May 13, 2005
A mantra we often chant at RotoWire (and yes, we do chant, in Gregorian fashion) at this time of year is to "Buy Low, Sell High." It's good advice, but it often can be difficult to execute, particularly as you advance into more sophisticated leagues. After all, it's a rare league in which you can find a big market for Danny Graves' nine saves (just ask Joe Sheehan). Still, those opportunities can still occur if you play your cards right. Here are a few pointers to help you along the way.
We're still in the "accumulating talent" phase of the season. The team that accumulates the most talent more often than not wins the long-term battle. We still have three-quarters of the season left, so there's still plenty of time to trade for help in specific categories, most notably saves. Consequently, you should still be evaluating players in terms of pure value first before focusing on need. When we get later in the season, the pendulum will swing in the other direction, but for now it's too early to think exclusively about need. Don't turn down an offer of a $30 player for a $15 player just because you'd rather trade for a shortstop, and certainly don't accept an offer of a $15 closer for a $25 outfielder just because you need saves.
Imagine you have both Scott Podsednik and Brian Roberts, as well as Oliver Perez and Kerry Wood. The natural inclination is to look to trade Roberts as the ultimate "sell high" player while addressing your starting pitching needs. However, you're going to find that it difficult to get full value for Roberts, especially if you aren't the one making the offers.
It's important to not give away the benefit of the bargain just because you have a surplus of stolen bases and a need for starting pitching. You may not believe that Roberts' power spike is for real; I don't, myself. Even if he doesn't hit another homer the rest of the way, however, he still is going to help in at least three categories. Don't accept a Roberts-for-Javier Vazquez deal just because that's the best offer you've gotten so far. It's a long season, and if you're not going to get a deal now for full value, you're better off riding it out and looking to improve your starting pitching in other ways.
This seems like a pretty basic step, right? It should be, but many owners botch this. If you won the Jon Garland lottery, you're not going to be able to wait and watch the offers roll in. Similarly, posting a generic message in the forum of your league page rarely gets it done. Often those posts are ignored, or worse, they attract lowball offers which leave you with no room to negotiate. I made that mistake in a league in which I own Nomar Garciaparra, acknowledging that I needed a shortstop to replace him. Two offers involving Tomas Perez later, I'm no closer to addressing my needs in that league.
No, you're going to have to be more direct than that. E-mailing the league is one option, although often the results are similar to those garnered when posting on the league message board. If you're going that route, try to be specific as possible about what you're targeting and why you're looking to trade. A better approach is to contact those teams that look like a good match for your trade strategy. Even better is to call those owners or talk to him in person. So much more is accomplished by working the phones than by e-mailing. Those who have been stuck in the vortex of my inbox can attest to that.
Note that you don't necessarily need to make an offer in the process of getting talks going. Merely by feeling out other teams' interest you set the framework for a possible deal, and leave yourself room to counter any trade offer. Sometimes you'll have to make that first offer, but you've already accomplished a lot by getting your opponent to look into your team and make the first move.
This is where you can really gain the benefit of the bargain. If you've been fortunate to avoid the high closer attrition rate so far, find the guy in your league who has LaTroy Hawkins or Guillermo Mota. Offer him Brandon Lyon and his league-leading 13 saves and see what sort of loot you can extract. This isn't to suggest that Lyon isn't for real, but his presence at the top of the save leader list gives him a value that he's not going to have later in the season. When you get a GM fresh off an injury or a blown save, there's a pretty good tendency for him to overreact.
If there's one area where you can successfully execute a "Buy Low, Sell High" deal, it's in dealing a closer. We've already seen a high attrition rate with closers, with changes or injuries on seven teams in the NL alone. And that count doesn't include the coming implosion of Danny Graves' job security. If you've gotten by with Jose Mesa in an NL-only league so far, there's no better time to swap him out for help in other areas. Most closers offer significant help in one category only, with only nominal contributions in the other categories, due to a relative lack of innings pitched. The longer the season goes, the more this is true. The earlier you can trade a closer, the more value he'll bring.