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May 10, 2012

Resident Fantasy Genius

Trades of Grey

by Derek Carty

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In recent weeks, I’ve discussed my stance on being aggressive early in the season, both in terms of FAAB bidding and in terms of trading.  Of course, there are different reasons for making a trade.  Ignoring the “making a trade for the sake of making a trade/being active/shaking things up,” which is never a good idea, there are two main reasons to make a trade: because you’re getting the better players or because you’re filling a need.

A number of readers have requested my advice on trades recently, with the conversation often starting something like, “I’m weak in Category A.”  Of course, stating with such certainty that you’re weak in a category when we’re just 19 percent of the way into the season is a tricky business. After all, there are a lot of games left to be played, and a lot of things can happen between now and October.  You don’t know how player performance will change, who will get injured, what trades may present themselves later in the year, who will come available on waivers, etc.

The impressions we have of players can change quite dramatically from the beginning to end of a season, and any player can roll off a string of lucky games (be it a week, a month, or a year).  This is particularly true for pitchers.  Even Bruce Chen lucks his way into a 3.77 ERA every now and again.  Of course we should never bank on or expect this kind of performance, but it can realistically happen.  So before you start overpaying with hitting to improve your perceived ERA weakness, take a breath and see how things look in a couple of months.

This may seem to run contrary to my “be aggressive” advice, so let me clarify my point here: don’t overpay. Projections are right a large amount of the time, so it’s not as if we have no idea how our teams will perform; we just can’t say with absolute certainty.  If PECOTA says your team is weak in batting average, sure, make a trade to fill that need.  Just make sure it’s an even-value trade.  Don’t give up a more valuable power player just because you think you need batting average.

By the same token, don’t feel as though you must “trade from a strength” this early in the year.  There are only two times when a “strength” is a bad thing: when you win the category outright by a large amount (say you finish with 300 home runs and the second-place finisher only has 250—you wasted 50 homers worth of value that could have been traded to maximize another category) and when you finish middle-of-the-pack but well above the team that finishes below you (which is unpredictable this early in the year).  So unless you have a lineup chock full of studs, don’t feel obligated to trade from a strength just yet.  Until you win the category, you still have more points to gain from it.  Going from 10 to 11 points in home runs does you just as much good as going from two to three points in batting average does.

What this conversation really boils down to is the two ways of defining “value.”  The first way to consider value is in a static sense.  In a vacuum, Josh Hamilton is more valuable than Michael Bourn.  But fantasy points aren’t scored in a vacuum.  How a player affects your place in the standings is what’s really important, when push comes to shove.  The problem is, at this point in the season, we don’t know how the final standings are going to look, so trying to acquire players based on this definition of value can often backfire.

Therefore, it is my preference to make trades for pure, static value at this junction of the season.  I like to acquire as much value as I possibly can, see how the standings shake out in a couple of months, and then start maximizing my categories as the season begins to approach the homestretch.  As long as I have a good team, I should have enough trading chips to make deals (and if I don’t have a good team, well, then I won’t be winning anyway).  Then I see which categories I might be able to gain several points in with a single acquisition and shift my resources accordingly.  It’s easier said than done—especially if you play in an inactive league—but it is the optimal play, in my opinion.

Of course, there are certain cases where you know for certain that you lack a certain category, even in May.  We can be pretty sure that David Ortiz isn’t going to suddenly start stealing bases.  If you don’t have any notoriously fast players on your team, you might be justified in trading for steals, assuming you don’t overpay too badly.  After all, if you know that you’re not going to get any steals (a safe assumption in many cases), you can’t wait too long to go get them.  If you wait until July to trade for steals, you won’t be able to make up enough ground with the season half-over.  Saves are another category where you could be justified in giving a little extra if the standings gain merits it.

All in all, don’t be afraid to make trades—I highly encourage it. Just don’t do it with category maximization in mind… not yet.

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