Trading is the great equalizer of the fantasy baseball world. Good trading can overcome a nightmarish draft day, while a series of bad trades can send a potential contending team to the cellar.
Being a good trader usually involves many factors: recognizing the needs of your team and your opponents' teams, understanding your opponents on a personal level, knowing the right negotiating approach, the right players to move and acquire, the right time to strike up a discussion, and so on. In most veteran leagues, these nuances evolve into a game within the game, a metagame.
For players in online leagues, though, this metagame is either non-existent, or if it does exist, it is shrouded in mystery. Players typically are only previously acquainted with a few (if any) other players in the league. Introductions and communication during the year are limited to email and/or online bulletin boards, which are not ideal forums for fostering relationships.
In such an anonymous environment, how much can you negotiate? How do you sell the deal? How can you be sure of getting your best price? Here are eight guidelines that can help to strike a deal online.
1. Maintain visibility: From the beginning, make yourself a visible presence on the league forum, be it a bulletin board, mailing list, etc. Without being overly intrusive (particularly via email), keep the rest of the league informed of your impressions of your team, its strengths and weaknesses, etc. The easier you can make it to deal with you, the more likely your opponents are to reach out and actually do so.
2. Gather reconnaissance information: From any source available to you, gather information about your opponents. Read their online profile if available. If any league member offers contact information (chat, email, etc), make sure to contact them at least once during the year. Look at rosters for clues about what city a player is from, etc. Any such tidbit of information could become useful later in the season. At the very least, it will give you some general background regarding your competition.
3. Assume nothing: In post-draft category analysis, online players were advised to familiarize themselves with their opponent's rosters. As the standings evolve early in the season, it is easy to make a surface judgment as to a team's strengths and weaknesses. While these assessments can be useful for your own evaluations, never assume that your opponent has the same vision of their own team. Rational or not, if you can learn such beliefs of your opponents, you can then exploit them.
4. Make reasonable offers: The anonymity of the online world often leads people to take on personas that they would never display in person. Trade proposals are no different. Every year, thousands of online players submit ludicrous trade offers to their opponents. Either they are hunting for an uninformed player (i.e. a sucker), or they are hoping that a ridiculous opening offer will make a mediocre second offer look better by comparison. Don't get caught up in this game. Sure, maybe there are some suckers out there to be had, but those ranks shrink every season. Even if you can pull a fast one, there is no honor in that victory. And there is a definite cost to trying to pull such a deal, in the form of alienating your competition and reducing league goodwill.
5. Explain yourself: Back up any offer with as much support rationale as you can. Even if you believe your opening offer is reasonable, it may be poorly received at the other end. You will encounter people with player valuations that are vastly different from yours. Take the time to explain your thought process with your offer. Even if not accepted, the offer is then less likely to be dismissed entirely. If you can get feedback, you can use that information to make a more palatable second offer, if you so choose.
6. Listen to your opponents: Once you manage to open a trade dialog, listen to what your opponent tells you. Try not to put the onus on your opponent ("Take a look at my roster and let me know what you like"). Instead, ask pointed questions ("It looks like you need saves. Which of my closers would you value most?"). This approach should give you some information to work with. Be sure to use that information going forward.
7. Know what's "good enough": Unfortunately, no matter how diligent you are in your communications with trading partners, trading is an inexact science. This is true in traditional leagues, and even moreso in an online environment. In many cases, it can be best to forget the concept of your "best deal". Particularly if you are trading to fill a need, it can be better to simply know what is "good enough". Find a solution for your need, and settle on a reasonable price. Push a little bit further if you need to be sure that you cannot get more, but if the deal helps your team, do not sink the whole thing in search of the little bonus at the last minute.
8. Maintain courtesy: In traditional leagues, all discussions between players are framed by a prior friendship, or at least a personal acquaintance. Online, in a league composed of strangers, it can be all too easy to slide down a path of posturing and excessive confrontation with your opponents. Treat your league-mates like your friends. Maintain courtesy at all costs. If you get a trade offer you consider insulting, answer back with an explanation of why you would not make such a trade. Avoid inflammatory remarks, and don't respond with an equally unbalanced proposal.
At the very least, your fellow league members will be part of your world for one long season. It's best not to burn bridges.
Ron Shandler began publishing statistical reports for baseball analysts and fantasy leaguers in 1986. Since then, his enterprise has grown into one of the largest information providers in the industry, producing quality products continuously and over a longer period than any other fantasy baseball company.
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