Fantasy Baseball Roundtable: Trades, vetoes and keeper leagues

by Todd Zola, MastersBall.com on April 30, 2012 @ 12:30:04 PDT

 


While today's topic may not appear appealing to those of you who do not play in keeper or dynasty formats, there is ample discussion that transcends into any format, so please continue reading after seeing the question, which is:

Let's talk about something that is always a hot-button topic - dump trading in keeper and dynasty formats. Specifically, the types of trades whereby one team deals future assets to fortify their chances this season while the other is not planning on competing this season but is looking to improve their keeper foundation going forward.

What do you consider a fair offer when you are:

  1. challenging for the championship?
  2. rebuilding?
  3. an uninvolved team, but your league's trade mechanism calls for owners to approve or veto the deal?

Perry Van Hook with a question of his own, then an answer:

First, why the negative name on trades - dump trades? Who had to take a dump? How about rebuilding trades? Or how about TY/NY - this year for next year or future for current trades?

Really as long as a league has rules that clearly define what is allowed and what isn't AND uses an in-season salary cap, I have no problem with these trades and have used them from both directions, see my recent four part series "Where is the Manual on Rebuilding" posted in The Captain's Log.

So,

  1. I am trying to find a player(s) to either help with certain categories or replace certain holes in the lineup. I try to be as fair to my rebuilding partner as I can but often the competing team can't spare much from his active lineup. Still, top minor league prospects are the currency of the realm in good keeper leagues.
  2. I want to get as much value as I can but realize there are just some situations where it's better to get something for Rafael Furcal than have him still in my lineup after the trade deadline. The best there is to create a package deal. But in the larger league context I am also NOT going to trade three good players to just one team and hand them the championship when I can spread the wealth amongst contending teams, giving them all reasons to look for future trades and trying to maximize my return (again see Rebuilding Part III).
  3. I would NOT play in a league where every single trade is voted on because invariably human nature would overtake some teams' rational approach to this and leave them voting solely on whether it hurts/helps their team or a friend's team. With good rules/guidelines in place and a strong commissioner there should be no trade veto votes. EVER (unless there is a protest that would produce evidence of collusion).

Greg Morgan with a slightly different take:

I haven't played in a money league that allows trading for years out of personal preference. Why? Right about now I'd receive offers such as Mike Aviles for Albert Pujols or Omar Infante for Jose Reyes. Once every two years I'd finally get an offer that makes sense, only to get vetoed by league vote. Trades are obviously very subjective and have to be treated on a case by case basis and considering each teams category needs.

  1. Challenging for the championship - Dittos what Perry said. I would also add that a Kendrys Morales type (solid player who is injured and out for the season) a couple of years ago would be a good trade chip for someone rebuilding if they have an asset that would plug either that 1B hole, or a category that needs a boost.
  2. Rebuilding - depending on the keeper value of the contract I would be acquiring, I might deal a Derek Jeter for a Dustin Ackley or Jurickson Profar. I'm going to trade with the highest bidder, thus maximizing my return. If one team outbids everyone else for multiple players then they get all the spoils. If other teams don't like it they can offer some of their future assets for my players. If it's the best deal for my team I'll take it. If not, tough darts.
  3. I like Perry's solution IF the commissioner is not a league participant. If the commissioner also owns a team in the league then the same human nature could play into the process and create a bigger problem if he's the only one with veto power. The leagues, in which everyone votes that I've played, sometimes have a group that vetoes everything. That doesn't bother me as much as the potential for imbalanced trades going through. Unless, of course, it is a non-money league with family and/or friends. Then I think having the commissioner handle it all according to league guidelines makes sense.

Nicholas Minnix

San Francisco Giants SP Madison Bumgarner
Bumgarner: good now, stud later?

All our answers to those general questions are probably going to be similar, but when you begin to name specific players or league types or whatever else, naturally, they'll be much more subjective. I haven't played in keeper leagues for long enough to say, but what are some ways to think outside the box for those questions? Those are answers I'd be very curious to hear. Can you disguise a dump deal in April and actually get young players who you think may help you to compete in the same year? Would you flip players multiple times to get those you really want, and what are the chances that you hurt your team if you do?

The only way I'd approach each of the first two is to ask myself, Am I satisfied with what I'm getting if I give up Player(s) X(YZ)? The closer we get to the end of the season (assuming that you're dealing with a reasonable trader), the more the needle moves toward "yes." In April and May, if you have doubts about the offers you're fielding, no biggie.

For 3, I prefer a commish presiding nine times in 10. Greg mentioned a league in which teams vetoed almost everything - that would drive me nuts. And I don't even trade that often. It would also drive me nuts if the other owners didn't care enough to participate in the process. No matter how well you know the people in your league, you don't get to choose from a pool of only interested, active, informed, levelheaded, conscious people. (Incidentally, that's also why democracy is overrated. Call me faithless.) Other owners don't have a say in someone's trades. They can lodge a protest, and if the commish decides that the arguments are valid, he can veto a deal. Otherwise, it stands.

Some people have axes to grind, and the idea of "fair" is too subjective to allow a group of people with what can be widely differing opinions to nix a trade. In my experience, most people who have the option to vote usually vote with the improper interests in mind: their own. There's little to no objectivity. In keeper leagues, some owners may choose to veto a deal because their strongest competitor is gaining more quality players to win now. Some may because they think the competition next year is getting too many quality players in return for his dump of vets. Others may try to kill a swap just because they don't think it's equal. Meanwhile, they may not even agree on which team is getting the better end of it. When a trade is complete, especially in a keeper league, it often takes quite some time to say who received the better end of it. So many things change afterward.

Having a commish - or co-commishes, like an oligarchy, or a commish who isn't a participant - to me presents the best opportunity to reach what is "fair." Of course, your league has to appoint someone who's up to the job, but it's a lot simpler to agree on who fits the bill beforehand than it is to expect a group of owners to agree on what is right or fair most of the time. Anyone capable of reason and with some measure of accountability will suffice.

Lawr Michaels

I started out in keeper leagues in 1988.

And, bad trades have always been part of the equation.

I am presently in two - the XFL, in which Perry and Brian and Todd also play - and am rebuilding now.

I think there is a rule of thumb of two-for-one giving a stud for prospects or younger undervalued guys.

And, I just swapped Albert Pujols - at $66, and whom I drafted partially to mess up the player pool and prices at auction, and partially to simply own to trade now - for Matt Moore and Yonder Alonso. And, I think that is a fair gamble on my part, and an expensive enough price tag for Doug Dennis, who now owns Albert.

The problem is what is fair.

In my Strat-o-Matic league, the other keeper, a team rebuilding swapped CC Sabathia and Roy Halladay for Madison Bumgarner (there were other players involved, but they were the core) and that was ridiculous. It was easy to suggest that Bumgarner is a future stud, but exchange Bumgarner for Ubaldo Jimenez, and imagine Ubaldo's 2010 in there, and ask yourself is that a reasonable, yet fair risk?

But, the owners were both happy, and the truth is, I guess we are all grownups, and barring anything really egregious, what can you do?

I would never literally vote to overturn a deal, but I have no issue humiliating and embarrassing someone who makes a bad deal, like the Halladay deal (and I did my best to excoriate to the whole league).

I also believe there are two kinds of traders.

One is a guy who understands and sees value for value, and is willing to give up to get, for a good and fair trade should be painful to both teams.

The second type is the guy who wants to make sure and "win" the trade. These guys are tough. They always want a deal sweetener, or some little thing that convinces them they are not being taken advantage of.

I generally eschew swapping from these guys, especially when doing a dump trade.

Finally, I do try and make sure when dumping that I am being ethical. That everyone has a chance to make an offer for my studs available, and to not tip the balance of the league power by making such a swap.

Tim Heaney

I'll piggyback on Lawr's point about those in keeper/dynasty leagues that always try to win the deal. In the long-term league I play with New York-based buddies, we have a few owners who are more so predators than they are fair swappers. They pick on a few of the weaker owners and have picked them fairly clean to build up some pretty strong farm clubs.

Is it up to the league to police these types of deals? Perhaps, but it might be more pertinent to examine the long-term capability and feasibility of the owners that resemble the Marlins' Jeffrey Loria from the pre-Miami days. You hate to do that, considering, you know, the basic tenets of freedom and every person's right to field his own club, but the league's competitive balance means something, too.

Anyway, back to the posed queries. You don't want to box in a response to any of them because you need to know the league's specific circumstances. Are salaries and contracts involved? Do you have limited minors space and eligibility?

  1. Challenging for the championship - Echoing the previous comments on focusing on categories first: Maybe not a deal you should make too early in the season, but targeted help is the fairest possible circumstance here. A favorable situation that comes to mind is for the team not chasing the title to swap, say, Michael Bourn for a Billy Hamilton type - exchanging similarly profiled players, one to help now, one to help in the future.
  2. Rebuilding - Volume with potential that's relative to the studs being given up. A fair bulk deal like this doesn't have to be universally liked; if spreading out talent helps the reconstructing squad, at least on paper, you have to respect his direction.
  3. Agree with Perry and the others that, ideally, the commish should be involved in any veto process as little as possible. The commish of my NY league has been quite Solomon-like, so it hasn't really been an issue with us so far, and he can't veto unless the league petitions to him to consider it. We've lucked out, but that's not always the case.

Lord Zola's Wrap-Up

I told you it was a hot button topic. The bottom line is there is no right or wrong to something of this nature. My knights did a great job of sharing their opinions, some like and some not so like. There is one additional point I wish to share followed by a rather strong opinion of my own regarding the role of the league commissioner in the process.

Truth be told, the stimulus of this topic was Lawr asking me if I thought his Pujols deal was fair. My initial reply was rather terse "fair is what the market will bear," after which Lawr responded with comments much like he offered above. I'd like to take a moment to expound on my "what the market will bear" comment.

The "problem" with dump trades (I actually agree with Perry with respect to the connotation, but this is what they are conventionally called) is there is no algorithm that judges equity. Trades in one-year leagues can at least be judged on a value for value basis early in the season and a categorical help for categorical help nature later in the season. How much value a player will provide in the future is a crapshoot.

Lawr is right, so long as both sides are happy, the deal is fair

The market influence has to do with supply and demand. Taking this to the hyperbolic extreme, if there is one keeper and one non-keeper available, the exchange of the two is fair regardless of the names of the players. So long as one team improves their chances to win now and the other in the future, if there are no other trade options, the deal is fair.

Of course, in reality, the market will consist of multiple keepers and non-keepers. In theory, the best keeper should fetch the best non-keeper, etc. This does not always occur. But ideally, as is discussed above, each owner does his due diligence, seeking out the best deal possible. To quickly comment on something Greg stated, I agree with him that I am out for myself and will take the best deal, even if the same owner gets all my good stuff. That said, these instances are few and far between and in almost all of my experiences, spreading the wealth resulted in a greater return.

Oh yeah, I did want to address Nick's questions. One can absolutely disguise one's intentions. In what was one of the coolest series of deals I have ever witnessed, Paul Jones, who contributed to Mastersball back in the day, "dumped" early in the season, building what appeared to be a killer keeper list in what we called the NL Masters, our site keeper league. A little while later, pretty much on the same day, Paul then announced a series of deals where he converted these keepers into present day help that resulted in a title. He took the league totally by surprise, not to mention by storm. By being covert in his actions, not only did he assemble a juggernaut squad, he stripped all the non-contenders of their best non-keepers, so keeping up with the Joneses (sorry) for other would-be contenders was that much more difficult.

OK, real quick, here are my feelings on the role of the league commissioner. In my not so humble opinion, the commissioner should not govern, the rules should govern. At times, the commissioner may be required to interpret the rules, but (hopefully) not adjudicate. If this is necessary, it is a one-time thing and the rules should be altered to do the job the following season. With specific respect to trade vetoes, those suggesting other owners vote with their own agenda are absolutely correct. There is no getting around it. But, if you require a reasonable amount of vetoes to actually overturn the trade, those selfish voters do not get their way. And personally, I believe that this sort of voting should be public. At the end of the day, I MUCH PREFER having a mechanism whereby the league votes as compared to a process where the commissioner, or even commish-by-committee, rules on every trade. But even that lags behind the league constitution being the governing entity.

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About Todd Zola, MastersBall.com

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.

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