Fantasy Baseball Roundtable: How trade talks develop

by Todd Zola, MastersBall.com on May 23, 2012 @ 14:02:40 PDT

 


We're about one-fourth through the season and many fantasy owners are taking to the trade route to help improve their team. I thought I'd try something a little different with the knights and give them a rather vague and open question and see where it goes.

You open your inbox to find the following, what is your initial gut reaction and what is your actual response?

Hi - INSERT PLAYER HERE is available, make me an offer.

Brian Walton pulls no punches:

I see extreme laziness on the part of the proposer. Let the others do his work for him/her. He/she is obviously not interested in taking the time to look at the needs of the other teams in the league and actually make some sensible offers.

Most of the time, I will ignore these emails as wide-casting fishing expeditions. However, if the player is someone in whom I am interested, I might reply back, asking what the trader is looking for in return. 99 percent of the time, it goes nowhere.

Lawr Michaels wants a reason

I am pretty much with Brian.

One of the aspects of trading I always look for is purpose, and I see no purpose at all for such an offer.

Why would I want the guy? What does he need that would ostensibly strengthen each of our respective teams?

That is why you trade.

At least in my meager opinion - to take advantage of a relative surplus in order to fill a hole. Ideally, in a situation that is two-way.

Perry Van Hook with an interesting take:

99% of the time I would just delete the message but I would make an exception in the following circumstances:

1) Where this is clearly a league wide email and the guy is just trying to make sure everyone knows that Player X is available AND when I have an interest in said player.

2) Where I know that this person has trouble making trades AND I have an interest in the player. I will respond and also try and help them to get better at trying to make trades at the same time.

Nick Minnix embellishes:

I get what you guys are saying. A message like that usually contains Bryan LaHair - a player on which the messenger wants to sell high. If that's the case, I often ignore it, but as Brian says he does sometimes, I might shoot a quick reply, a "What are you looking for?" if I have interest. My reaction is similar - it's lazy - but, if I give it second thought, I'll wonder what opportunity exists.

I think one good way to treat offers like that is to be as short as that person is, too. It's probably a fishing expedition, on their part. If you do very little work, you might be able to turn the fisherman into the fish. Again, if it's a player of interest.

I've seen, probably a couple of times, where an owner is throwing out a big name because he's frustrated, antsy or of the belief that he needs to make a change, period. I have a similar reaction to the one you guys have, but don't you ever then wonder, Is there a buying opportunity here, too, I'll tease him with a nibble? Could I have chosen better words? The turnoff is "Make me an offer," because the other part is standard fare, just missing some parts.

Ryan Carey just wants to talk:

Well, I think we are all in agreement here. It's a lazy approach by the sender and likely will be met with lukewarm response. My initial reaction likely would depend on the player in question. Often when I receive these it is for a star player, which might get my attention enough to inquire what they are looking for in return. However, my gut reaction to the email in question is the owner is obviously trying to start a bidding war and will be looking to sell to the highest bidder.

The only positive I see from offers like this is at least I know a particular player is available. Nothing more annoying than seeing a guy you might have liked to acquire get traded without knowing he was available. I have myself put guys "On the Block" and many sites even have tools to do this. Still, if I am going to try and start a dialogue with someone directly, I am at least going to let the other party know what I am looking for and if possible the players on their roster I am interested in.

Nick is back with an interesting point:

Yeah, but I think a point that deserves attention is that we all tend to think the same way about this owner's "feeler." Casual players may not feel the same way, but from our perspective, the behavior is annoying, and it prompts us not be too enthused about the player on the block. If most everyone else in the league treats the offer the same way - which I assume happens often, because on the occasions that I've seen someone dangled like that, I don't recall deals going down right after most of them, if not all - might it not be worth a casual "What do you want?"

Rob Leibowitz takes it in another direction:

In redraft leagues, posting players available is most likely going to lead to no trade and possibly hurt feelings. The possible responses are:

A)  "OK, so what do you want for X-player?" which gets you nowhere. 

B) You undercut the player's value, possibly offending the person who posted the available player and ending you trade discussion.

C) You go in blindly, offering more than the solicitor expected and getting taken. The best trades are always the ones that get offered to you.

In a redraft league, really the only way to discuss a trade is, as others have said, is to address needs, looking specifically at teams. However, I also believe that at a certain point in redraft leagues teams that have no chance at contending should probably go dormant and stay out of the way of dueling teams. There is no purpose to "saving face". Just play again next year and do better without possibly injecting bad blood into your league for making a trade when you probably shouldn't even be active.

In keeper leagues, announcements serve a bit more purpose - to let teams know you are dumping might create a bit of feeding frenzy for contenders if you have any particularly good non-keepers. But on the other hand, I find it better to be more subtle in keeper leagues, instead targeting key keeper targets if you are dumping and pursuing those keepers doggedly (trying to do as much as possible within the scope of a single transaction period). This way you get the best nuggets and leave the other possible dumping teams fighting over lesser keeper trade targets.

As a caveat of course, that's why I like rules like Tout has where there is a negative impact for going dormant.

In keeper leagues I also like to implement better minor league draft picks that finish higher in the standings rather than dumping all the way to the bottom too. But I digress off the topic of trading!

Nick with a dissenting opinion:

I disagree, for two reasons.

1) If a trade offer offends the owner, then it's on that owner. No matter how bad an offer may seem, it's a little extreme to take it personally.

2) If you offer more than the owner expected to get, then that's on you. You executed poorly, made a mistake. Learn from it.

Rob - no offense - but your three possible responses aren't the only possible outcomes. Both parties share responsibility in negotiations, but each is responsible for his or her actions and sentiments.

Lord Zola here - the vagueness to the original question worked as Nick, Lawr and Rob share the following exchange:

Rob: I agree. Offense is on the offended. I put three outcomes there to just elicit a response. And yes people have to work out a trade, but generally speaking, it's more effective to just target needs and target players you want than opting for open solicitations.

Nick: No doubt, it's more effective that way, but my point is that this isn't the scenario facing us. Most often, open solicitation doesn't turn into anything. But if we all assume it, aren't we all missing out on an opportunity that requires virtually no effort to investigate? If just one person asks, it at least increases that person's odds of being the one to strike a deal.

Most of the time when solicitors rap on my door, I cut them off with "Sorry, I'm not interested" before they've finished their spiel. But if I get a knock and it turns out to be a kid selling a bucket of ready-to-bake cookies for $15 for a fundraiser, I'm considering it (and in this case, I bought it). The price isn't bad, to me, because I looove cookies, and it's for a good cause.

Rob: Oh I agree, if it's a nugget I'm interested in, I'm not going to not pursue it. It's just usually is the hot player of the moment who is trying to be moved at a price more than what I want.

Nick: Yeah, usually. But again, not always, and you never know. Sometimes it's a player-of-the-moment whose performance is legit. I just like to argue, and I think Todd's writing prompts are meant to make us think about things from all sides.

Lawr: Re: "Rob - no offense - but your three possible responses aren't the only possible outcomes. Both parties share responsibility in negotiations, but each is responsible for his or her own actions and sentiments."

I understand this sentiment of Nick's, and in fairness, as a result would never vote to overturn a swap. I would like to think we are all adults and know what we are doing.

That said, I personally feel an ethical obligation to trade fairly. And, I think everyone else should too.

Nick: I definitely agree with that. The conscience probably only kicks in if one thinks one is getting too much, though. If one is giving too much, does it occur to one?

Rob: I think we're actually off topic. I think Todd was going more for giving examples of how one might properly refer to offers from an etiquette standpoint. Not to discuss the merits of being made an offer of "player X is available," but simply to respond to it.

Nick: You're probably right. Sigh.

Lawr: I dunno. It is all homogenous and isotropic. One big connected universe and the thread goes where the thread goes.

Rob: So ..."Player A is available." You respond how?

1) Thanks for letting me know, I'm not interested in Player A, but please keep me in mind if you have any other players you'd like to move.

2) Thanks for letting me know, I'm not interested in player A, but I am interested in Player B. And you can then go onto say "What do you want for him or "how about this offer for him.

3) Thanks for letting me know, I am interested. And then the "what do you want for him" or "how about this. 

If I really want a player, I try to be constructive and make an offer. If I semi-want a player, a might throw it back at them and let them construct the deal.

Nick: True. (I had to look up "isotropic.")
And Rob, your trade etiquette is exceptional. I'd like to play in a league with you sometime.

Lord Zola's Wrap-up:

I would like to personally thank Rob, Nick and Lawr for unknowingly making the most important point of this whole thread. They had a little bit of a disagreement, clarified their own side while showing respect to the other, resulting in the finding of common ground. Sort of sounds like how a typical trade negotiation should go, no?

The key to the whole thing was communication, and as the ensemble made clear, the initial salvo was not a particularly good conversation starter, unless the player offered was of personal interest.

The take home lesson is communication is the key to trading. The Internet is full of "Tricks of the Trade" pieces, addressing the psychology of trades, etc. We touched on it a bit here.

However, none of these tricks are useful unless there is communication and the manner this question was posed did not serve as an effective idle-breaker.

Perhaps simply making the opening be the following would be more effective.

Hi -- INSERT PLAYER HERE is available, drop me a line if you are interested and we can discuss.

But, this still has a form letter tone where personalized works much better. Have you ever written a job application cover letter or a thank you after being interviewed? The advice is to personalize it so the reader knows you have taken a little extra time. The same holds true here. Cattle calls are sometimes effective, but not as effective as a personalized note where it is obvious you have the other person's interests in mind.

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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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