The Trading Game

For professional baseball players, Opening Day officially begins with the first scheduled regular season game; for fantasy baseball junkies, it begins on the day of their fantasy baseball draft(s).

Regardless of what expertise one professes to have in regards to baseball and its players, the events of a 162-game season are very unpredictable.  Fantasy pundits can project numbers for players to their hearts’ content; however, slumps and injuries do happen.  I do not believe one ever wins a league title on the day of their draft; however, one can certainly lose on draft day.  If you are lucky, you will go into the month of May without having your lineup resembling the Bubonic Plague.

An important aspect of being a good fantasy manager is the ability to pull off trades.  Approach trades with the mindset of quality over quantity.  Making X amount of trades does not make you a good manager if those trades failed to benefit your team in any way.  In a competitive league that is run fairly, league members – or their commissioner – will vote down wholly unfair trades.  Incredibly lopsided trade offers may also result in a prompt rejection and the other manager telling you to go screw yourself (it can also happen with reasonable trade offers).  I will not advise you on trading etiquette and how to improve your people skills.  I shall illustrate my thought process as to the risks/rewards of potential trades and advise you the following:  sometimes getting what you wanted is a bad thing for your team. 

When I say getting what you wanted can be a bad thing for your team, I do not mean one of those “What the hell was he thinking?” deals that were bad enough to warrant such a question (but good enough to not be vetoed).  I am going to discuss the little details in potential deals that many fantasy managers tend to overlook in what may be widely regarded as fair deals for both teams.  I shall use the lineup from one of my own fantasy teams and a competitor’s team to serve these examples.

My 1B-eligible players
1B Adam Dunn:  22/89 (.247 AVG), 7 HR, 19 RBI, .947 OPS
1B/OF Kendrys Morales:  23/75 (.307 AVG), 2 HR, 8 RBI, .782 OPS
1B Adam LaRoche:  28/90 (.311 AVG), 4 HR, 17 RBI, .903 OPS
1B/OF Bryan LaHair:  26/67 (.388 AVG), 7 HR, 16 RBI, 1.289 OPS

His 1B-eligible players
1B/3B Kevin Youkilis (DL):  14/64 (.219 AVG), 2 HR, 9 RBI, .636 OPS
1B/2B/OF Michael Cuddyer:  24/85 (.282 AVG), 2 HR, 12 RBI, .826 OPS
1B Ike Davis:  16/89 (.180 AVG), 3 HR, 8 RBI, .524 OPS

As you can see from the above numbers, I have plenty of offensive production eligible for the 1B position.  My potential trade partner must place Kevin Youkilis on the DL and will likely keep Michael Cuddyer in his 2B slot; this leaves a mightily struggling Ike Davis to play in his 1B slot.  Naturally, it would make sense to approach him with a trade offer.  In this particular case, I may try to offer Adam LaRoche to him for something I need on my team.  At present time, I have a need for saves in the head-to-head fantasy baseball league in which we participate.  One of his closers is Jonathan Papelbon (nine saves, 11 strikeouts, 0.82 ERA and 0.82 WHIP).

With Adam Dunn, Kendrys Morales and Bryan LaHair all eligible for first base, I do not feel I would greatly miss LaRoche if I were to trade him.  If I were to offer LaRoche for Papelbon, that would indeed help me in saves; however, I must pause to reflect and see if it would be a good deal for me.  Below are the scenarios I envision for both my own perspective and the other manager’s perspective.

His perspective
1.  Davis is struggling and I need help.  Sure, it’s a deal!
2.  Youkilis will bounce back eventually.  Why trade for LaRoche when I can add Todd Helton?  NO DEAL!
3.  You know how hard it will be for me to replace Papelbon?  Go screw yourself.  NO DEAL!

My perspective
1.  I am confident in Dunn, Morales and LaHair.  Goodbye, LaRoche!
2.  Papelbon is an excellent closer and I need help at the position.  Goodbye, LaRoche!
3.  Why should I trade a potential 90-RBI hitter for a closer?  I BETTER NOT!

With the above scenarios I created, anybody can reasonably understand any of the three viewpoints in the other manager’s perspective; likewise, anybody will understand the viewpoints I created for my own perspectives in situations one and two.  Some of you may find my third scenario confusing, as my reluctance to make such an offer sounds like it contradicts my faith in my other 1B-eligible hitters.  Frankly, my faith in my other hitters is not shaky.  The basis of my third scenario is what I like to call “practical evaluation.”

Adam LaRoche is currently hitting .311 with four home runs, 17 RBIs and .903 OPS

LaRoche hit 25 home runs and 100 RBIs in his last fully healthy season back in 2010.  If he were to hit 20 home runs and 90 RBIs this season, that would be very productive indeed.

It is not the loss of LaRoche’s production that holds me back from trading him; it is THE OTHER MANAGER’S GAIN that holds me back from making such an offer.  Too many fantasy managers think about the numbers that they expect from players and assume any deal that helps them in a category is a beneficial deal for them.

Getting a player in return who helps you in a category of need is not always beneficial for your team, especially if the player you trade away has a greater impact on the other manager’s team than your newly-acquired player has on your team.

Imagine that the other manager is very eager to trade Papelbon to me for LaRoche (that may be a stretch, but just humor me here).  LaRoche helps him in multiple offensive categories and Papelbon helps me in saves; concept-wise, this is a mutually beneficial deal.

If you examine the potential deal more deeply, you will understand the ramifications of such a deal.  For example, the other manager has what I believe to be a good offensive lineup.  His top-tier hitters include Matt Kemp, Carlos Gonzalez and David Wright.  With the addition of LaRoche, he may see improvement in his team’s overall collection of hits, home runs, RBIs and OPS in any given week in the weekly head-to-head league in which we participate.  LaRoche could conceivably have a profound positive impact on his fantasy team.  His lineup will be even stronger if Youkilis returns healthy; LaRoche could then serve in the utility slot with his production.

Despite his nine saves, 11 strikeouts, 0.82 ERA and 0.82 WHIP on the season, Papelbon has only pitched five innings in the past 14 days (two and a half innings per week in weekly head-to-head fantasy leagues).

What do I have to gain from Papelbon?  Obviously, the acquisition of Papelbon would lead to more saves for me (a statistic in which I’m sorely lacking).  Unfortunately in a head-to-head league, that is not a good enough return for me.  Look at the use of a closer in a practical manner:  if you are lucky, a closer will pitch anywhere from two to five innings in a given week; Papelbon has only pitched five innings in the past 14 days (two and a half innings per week)!

The two to five innings I would likely receive from Papelbon would only be a small fraction of the innings pitched from my starting pitchers; therefore, Papelbon would have virtually no dramatically positive effect on my ERA and WHIP.

The low amount of innings closers pitch in a given week will also amount to a strikeout total which pales in comparison to one’s collection of starting pitchers.

While Papelbon would improve my totals in saves, that does not guarantee I would obtain victory each week in the saves category, as I currently have the fewest saves in the league with Jason Motte and Carlos Marmol as my closers (Marmol is at risk to lose the closer job at this time).

As I already stated, my opinion is that my opponent has a good offensive lineup.  Why should I take the risk of giving him LaRoche (free offense) for a closer who may or may not have any impact on the overall success of my fantasy team, especially when the acquisition of LaRoche could possibly turn his good offensive lineup into an improved offensive lineup?  At this early stage in the season, I am dominating the league in offensive categories and most pitching categories; therefore, it would make no sense for me to strengthen the multiple offensive categories of my competition in pursuit of ONE statistic (saves).

If my opponent had a weak offensive lineup and I saw it as no threat to mine in offensive categories, I would be more eager to trade with him for a closer.  Because my opponent has a strong lineup, I have no desire to further strengthen it for him.

Remember:  getting what you want or need is not always a good thing in fantasy baseball trades.  The player you trade away may not hurt your numbers; however, he may strengthen your opponent’s numbers and be used against you.  Knowing your team’s strengths and weaknesses is a must; however, knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your competition is also a must.  Regardless of whether a competitor is strong or weak, you do not want to strengthen that competitor too greatly.

Before committing to a trade, be sure to ask yourself if a potential deal will help you as greatly as it helps your competition or if it may become a danger to your fantasy team’s success in the league.  A player who may be riding the bench on your deep team may be another manager’s greatest treasure. 

Do not fall for concept talk and do not be blinded by just statistics:  you must attempt to weigh reward versus risk in any deal you pursue.  If the risks too greatly outweigh the rewards, then you must restrain yourself from making such a deal, no matter how good it may look on paper.

Christopher Wenrich is the editor of the series of DuggerSports blogs and a member of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  You can follow Wenrich on Twitter @DuggerSports.

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