The dynamics of the megadeal

by on June 7, 2010 @ 12:30:00 PDT


When two teams announce a nine-player trade in your league, it always makes a loud noise. Mega-deals like this invariably shake up the balance of power in the league and often trigger other deals in response.

Ordinary trades grow into mega-deals because there are generally multiple needs involved, and it usually takes multiple players to fill those needs. Positional requirements might add another level of complexity. So might player contracts.

You might be thinking, "It's hard enough to pull off a straight closer-for-starter trade. A mega-deal has got to be much, much tougher." Well, it's true. Size and complexity work against these deals. It's difficult enough to predict the outcomes of a one-for-one trade; it's exponentially more difficult to weigh the pros and cons of each player added to a mega-deal. It's much easier not to make a trade than to make one, and inertia is especially powerful when many players are involved.

But it's not impossible to do, obviously -- and making the right mega-deal can be a turning point in your season. Here are some principles to bear in mind to help you bring a mega-deal to completion.

Establish the goals up front. Since you'll be spending lots of time working on the details of the trade, it's essential that you and your trade partner start with an agreement on the goals of the trade. The goals should be concrete and specific without being inflexible. "I get power and a few more saves, you get wins and a few more steals." Or, "I get power and average, you get keepers for next year."

It's best if you can avoid overly specific goals because it can lock both you and your partner into unacceptable corners. Sometimes, specific players are the point ("You get any three players on my roster, I get Dan Haren"), but you should generally avoid this approach.

Agreeing on goals is an important step in any trade, but especially so in a mega-deal. It's all too easy to get lost in the details, and you'll need to keep reminding your trade partner - AND yourself - of the goals on which you're focused.

Begin with building blocks. Start by discussing the major players to be exchanged. Taking this step accomplishes three things.

First, it allows you to determine whether you can make the deal at all. If you're aiming at a closer, and your partner simply refuses reasonable packages at this step, you can easily stop negotiations and look elsewhere. Second, it reinforces your focus on the goals of the trade. Third, it can help you overcome resistance and gain an edge in negotiations. If you're getting a closer in the deal, and your partner has both Mariano Rivera and Bobby Jenks and would rather trade Jenks, you can build the deal around Rivera and promise to add other considerations as negotiations continue. The longer you talk, the more your partner will get used to the idea of giving up Rivera. What might have been a knee-jerk "no" can gradually turn into an "okay," and that could be all the edge you need.

Be sure to state clearly that these are only the major pieces of the deal, and any apparent imbalances can be made up with minor pieces. This is a good reminder for your partner as well as yourself.

Offer choices. Since you are probably dealing from an area of strength, you should have several options available. Give your partner the first choice of preferred players. Be the first to say, "You can have either Joey Votto or Derrek Lee."

This step also achieves three objectives. First, it communicates your flexibility and establishes a tone for open and reasonable negotiations. Second, it helps preserve options for later; if you can't reach agreement on a package involving Votto, you can renegotiate with Lee in his place. Third, it gets your partner to make the first commitment. If he opts for Votto, you know he values Votto more. Naturally, you can use this to your advantage in asking for a little extra in return.

Whenever possible throughout the negotiations, continue to offer several options and continue to be flexible.

Strike a balance. Once the major needs are met with major players, turn your focus to the other pieces that you include to make the deal acceptable to both teams. Ichiro Suzuki might be a more valuable commodity than Roy Oswalt, but perhaps less valuable than a package of Oswalt and Denard Span. Once the latter package is on the table, Ichiro's owner needs to add something else to the deal. He might put another pitcher into the mix, which means that his partner now must add something in return, and so on.

The list of possible additions is long -- replacing a part-time player with a full-time player, swapping a catcher with a .280 average and 5 steals for one with a .270 average and 6 homers (or vice versa, depending), adding a player with a better contract or receiving a farm player or a draft pick (in keeper leagues), getting extra FAAB dollars -- whatever your league allows. The more flexible and creative you are, the better your chances of closing the deal.

Keep it moving. Once you get down to the details, it's essential to keep discussions moving forward. This is important in any negotiation, but especially in mega-deals, when time and complexity work against you. You should expect a mega-negotiation to take some time, but you should never hang up the phone without setting a time to talk again -- and if you're e-mailing, set ground rules for frequent contact (at least twice a day, etc.). Persistence pays off.

Stay on message. Any time negotiations threaten to bog down on the details, keep reminding your trade partner of the larger message. ("This deal is going to give you a 15-game-winning starter and a 100-RBI man, which translates into five points for you in the standings. Let's not get too hung up on the difference between two mediocre players.")

It's also essential that you remind yourself, too. While you certainly want to press every advantage in trade negotiations, meeting your goals is the most important thing. If you have a chance to complete a deal that will help you win the pennant, don't let it slip away over a trivial negotiating point. If yielding on your prized farm prospect will complete the deal, then do it; you've surely won some points yourself in the deal, and today's pennant is more important than tomorrow's young superstar.

Cooperate. There's simply no way you can work out a mega-deal with a hostile attitude. It's too much work, and it's counter-productive. You and your trading partner will be spending too much time together to put up with abuse, whining, anger, or even excessive competitiveness. Note that we've referred here to "trading partner" instead of "enemy" or "adversary" or even "competitor." You have to work together. Again, while you want to gain advantages where possible, your thought process should not be "How can I trick this guy?" but "What else can we try to make this work?"

These suggestions can help you turn an ordinary trade into a mega-deal. A mega-deal is enormously satisfying because it meets multiple needs for you and your partner. Even the negotiating process is usually enjoyable in itself. And there's always the satisfaction of making your own loud noise in the league.

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