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August 11, 2014

Fantasy Freestyle

Other Competitive Balance Mechanisms

by Mike Gianella

Last week, I talked about salary caps in auction-style leagues and how they can still allow non-contending teams to rebuild without destroying the integrity of your league. As many of my readers have pointed out, there are several other methods you can use to either curb dump trades or prevent them entirely if you so desire. Over the years, I have used some of these methods in my carryover leagues. Others I have not used but have heard about through either reader feedback or from other fantasy baseball analysts who also play in keeper leagues. The list below is not intended to be comprehensive but offers a guide to different ways you can navigate this issue in your league or leagues.

Salary Floor
A salary cap addresses how much salary a contender may put on his or her roster, but does little if anything to discourage a team at the bottom of the pack from simply vacating its roster and shipping everyone away to another squad. An alternative suggested by many of my readers is a salary floor. Putting a minimum required salary on a team still allows teams to play for next year but prevents teams from simply jettisoning everyone off of their rosters and potentially disrupting the competitive balance of the league.

Advantages: Curtails the most lopsided present-for-future trades while still allowing for these types of deals. Prohibits teams out of the running from simply jettisoning expensive non-keepers off of their rosters after the trade deadline and allowing contenders with the most FAAB or highest waiver claims to swoop in post deadline.

Disadvantages: This method is by no means foolproof. Teams can get around this by using FAAB to obtain an expensive player or players to reach the floor. It is also possible to acquire an expensive bust to simply circumvent the rule. In 2014, think Prince Fielder or Justin Verlander. Dragging a $30-35 Fielder out there week in and week out wouldn’t be palatable to a contender but in a league with a salary floor would be perfectly acceptable.

Salary Escalators
A player traded during the season with a salary under a certain amount would see his salary rise to an agreed upon minimum salary. Ten dollars is sometimes used but for maximum impact $15 is probably a better minimum. For example, Dallas Keuchel was purchased for four dollars at your auction this past March. He is traded during the 2014 season to a non-contender. His salary jumps to $15 for this year and next year as well.

Advantages: Teams can still play for next year but the number of players targeted in trades with future value plummets. Elite players would still have future value under this rule but cheap, marginal keepers who are often used to justify some of the most egregious dump trades would lose their value.

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Another alternative is a much earlier trading deadline.

Aug 11, 2014 08:08 AM
rating: 2

This something we did several years ago. We set our unlimited trade deadline at the All-Star break. After that, teams can only trade two players between each team until the final trade deadline the second Monday in August (the first Monday being the final FAAB bidding cycle).

We also put in a financial penalty to the last three standings finishers and made the reserve round picks the following year 5-11, 4, 3, 2, 1. That gave some incentive to trying to finish strong even when out of the money.

Does it work? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Dumping does tend to happen earlier as a result. Mike's final sentence sums up my attitude about our history of dump trades perfectly.

For context, 4X4 NL-only, 11 teams. This is our 31st year.

Aug 11, 2014 08:40 AM
rating: 0

That just causes some people to dump earlier, in our experience.

I'll reiterate from the previous article that the in-season salary cap and floor works exceptionally well in my league. To Mike's point about dead salary (e.g. prince this year), we have a clause that once a player goes on the DL, his salary can only count towards the floor to his owner at the time he goes on the DL. This prevents any accounting-type shenanigans because once Prince (in our example) hits the DL, he can no longer count for anyone else's salary floor.

Expensive busts that are not DL'ed are very few and far between.

We've found that this enables dump trades, but it's not excessive. Also, we use salary escalators that are far more modest than the ones Mike described; $3 raise per year.

Finally, minor leaguers, when traded in-season, automatically get activated, so they take up a major league (and keeper the following year) spot, so you lose almost all incentive to acquire them. In order for there to be integrity, minor leaguers really do need to be off limits.

Aug 11, 2014 08:43 AM
rating: 0

I have been a very active member of my 14-team, mixed, H2H league this year. However, due to unlucky results and some bad strategy, my team is floundering.

Our max keeper duration is only 3 years and we only have 5 keepers total. I just traded Jose Abreu (2 years left) plus Mat Latos (1 year left) for Paul Goldschmidt (1 year left) plus Javier Baez and Taijuan Walker (both with 2 years). The trade was made with the guy in second place, who offered the deal.

It was a desperate gamble move for of us. He loses potential future production (aside from Abreu, none of his elite players have keeper eligibility remaining). I am banking on high-end production from the young guys within the next two+ years. His line after the deal was agreed to was, "I was almost hoping you'd reject it....".

This is as close to a 'dump deal' as we have seen in our league, but it comes with tremendous upside (along with risk). Our league (being H2H) allows for a loser's bracket in the playoffs, with the winner of that winning some cash back. However, the bottom two teams are left completely out of the playoffs (winners and losers); so there is still a compulsion to keep on fighting.

I generally prefer Roto leagues to H2H, but with our "loser's bracket" playoff, the number of dump trades in this league is virtually non-existent.

Aug 11, 2014 10:02 AM
rating: 0

To limit the impact of dump trades, we went to a cap a few years ago and it has worked out well. It is basically a $375 cap after a $260 draft.

We also punished the bottom of the standings in the minor league draft. We draft 6-12, 5-1 in the 1st round. So, the 6th place team that goes for it gets pick 1-1 as the reward.

Aug 11, 2014 10:13 AM
rating: 0
Michael Bodell

I like something that sets things up so that the best team not in the playoff gets the top pick/reward rather than the worst team. That makes dumping less profitable.

In a snake draft you can just draft 6-12 then 5-1 like you did. If you had a $260 auction you could modify the auction amounts so 6 gets $270, 7th $268, 8th $266 ... 12th $258, 5th $256 etc. (make it wider or shorter as you like).

This small bump helps with competitive balance (the stronger owners, and teams with best keepers, get less draft money), and it also gives teams out of the playoffs some small thing to play for (more money next year).

Aug 11, 2014 23:18 PM
rating: 0
One Flap Down

A league I played in used a "salary trade cap" or "team-to-team cap"; that is, it limited the amount of salary one team could pick up from another. Inevitably in every keeper league there's going to a group of contenders and a group of non-contenders. What rankles everyone and causes the most hurt feelings is the "dump everyone to one team and get it over with" trade, and the salary trade cap solves this problem by essentially forcing a dumping team to deal with more than one contender. It thereby allows non-contenders to rebuild and contenders to acquire help while spreading things around.

The league also had no long-term contracts, but required any player being kept to have his salary bumped up $4 each year. This kept down draft inflation pretty well, by increasing the amount of salary kept and by throwing more marginal keepers back in the draft (someone at $21 might be a keeper but at $25 they're not).

Aug 11, 2014 15:25 PM
rating: 0

"What rankles everyone and causes the most hurt feelings is the "dump everyone to one team and get it over with" trade"

This, more than anything else.

Aug 13, 2014 07:58 AM
rating: 1

I don't really understand the complaints about these sorts of trades, unless you have a farm-team effect where one owner only really trades with another specific owner. Even then, I think it's a bit silly to worry about it - if everyone thinks it's a bad thing, they will form their own coalitions.

To me, the more important problem is concentration of talent. You shouldn't be doing things to make it harder for the worse teams to get cheap talent, you should be making it easier. Something like the old free agent compensation rule seems more appropriate. Like, if you choose not to keep a player who was on your roster at the start of the previous year, you get to spend an extra 10% (or 25%) of his salary in the draft. Or with cut-offs: if you don't keep a $10+ player, you get $3 extra to spend, $20+, you get $6, etc. So now you aren't looking at a player with 0 value to you vs whatever someone will offer, you are looking at a player with a minimum value to you so any decent offer has to exceed that value.

My league uses a flat salary appreciation ($465 total budget for 30 players, anyone can be kept at their draft salary + $7, draft salary = 0 if they were undrafted), which ends up being a fairly harsh drag against all but the absolute best bargains. Looking at the 2009 draft, there are 11 players who have been kept every year (meaning that they were considered worth it at $28 + their 2009 draft salary). Most of them were either $1 guys that year (Latos, CarGo, Strasburg), or cheap keepers from the prior year (Kershaw, Hamilton, Pence, Votto, Cano, Cliff Lee). The other two were Verlander and Cabrera. Also, Beltre, Posey, Price, Adam Jones, and Carlos Santana were picked up after the draft and kept since. So that's 16 players out of 256 (counting the DL slots, it's an 8-team league) after 5 years. It has the effect of making borderline keepers pretty low value, but its really organic and flexible. You can make a bet on a Xander (who was drafted at $7 prior to the 2013 season) and just stick to it looking for that payoff, you can double-down on guys like Cabrera (kept at $58 this year) and Darvish (kept at $64), or you can bargain-hunt the auction ($9 Cole Hamels? $10 John Lester?), or you can stash all the prospects and see who shakes out (Gausman, Stroman, Bryant, Rymer, Walker, CMart, Odorizzi, Heaney, Salazar, Miller?). There's decisions all up-and-down the cost spectrum.

Aug 13, 2014 13:27 PM
rating: 0
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Premium Article Minor League Update: G... (08/11)
<< Previous Column
Fantasy Article Fantasy Freestyle: Jer... (08/08)
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Freestyle: Set... (08/13)
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The Week in Quotes: Au... (08/11)

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