league where success must be sustained both in the present and the future.  As indicated in the above-referenced cases, the Polecats 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.  After doing so, they have traded away players such as Buster Posey, Joey Votto, Stephen Strasburg, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Hudson and Dominic Brown in an attempt to accumulate less expensive talent. 

Here, the Polecats are unloading veteran players Dan Haren and Ryan Ludwick, both in the first year of their respective contracts.  Ludwick has been out since the first week of the season after undergoing surgery on his labrum.  He is not expected back until at least the middle of August, but even that is an optimistic estimation given he has not even thrown a baseball or swung a bat yet.  Any value Ludwick will provide is with respect to the next two years while he is under contract.  However, given his career trajectory and the fact he is coming off a serious shoulder injury, Ludwick’s production will likely be in decline even assuming he receives sufficient playing time.

Haren was a mixed bag coming into 2013 as fantasy players did not know what to expect from him after a disappointing 2012 season marred with injuries and underachievement.  After signing a one-year contract with the Nationals, some believed Haren to be a fantasy baseball sleeper poised to have a big comeback year in the hopes of signing a lucrative long-term free agent contract after the season.  Ultimately, Haren has been inconsistent despite possessing a 46:9 K:BB ratio.  With only four wins and an ERA of 5.43, he has hardly been a viable option in any fantasy baseball format.

In exchange for Ludwick and Haren, the Polecats acquired Tony Cingrani.  While Cingrani has been demoted back to the minor leagues upon the return of Johnny Cueto, he certainly impressed fantasy owners during his first six starts in the big leagues.  He went 2-0 with a 3.27 ERA and 1.03 WHIP while striking out 41 batters in 33 innings.  He certainly proved himself to be a viable fantasy option and will have great value going into 2014 when he should claim one of the spots in the Reds’ rotation. 

The 4 Ponies are currently in 2nd place and obtain the benefit of receiving a starting pitcher in Haren who can contribute for the remainder of the season.  His prowess for striking batters out, despite the other unimpressive statistics, could be a difference-maker in terms of the 4 Ponies’ position in the standings.  He is clearly in a “win now” frame of mind with the decision to part with such a highly-touted prospect that has already proven he could pitch at the major league level.  But this is one of the primary factors and motivations in making trades in a keeper league.

On the other hand, the Polecats are unsurprisingly in last place and will likely have a difficult time ascending the standings this season thanks to the firesale of talent done by the team’s owner.  But as stated previously, they are a new franchise looking to build their roster for the future.  That being said, they acquired one of the top young starting pitchers in Cingrani while only giving up marginal players who will not make a difference for this team right now.   

There are discernible benefits afforded to both teams and the value of the compensation exchanged is relatively equivalent in present-day value.  Had this trade been consummated in a non-keeper league, the Court’s evaluation may have been different since Cingrani is now back in the minor leagues.  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 Polecats and the 4 Ponies.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

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