Welcome to the All-Star break version of Lord Zola's Fantasy Baseball Mailbag. It is time to reflect on the first half of the season and position ourselves for our championship run. What better way to do this than to make a trade or two? Today, we are going to address a specific trade question and then tackle a more general query by offering some tricks of the trade from someone who has experienced it all when it comes to negotiations. Got a question of your own? All you have to do is e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org, post it on the KFFL Baseball Facebook page or via Twitter by following @KFFL_Baseball.
Hi, I'm in a ten team standard mixed league and own Lance Berkman, Miguel Cabrera and Eric Hosmer, all eligible at first base. I have a black hole at third base in Casey McGehee so I dropped him and have been playing whoever has been on a hot streak. My question is would you trade Berkman for Adrian Beltre, Kevin Youkilis or Alex Rodriguez? I would do straight up trades for any of them and can't believe Berkman is going to continue these numbers in the second half. Thanks for the advice. - Jeff Alley
In general, I think Jeff is doing exactly has he should by taking advantage of a strength to improve a weakness. Playing the hot hand and the hot corner is an exercise in futility this season. I agree with Jeff that Berkman is a risk going forward, both in terms of performance and health. He has been wonderful for those that took a shot on him, likely as a cornerman late in drafts. Personally, I thought there was no way Berkman would stay healthy moving back to the outfield. But alas, he has and he has found the power stroke again. That said, if I am asked for my top sell-high candidate, Berkman gets the nod.
For the record, Jeff sent me this question before the meniscus issue with Rodriguez was announced. Since he will be out for four to six weeks, we can obviously cross him off the list.
Would Berkman fetch Beltre?
Cutting to the chase, I would jump all over Beltre or Youkilis if their respective owners would be willing to part with their guy for the over-producing Berkman. I have a hard time believing Jeff can pull this off, but more power to him if he can. Of the two, Youkilis has the potential to produce better numbers, but Beltre is the more stable option in terms of health.
Yo Todd, I am not sure if this is a question or a vent. I am having no luck at all making trades in my league. The part that bugs me is some of the guys don't even counter my offers. I admit, I don't expect my initial offers to be accepted, but I do expect a counter, I mean, that is what is supposed to happen, right? You never start with your best offer, at least that's my theory. Can you help me get my league to deal with me? - James Ackelman, Saratoga Springs, NY
Hmm, there's so many ways I can go here. Let's start by looking at the big picture. One of my pet sayings when answering questions is "know thy league." The implication is only you know the ins and outs of your league. Each league develops its own unique personality, and being in tune with that is essential for success. In this case, it is more "know thy owners." Some contend that the most important job of a major league skipper is managing the personalities in the clubhouse. The fantasy analogy is managing the personality of your potential trade partners. You need to know how each deals with trade negotiations. Some insist on you accepting their offer, usually by adding in a little something at the very end of the discussions. Others want to lay back, have you do the work, fashion the offer and convince them why they should take it. Some just love to haggle, the thrill is in the chase. While I may have a way I like to do things, I have learned that the best way to maximize my assets is to be chameleon like and adjust my manner to work best with my trading partner.
With that as a backdrop, it sure sounds like James likes to open negotiations with the proverbial low-ball offer. While I agree with James that you do not necessarily want to table a "fair" offer off the bat, there is a fine line between breaking the ice and freezing out your potential trade partner. So my initial suggestion to James is to think about his initial offers and possibly consider changing them up, either by not going the extreme low-ball route or softening the presentation.
That said, I believe many receiving low ball offers react incorrectly. Too many times, I hear how recipients are insulted and opt not to deal with that owner. Sorry, but that is not the proper approach. My experience has taught me there are two kinds of owners employing the low-ball route. The first sounds like James, someone who simply wants to get the ball rolling and secretly does not expect the offer to be actually accepted. The second is someone that is not really confident and thinks the way they are supposed to do this is to low ball. When I get an offer of this variety, I need to decide which class they fall into and act accordingly.
If my gut tells me someone like James wants to negotiate, and I sense that if we negotiate, we can find some common ground, I find a way to respectfully decline the offer, but then counter with a lopsided offer of my own, but one that is not quite as lopsided. If you match the imbalance with a counter, it can be interpreted as a message and not the next phase of negotiation. How the other person reacts to your counter will tell you if they are serious or playing games. If their counter does not further reduce the gap, chances are they are not serious and are trying to fleece you. I usually try one more counter to verify this is the case and if it is, I walk away. If your counter was well received, by this time, both sides have a pretty good feel for the principles each has in mind and a deal can often be hammered out. Basically, you are calling their bluff and showing you are not going to be intimidated. Once this occurs, you are both on equal footing and the talks can get serious.
Dealing with the other form of low ball offer can be actually be a little fun. As mentioned, a big mistake is categorically ignoring these offers. Instead, I prefer to engage the other person. Do not act like you have been disrespected. Instead, respectfully explain why the offer does not work for you, and suggest a counter in your favor, but so it in such a way that it is not insulting. More often than not, the other owner is so accustomed to rude responses that they are vulnerable. Trust me, I have successfully pulled off this ploy multiple times. You can often feed off of what you may consider uneducated analysis. Let's call back the Berkman question earlier. My guess is more owners than not expect Berkman to fall off in terms of production. The type of owner that feels they need to low ball because they lack confidence may be convinced Berkman is going to keep it up.
I'll make one more point before I call it a day. James expressed frustration that often, he does not even get a counter. While I understand where he is coming from, I have no problem admitting that there are times that I respectfully decline, closing the door right then and there. If I just know I am not going to deal the player and sense that there is no common ground, I would prefer not to waste either of our time. But, more often than not I will formulate some degree of a counter, even if it is to say, "Honestly, I am not inclined to deal Player X unless I get someone like Player Y or Player Z in return. If you are willing to part with someone like that, we can talk." This way, it is not technically a counter, but it is a response that either lets the other person walk away or they surprise you and say, "Yeah, I would deal one of those," and you have something to work with.
Okay, I'll share one more favorite trick. At the beginning, I stated that some owners like to be in control, they like to have you accept their offer. The way I attack this is to offer choices. This way, the other person perceives they are in control because they are making the choices, but in reality, since you decided on the choices, you really controlled the deal, assuming of course you are fine with any combination the other person selects. An additional advantage this tactic has is something that has actually taught me a ton about trade dynamics. It is only natural that in my head, I determine what I think would be the best combination for the other person to choose. But I cannot tell you how many times I have been shocked by the actual choices. In my mind, I was willing to pay a buck in the deal, but you only asked for 75 cents. This speaks towards how we all value players differently and sometimes we forget this. I am often reminded of this by the players the other person wants or is willing to give.
When Todd is not respectfully declining trade offers because the other person obviously overvalues their players while undervaluing his, you can find him hanging out on the forum at Mastersball.
Focusing primarily on the science of player valuation and game theory starting in 1997, Todd Zola and Mastersball carved out an important niche in the fantasy industry. In 2006, Todd became the Research Director for fantasybaseball.com, and in 2009, he relaunched Mastersball and is now a managing partner.
Todd competes in Tout Wars and the XFL, and has been a multiple-time league champion in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. He has been a contributor to the fantasy content at MLB.com and SI.com, is a frequent guest on Sirius/XM and Blog Talk Radio and is an annual speaker at the spring and fall First Pitch Forum symposiums.