by Brian Walton
The concept of trading FAAB (free agent allocation budget) dollars is a most interesting and topical subject currently. As the major leagues were approaching their non-waiver trade deadline on Sunday, fantasy owners in many FAAB leagues were maneuvering as well.
Though not the case in all formats, in many leagues including Tout Wars, FAAB can be traded right along with players. However, money acquired in any given week cannot be used until the next - meaning to increase the contents in one's war chest in time to use this weekend, owners had to complete their deals prior to this past Monday.
The goal of some is to accrue the highest available FAAB balance. That would allow the cash leader to hopefully snag the best player coming into the league at the deadline, when AL-NL and NL-AL trade activity is traditionally at its highest.
Having the third-highest FAAB total in NL Tout Wars this season at $82 is not somewhere I planned to be. I generally subscribe to the theory of acquiring needed parts whenever possible, even if that is in week one.
What the FAAB is Barney worth?
As I wrote in this column back in May, the league-wide push to grab and stash all the top prospects before they were ever called up meant the 2011 in-season free agent pool has been very sparse. I don't feel like I had missed out in the bidding for any difference-makers, yet I have only spent $18 to date. Earlier this week, my NL Tout competitor Peter Kreutzer wrote about this phenomenon as well.
The hard-charging second-place owner, Steve Gardner of USA Today, pulled off the only FAAB-related trade in NL Tout last week. Gardner added $7 FAAB as part of a four-player transaction announced at Monday's weekly deadline. This broke his $96 tie for the most FAAB with ESPN's Tristan H. Cockcroft.
Gardner made the deal despite - or perhaps because of - an acute awareness that most of the talent rumored to be changing leagues might be heading from the NL to the AL, not vice-versa.
Steve wrote about that earlier this week, including his hope that at least one marquee name - Tampa's B.J. Upton - will be on the move to the Senior Circuit. Fortunately, two days of wheeling and dealing remain, because as I wrote this, Edwin Jackson was the much-less desirable consolation prize as the best AL-to-NL mover so far. That is not likely where Steve wants to spend his $97.
It gets worse. Sitting third in the pecking order currently means I could be "fighting it out" for scraps like Octavio Dotel and Corey Patterson. Ugh!
While matters might have improved over the next 48 hours, I was not holding out hope last weekend. I received an unsolicited trade inquiry from another owner that did not match up exactly with what I hoped to do, but offered some potential.
I wanted to move a surplus of middle infielders and closers and add a quality starting pitcher. I threw out .300-hitting Darwin Barney in response to a request for batting average help and suggested my closers from three winning teams: Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Atlanta. I also own potential handcuffs for the first two situations, each with some uncertainty.
My prospective trade partner had three good starters and not surprisingly offered me the least appealing of the three. Perhaps the combination of knowing the trade was not all he wanted and the fact it was still at least 12 hours before the weekly deadline, the other owner made an offer - sort of.
"Would you do Madson, Barney and $50 for (my pitcher)? I guess it puts me in position to gain if I get lucky at the deadline, but I would have a hard time pulling the trigger," he wrote.
It was an unusual offer that he later admitted that he did not expect I would accept, but if executed, would vault this owner far ahead of both Gardner and Cockcroft in FAAB. My take was that having the third-most money might buy me very little and even with $32 left, I would be smack in the middle - seventh of 13 owners in FAAB.
With FAAB not a major consideration, then for me, the deal was a closer and a second baseman for a starter. I accepted the offer.
After some discussion and about five hours of elapsed time for the other owner to step away and analyze the deal he had already proposed, he came back with this.
"The deal: Madson, Barney, Lidge plus $50"
On one hand, it was understandable for him to want to handcuff the two Philly relievers as I did when buying them on draft day. Yet, I was peeved that he made an offer and later came back asking for more. He would not budge on improving the quality of the starter that would be coming my way without a major restructure of the trade.
In this three (plus cash)-for-one, I feared the second opening on my pitching staff would lead to an erosion of WHIP and ERA. For that same reason on his side, my prospective partner would not include a quality middle reliever to sweeten my end of the deal.
After more give and take discussion but no agreement, four hours later, at 9 P.M., I called off the trade. Then, the real fun began.
With time running out after having invested most of my day in negotiations with this owner, I turned my approach upside down. I asked him how much FAAB he would spend on Barney if the second baseman was a free agent. Unaware of the Gardner trade at this time, we both thought that $15 was all I needed to leap to the top and I was confident that Barney would fetch in the low $20's at least on the open market.
(As a relevant point of comparison, this week another second baseman elicited a modest, but spirited bidding war in NL Tout. Despite no Triple-A at-bats, Houston's Jose Altuve went for $26. Top bid was $37 with three bids at $22 or higher and a fourth bid at $18.)
The other owner offered me just $8 for the Cubs' number two hitter, a lowball bid he knew I would not accept. More so than his feeling that Barney would not be a difference-maker for his team, my now-ex-prospective trade partner was stuck on a major philosophical and ethical concern.
He does not believe in FAAB trading and did not want to disrupt the competitive balance of the league by vaulting me to the top of the FAAB list. We both accepted that he would not close the delta between us in the standings. In other words, this stance was not about our relative position, now or later.
I initially had a very hard time understanding his point of view since we had just spent most of the day negotiating a trade that would have given him the same FAAB hammer that I was now seeking. I guess when he made the first offer, he assumed I would never agree to deal so much FAAB.
After further discussion, I learned he was looking at the trade in a much broader perspective. He felt my gain - the ability to make the high bid on the top free agent the next week - was too imbalanced with his benefit - a non-distinguished middle infielder. My logical argument of Barney's unrestricted market value was irrelevant to him in this context.
We had essentially reached the midnight deadline with no agreement. The next day, when Gardner's trade was also announced, the other owner said he would have bid more FAAB for Madson had he thought of it in time. I was confused as I had taken his conscientious objection of FAAB trading to heart and accordingly, did not make a counterproposal after the $8 Barney bid and its explanation.
In hindsight, I clearly spent too much time trying to make his deal work instead of pushing harder on other options, at least in parallel. On the other hand, had I settled for $15 for Barney, I would still be just second in the NL Tout FAAB pecking order. Yet, $22 secured for Barney would have made me number one. At the same time, Gardner had found a trade partner who did not mind enabling him to become top dog in the FAAB race.
As it is, I am hoping and praying for three quality players to join the NL from the AL before Sunday night turns into Monday morning.
On the big picture item here, what do you think about the FAAB trading position of the other owner? Are you "for" or "against" trading of FAAB? If "for," would you put any restrictions on it? If so, what would they be?
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league's 13-year history. He is a 2009 NFBC league winner and finished in the top 25 nationally in both the NFBC and NFFC that season. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.