Pro-dumping argument in keeper leagues

by on September 10, 2009 @ 16:00:00 PDT


The Great Dumping Debate at Baseball HQ began with a simple reader question...

Every year we hear and read more and more on the issue of dumping. And more and more, I get the sense from what I read that dumping is evil and needs to be regulated somehow. One familiar stance taken as justification for regulating dumping is that dumping can unfairly alter the standings by hurting the owner who has carefully managed his team only to become the victim of a dump by some other owner. Personally, I say, "Hands off", and the astute owner who pulls off the trade is rewarded and if you fail to make an effort to improve your team, well, that's your own fault. At this point in our league's existence (8th year), dumping is an accepted practice.

The "experts" all have their favorite mechanism to keep dumping under control or eliminated altogether. But, what I'm curious to know is, the experts intuitively say that standings are affected, but where's the proof?

In our league, there were four major "dump" trades made last year and our standings were not turned upside down. The 3rd place team finished 2nd, the 2nd place team finished 1st. The first place team did not make a dumping trade and finished 3rd. Of the four receiving the higher priced current talent, two went down in the standings and two went up. Of the four dumpers, one went down, one remained unchanged, and two went up.

Now I am fully aware that my example does not hold any statistical water since it's only one league. But my contention is that when the time comes for dumping, it's the teams in contention that make the trades to improve and the teams at the bottom that are looking to next year. I would bet that if you were able to do a more exhaustive analysis of this issue that, at best, the result of dumping trades would be inconclusive.

Some perspectives:

David Rawnsley... I guess the first assumption is that all the players in a league are on the up and up as far as their motivations are concerned. If you have a situation where one guy at the bottom of the standings is just trying to help a buddy win, that's obviously indefensible. So I will assume by dumping we are talking about a lower placed team getting rid of high priced talent and setting his roster for the next season, while essentially giving up for the current season.

I think as long as it has the integrity mentioned above, dumping is an integral part of the game, both real and fantasy. I've often seen reference to the need for fantasy to parallel the real thing as much as possible and I think it is undeniable that dumping, in the Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz, not the Marlins for prospects, sense is a basic part of Major League Baseball. The best teams do it every year getting ready for the playoffs and it isn't questioned. The opposite happens. When Brian Sabean steals Alvarez, Hernandez, etc., he is nominated for Executive of the Year. Schuerholz is put under the light every year for inadequacies in the Braves bench and bullpen, with the perception that he doesn't do enough late in the year to build up his team (sort of like the guy who goes from 1st to 3rd in the last three weeks).

I personally don't like getting involved in the late season trades because I'm not a hustler, but I understand they are part of the game.

Nate Silver... I'd agree that a "hands off" approach is the best one to take regarding dumping. In the case of the sort of late-season trade which is being discussed here, both owners usually will end up better off, since the one placing greater emphasis on the present can help himself in the short-run, and the one placing greater emphasis on the future can help himself in the long-run.

To the extent that tends to redistribute young talent from the better-off teams in the league to the less well-off teams in the league, dumping also serves to help a league maintain its competitive balance in the long- run. That's why it shouldn't be surprising that the reader's league is now in its eighth year. Personally, I would not want to be involved in a continuing league that attempted to ban dumping because it would make the rebuilding process unnaturally difficult.

The one thing which I think does need to take place to ensure that dumping doesn't become a contentious issue is that both the owner doing the dumping and the owner picking up the extra players need to explore all possible trade avenues. The "free market" is the best way to ensure that nobody is ripping anybody off.

In all the fantasy leagues I've played in, the only time when a dump threatened to tear the league apart was when an owner in my basketball league tried to trade Michael Jordan for some younger players. Unfortunately, the owner trading Jordan took the first half-way decent package he got for him, even though the other contending teams would have offered much more. A lot of people wanted the trade to be vetoed, saying they were upset about dumping, but what those people were actually upset about is that they didn't get Jordan even though they would have paid a higher price for him.

As far as the degree to which the standings are affected - the one thing to remember is that, if a dump trade occurs with only a month or two left in the season, there is only so much difference that one or two extra players can make. Still, I think it would be naive to say that dumping never affects the outcome of a league.

Terry Linhart... Dumping, for the most part, should be part of fantasy baseball. It shouldn't be removed, but there does need to be some regulation within the league's ownership. I am a believer in consensus decision-making. Within each league, there is a spirit of play. Some leagues trade for recreation while other leagues trade very infrequently. Some owners trade to pirate other teams while others try to make balanced deals. The makeup of the people playing within the league is the best regulator to dumping.

Clearly, the goal is to eliminate bad feelings among the owners. Giving them the power to override bad deals is the most effective way to go. In the mean time, let the dumping begin!

Allen Hirsch... I think the issue is more about perception than empirical reality. Let's face it - any trade, whether a dump deal or not, is fraught with risk. Analyzing all deals should also be inconclusive as to who was helped or hurt in the standings - that's the nature of any deal between two owners.

The problem with dump trades is the perception that an owner who drafted well and was in position to win gets aced out by an owner who pulls off a (perceived) unbalanced deal. That apparent or perceived unfairness can ruin leagues, depending on the chemistry among owners. It helps if there is a tradition of enforcement and integrity by the commissioner, and integrity among owners that any apparent "unbalanced" trade can rationally be defended by all participants, to the satisfaction of a majority of owners.

I think all owners prefer to participate in a league with a "level playing field" - the definition of that is admittedly in the eye of the beholder, to badly mix metaphors. Successful leagues manage to reach a consensus about what a "level playing field" is, and either don't have deals that challenge that to the extreme, or otherwise have rules (and/or competent commissioners) that prevent such extreme cases, which, if allowed, could threaten the viability of a league.

I think that's the crux of the issue - not necessarily analyzing results of prior deals to declare "no harm, no foul" as a guiding precept to allow "dump" trades. Different motivations of owners (e.g., one "going for it this year" and one rebuilding for next year) should not rule out deals, but a framework of fairness is essential to long-term success in any league.

Craig Goheen... When a GM has reached the point that he's prepared to punt the rest of the season, what are the choices he has? Wait it out? Why? He's done that all year. Hope for the best in next year's draft? That's an acknowledgement that he only plays half the game of Rotisserie. GM's who don't trade, rarely win.

The term "dumping" must have been coined by a contender who was shut out of winning because a wise bottom-feeder found the right trade - give up a veteran or three to someone in the thick of the race and get some young keepers for next year.

The only time such a bottom-to-top trade can throw off the proper balance of competitiveness is when a GM is dumping his entire team, i.e., getting out of the game, and the first to hear about it simply talks the guy out of his stars in exchange for his own dead wood. Should that happen, the commissioner must have the authority to overrule such a trade. When a GM decides to leave the game in mid-season, the best route is for the commissioner to freeze the team until he finds a willing person (rookie GM) to take over the frozen roster, or if no one is willing join your league in mid-season, hold the frozen roster for him until next year's draft or return it to the free agent pool during the off season.

But a trade between two active teams, one looking at this year, the other at next, can't hurt your league, even if it turns out one GM got the better of the deal. Is your league going to overrule every trade that appears imbalanced in the short run - or in the long run? Neither one makes much sense since GMs in late season contention may consider the short term more important, and vice versa. If both GMs believe they've helped themselves, they've made a good trade.

And if the trade is so uneven that the other GMs are still convinced one guy got taken, wait and see. If next season shows him to be the real loser in the deal, he'll either learn to trade better, or not to trade with that particular owner, or neither and he'll remain a bottom feeder.

Ed Spaulding... In 12 years of playing fantasy ball, I have found few if any cases of true dumping. Trading the now to a top team for the future to somebody down in the standings, yes. But tipping over the entire boot and pouring all the water out, no. Regulation of dumping is simply regulation of trades. Any trade - whether between two best friends, whether it be in mid-April or at the trade deadline - always has to pass what I might delicately term "the smell test." If it smells like the city dump, the trade gets voided.

It's rarely dumping if the owner giving up the acknowledged talent either suggested the deal or is comfortable with it. The concern is when the owner with the good team has to coerce someone into a trade; usually, the person "being victimized" will admit he was pulled into the deal if a couple of neutral league members quiz him on it. Again, void the trade.

Viewing a trade between a contender and a non-contender is the wrong way to look at the issue. The right way is to view it as you would any trade - is fair value received for the value dealt away?

Any trade that threatens to split the league (or cause it to break up) is, at the least, too controversial to permit. Personalities aside, an owner vetoing a deal now knows full well he may find his "gotta make this trade" deal killed next month or next summer.

Trading big-dollar, last-year contracts does not mean big statistics have been transferred. It seems to mean that, but reality is often quite different. Dealing players who are not having good years does not mean the owner accepting them is dumping.

Limiting trades in August to teams within two spots of each other in the standings reduces the possibility of a tail-ender who has stopped caring making a one-sided trade. Several leagues I play use the normal open trading for four months and the limited version in the fifth month (August). It's probably unnecessary, but it also reduces screaming at people over the phone.

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