Passing Judgment: The Art of the Fantasy Baseball Trade

Art of the DealAs Chief Justice of Fantasy Judgment, I am constantly asked to review the legitimacy of trades.  When doing so, I must evaluate each trade on a case by case basis taking into account a myriad of factors to determine whether a trade should be approved or rejected.  But what goes into making a trade in your fantasy baseball league?  It is not as easy as it sounds because there are opposing valuations placed on players by both parties of the deal.  That is why making trades in fantasy baseball leagues is an art, not a science.  Here are some helpful hints to guide you during the journey of negotiating trades.

1. Do not trade for the sake of trading.

This may sound simplistic, but it doesn’t undermine the message.  Many people feel compelled to make trades for a variety of reasons.  But trading does not necessarily guarantee you an improvement to your overall team or performance.  If you are happy with the roster you drafted and manage to evade the injury bug, then there is no reason to break it up simply for the sake of making a deal.  Just because someone makes an offer to you does not mean you are compelled to negotiate a trade.  Do not fall victim to over-managing.  Only consider making a trade if you believe it will improve your team.  Some of the best trades are the ones you do not make.

2. Do not be afraid to trade a superstar.

Before you jump to the conclusion that I am advocating trading someone like Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout, hold your horses.  The team with the first overall draft pick typically gets the best player on the board (at least the projected best player).  But then that team does not draft again until the next 24 players are off the board (or more depending on how many teams are in your league).  Having the first overall pick does not guarantee success by any means.  It is more important to have a well-balanced roster up and down, so do not rule out the possibility of trading one star player in exchange for two or more very good players.  You stand a better chance of success having a deeper roster rather than one that is top heavy.

3. Accumulate depth and trade from a position of strength.

This is not always easy depending on the number of teams in your league and how deep the roster limits are.  But if you draft correctly, you can build solid depth at certain positions to give you the added flexibility of using that depth as trade bait.  You don’t want to cut your nose to spite your face, so dealing a productive middle infielder for a third tier closer may not be the wisest thing to do.

4. Assess other teams’ weaknesses and pounce on them.

If you are looking to make a deal, the best trading partner you can have is another team that is desperate.  Look at everyone else’s roster and see who has suffered a catastrophic injury.  That team is more inclined to make a move out of desperation which can only increase your leverage for a better return in a trade.

5. Be honest with yourself.

We all are guilty of over-valuing our own roster.  It is human nature to have the need to validate our own decisions, especially ones we make during the draft.  But the truth is that not all of our own decisions pay off.  Just like we expect our trading partner to be realistic about his players, we must be realistic about our players as well.  It is perfectly fine to begin negotiations with a proposal that heavily favors you, but you must have the expectation that the other team does not see things the same way.  In order to make a trade, you have to accept that not everyone else values your players the way you do.

6. Understand your league’s rules and roster requirements.

It happens more frequently than you would think that a fantasy baseball GM either ignores or forgets the rules of his own league.  All leagues are constructed differently in terms of roster and lineup requirements.  You must be keenly aware of what is required for a valid lineup and roster and act accordingly.  If your league only permits a maximum of ten pitchers on your roster, do not then pursue a trade where you would be acquiring an eleventh.  This also applies to the scoring system your league employs.  If you are in a Roto league with different categories other than the standard 5×5, then certain players either have more or less value depending on the setup.

Let's Make a Deal7. Be respectful and courteous to your fellow league members.

This may seem superfluous, but it matters.  Fantasy baseball leagues are comprised of friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances, and perfect strangers.  But we all share the common interest in having fun playing fantasy baseball.  If someone makes an overture to you about a possible trade, have the common courtesy to respond in some capacity.  It doesn’t mean you have to make a deal or even go through with negotiations.  But if someone takes the time to reach out to you, at least provide a response of some sort.  There are few things more frustrating that reaching out to league members who ignore your correspondence.  Even if you aren’t interested in making a trade now, you will at least have a dialogue from which to build on down the road when you are ready to make a deal.  Otherwise, you could develop a reputation where fellow league members will not want to negotiate with you.

8. Do not collude with your fellow league members.

This is another obvious bit of advice, but it is worth mentioning.  Next to non-payment of league fees or a commissioner’s abuse of power, there is nothing more that will undermine the integrity of a fantasy baseball league than collusion.  Collusion is defined as two or more parties entering into a mutually beneficial agreement with a fraudulent purpose.  Whether it is orchestrating a one-sided trade, sharing prize money, manipulating the waiver wire, or intentionally putting out a sub-standard lineup, collusion can manifest itself in many ways.  Everyone wants to win their league, but you need to do it the right way.

9. Not every trade has a winner or loser.

It goes without saying that just about every trade negotiation involves both teams trying to obtain the most while giving up the least.  That is just Negotiation 101 and human nature.  While we all want to get the better of our counterparts, the fact remains that the reason you are engaging in trade discussions in the first place should be to improve your own team.  If by improving your own team with a trade also happens to make your counterpart’s team better, then so be it.  Think about this…you have accumulated excessive pitching depth to the point where you can’t even play all of your quality arms.  You found a trade partner who is in desperate need of pitching help and is willing to trade you an offensive player that clearly improves your team.  All you should care about is improving your team through this trade.  The success of the trade is not diminished at all if your counterpart also improves his team in the deal.

10. Do not let your league vote on the approval of trades.

This is one of my biggest pet peeves in all of fantasy sports.  Leagues that allow or require a vote by its members to approve or reject a trade are set up for disaster.  That is not to say there aren’t leagues out there comprised entirely of honest, diligent and objective members who will do the right thing.  But let’s be honest, everyone has their own agenda in mind.  If you have the opportunity to block someone else’s trade that could have a detrimental effect on your team, you can or might take advantage of that.  Plus, there is no guarantee that all league members will do their civic duty and actually vote on the matter.  While it is not fool-proof, the best option for trade approval still rests with the commissioner’s autonomous decision-making ability (except for trades that the commissioner himself is involved in).  I would be remiss if I also didn’t throw out there the option to have all of your league’s trades submitted to Fantasy Judgment for independent review.  But either way, league votes are not the way to go.

Deal or No Deal


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