I'd like to kick off our weekly-ish discussion of Fantasy baseball by talking about trading. Sadly, I've had to take a dictatorial approach in one of the TCB Yahoo! leagues because of the way some managers were comporting themselves during and after a particular trade, which was vetoed. I changed the rules so that the commissioner evaluates trades instead of the managers voting (and immediately stated that I would veto no trades) and had to throw some threats around to make everybody play nice. It was a bummer, but it got me thinking because several questions arose during the drama.
Firstly, when is the appropriate time for a manager to exercise their vote-to-veto option? Some managers claimed we could use it whenever we felt like the trade could upset competitive balance because of lopsidedness of the swap. Others state that the veto is only for when collusion is suspected. Still others think that the veto is to protect less informed managers from being taken advantage of. I made the point that MLB exercises their trade veto occasionally, and the reason always seems to vary. Fangraphs did a great series of columns recently exploring past vetoes in the majors. In the debate, I share the opinion that since a Yahoo! veto requires 1/3 of the league to object (which is difficult to obtain due to the frequency with which people actually check the league), then any reason for objection is valid because it's a pseudo-democratic process.
I've only seen a couple trades vetoed during my decade or so of Fantasy baseball. In retrospect, at the time they may have seem lopsided. But now, not so much. In 2012, A.J. Ellis and Casey Janssen for Colby Rasmus was vetoed because the Rasmus seller was seen as being given a better deal. Rasmus was later traded for Fernando Rodney (hilarious, because Rodney was probably more valuable last season than Janssen+Ellis). This season, it was David Wright and Eric O'Flaherty (great name!) for Hunter Pence andMatt Garza. That trade definitely should not have been vetoed, but at least eight managers voted to kill it, and so it happened. I have my thoughts on why that trade was vetoed, and it has nothing to do with the players. I'll share that with you later, but have you been involved with any leagues that vetoed trades? What were their reasons, and do you remember the players involved?
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I have played fantasy baseball for 20 years, and I am a strong believer that the veto button should be seldom, if ever used. In fact, the only reason I have ever either initiated a veto vote, or voted to veto a trade is if the trade "smells" of collusion. This is a very slippery slope, obviously. One can never prove collusion, and no one would admit to it, so I always couch the objection in a term I learned from law school, the "appearance of impropriety". If it walks like a duck.....well, you follow my meaning.
In an NL only league started by me and a few others out of the SRO Sports Bar (now recently shuttered......tear"), which is a keeper league, one owner made a point of buying a couple of pitchers on the DL for greatly reduced prices. As a player can be kept for 3 years in this league, a 12$ Strasburg , a 4$ Wainwright (and a 5$ Chase Utley) were good buys for the future, but in 2011, when they were recovering from injuries that would keep them out for most of the season, they would only be useful to an owner that was rebuilding for the future.
The problem was, a week into the new season, that owner traded all 3 players to another owner for Albert Pujois, and Brian McCann. The effect of this trade was basically to give one owner an extra 50 $ at the draft. As I explained at the time I initiated discussion, this trade significantly upset the competitive balance of the league and carried the "appearance of impropriety". In other words, they had a deal in place before the draft to do what they did, giving one owner a larger budget that the rest. And this is a money league, so it was an issue. I said, if the trade had been done in July or August, I wouldn't have said a word. But in week 1? A problem. As you might imagine, a hailstorm ensued.
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You're right, that sounds like a shady deal, and probably should have been vetoed considering there was money on the line. But sometimes, how the deal is framed can change how other managers perceive it. Lets say in the case of your trade, the managers were up front about the deal. The one trading for the injured players says, "Look guys, I've finished dead last three years in a row, despite all of my efforts. I've lost $300 bucks because of it and I realized I needed a radical strategy to even have a chance. So I planned to keep/draft as many successful veterans as possible, with the intention of trading them for injured stars when those guys' values were at their lowest. That sets me up for having good keepers next season, plus some extra bucks to spend on next years' draft. This was my plan all along, and I'm willing to send you emails to show that this wasn't collusion between me and (other team)." That situation would be very similar to the Astros this season (OK, more like similar to the Marlins last season), and might make the other managers better-disposed towards the deal, even though it helps the Pujols/McCann team a great deal this season. It might not help, but if it's enough to swing just one or two votes in your favor, it could prevent a veto.
That brings me to my second point. Just like there are unspoken rules in baseball, there are ways a manager in Fantasy can behave to prevent hostile reactions towards his trades. I mentioned above that I think I know why that Wright trade was vetoed by our league. After one manager objected (on the grounds that Wright for Pence + a starter on the DL was lopsided, which I don't now agree with), the manager receiving Wright countered with an argument that was sounded far-fetched, even in the imaginary confines of Fantasy Baseball. The argument was so "out there" that it immediately turned a large number of managers against him, and that's when the veto votes came in. In retrospect, both managers had excellent reasons for wanting that trade and the players involved were equal enough that it shouldn't have been an issue. But from the beginning, the appearance was that one manager had set up a paper-doll argument and had taken advantage of the other. In reality, this wasn't the case at all, but that is how it came across when they tried to defend it.
Given that, I have a few suggestions for managers wishing to make trades in a Fantasy baseball league:
1. Don't make lopsided offers and try to rationalize them to the other manager. Don't offer me Jose Altuve in exchange for Miguel Cabrera and tell me it's a fair trade because 2B is a shallow position. It's not a fair deal. You know it and I know it, and all you're doing is giving yourself a reputation for not being worth trading with.
2. Recognize what the other manager's needs are. If I have four 1B's, don't offer me Billy Butler in exchange for my only 2B. It's a waste of both our times.
3. Don't tell the other manager how crappy you think his/her players are. Telling someone, "Your starting pitchers suck, so you should accept this trade for Josh Beckett" is annoying, insulting, and insincere. If Beckett is so great, why do you want to trade him to me?
4. No personal attacks. If I reject your trade offer, don't roast me in the message board, publicly trying to get other managers to agree how stupid I was for rejecting your trade. Nobody will want to trade with you after that.
5. Understand that while Rankings aren't the end-all, saying, "Ranks don't matter," when offering a guy ranked 400 for a guy ranked 40, that offer will be rightfully rejected and that doesn't make the other manager a stupid, horrible person.
I've seen many managers over the years finish at the back end of Fantasy rankings just because of their attitudes towards the other managers. I'll let you have the last word on this one. Have you had issues with managers sabotaging their ability to make in-season moves because of their behavior and bad etiquette?
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In the end, I don't know that the 2 owners had a deal in place before the draft, it just looked like it. For the remainder of 2011, and the beginning of 2012, everytime i made a trade in that league, the owners whose trade was vetoed, blasted the trade out of sarcasm. Which i understood, and played along. Finally, after a year and a half, I was able to pull a deadline trade with one of those owners, acquiringAnthony Rizzo, which helped propel me to the 2012 title.
The point is, even though I took the lead on the veto, I never accused anyone of collusion, I just suggested it LOOKED bad, and created an unfair advantage at the draft. Whenever the issue was discussed on the message board, I approached it with humor, and didn't burn any bridges. Scorched em for a while, but didn't burn them.
On the other hand, I joined an existing 16 team mixed auction league this year. A few owners were unable to attend the draft, and got destroyed by autodraft. So they set out upon the task of repairing their roster by making trades. Three trades all involved 1 really good player and 2 bums for 3 average to slightly above avg. guys. One side is building out depth, the other side, adding a stud. Totally defensible IMO. And all 3 trades got vetoed. One owner quit, another was banned for inappropriate attacks on other owners, a mess all around. The commish is trying to unruffle feathers and one owner has resubmitted the exact same deal that just got vetoed. A mess.
Your rules for trading are all good ones. It sucks to think that you need to go out to the league and justify your moves, but that , sometimes, is the only way. Let me add one more rule for trading: Don't feel like you have to destroy the other owner in every deal. You get a reputation as someone who will screw you at every turn, and no one will trade with you. Try to make a win-win scenario with most trades, and owners will be more willing to deal with you.