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July 31, 2005

Fantasy Focus

Thou Doth Protest Too Much

by Jeff Erickson

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You're in the heat of your league's pennant race and are clearly in the hunt for the title. You have a few holes to fill, but you have some areas of strength to trade from as well. The one area where you can gain the most points is in stolen bases and you have depth among your starting pitchers, so you carefully craft a trade of Dontrelle Willis for Scott Podsednik.

Now, you're all set to make your run, but wait…your top rival has filed a protest about the trade, claiming it's inequitable. The commissioner puts the trade up to a league-wide vote and it gets shot down. Your best chance to win the league is now gone, you're bitter towards your rival, the commissioner and the rest of your league mates. Future trades now seem unlikely, and your friendships within the league are strained to boot.

We've spent a lot of time talking about trade strategy and the mechanics of the deal in previous columns, but today's column will be more argumentative in nature. There are few issues that I'm dogmatic about, but the concept of trade protests in fantasy leagues is high on my list. There are few things that conspire more to kill a good league than blocking trades. Roto owners need to be free to make their own bad trades and evaluate personnel on their own. The league doesn't intervene to stop an owner from drafting a particular player, nor should it prevent that owner from trading that player. I believe this for the following reasons:

  • Player Evaluation: At the very core of this game is the concept of player evaluation. Who knows the game and its players best? We all bring our particular preferences and methodologies to the table at the draft, with free agents and in trades. It's a necessarily subjective exercise, and it's one that's going to yield different results for each and every roto owner. This is especially true when comparing players across different positions; when comparing Alfonso Soriano and Gary Sheffield, you have to factor in the position each plays in addition to their projected stats when determining value.

  • League Context: So often at this time of year, trades that may not look equitable on their face make a lot more sense when you look into the specific league context. Team A can gain four to five points in saves by adding a closer, yet because he owns both Scott Podsednik and Carl Crawford, he leads the rest of his AL-only league in stolen bases by a prohibitive margin. So if he ends up trading Podsednik for Huston Street, it might appear on first glance to be unfair to him, but in his case it makes complete sense. Why shouldn't he be able to deal from strength to address his weaknesses?

  • Strategic Implications: The ability to veto a trade is a powerful one. If the threshold to block a trade isn't too high, a handful of owners can end up causing roto gridlock in your league. One caller on my radio show said that his league's protest rule has prevented any trade from getting completed for the last two years. Where's the fun in that? This is especially true in keeper leagues. If a team that's out of the hunt can't make dump trades to plan for the future, their activity in the league will almost certainly grind to a halt.

  • Emotional Cost: Getting your trade blocked is an unpleasant experience. It engenders hurt feelings between the blockers and blockees. It stifles future trading activity in the league, borne both out of frustration ("Why bother trading? It's just going to get blocked anyhow.") and revenge ("Team B prevented my trade from happening--I'm going to make sure he can't make a deal of his own."). Further, it creates feelings of bitterness between friends that can permeate beyond just the league itself. I've seen leagues and friendships broken up over blocked trades.

There are just a few exceptions that come to mind. One, when there are parallel leagues with the same owners. Team A and Team B are owners in both an AL-only league (League 1) and an NL-only league (League 2). They make separate trades where Team A is the clear beneficiary in League 1 and Team B is the clear beneficiary in League 2. Another exception is dealing with related parties, especially if it's a case where one party can clearly take advantage of the other party; I'm thinking mostly of a father/son, older brother/younger brother sort of scenario. It's not that they can't trade together, but a stricter level of scrutiny needs to be applied here.

The final exception is the trickiest one, with the grayest area of evaluation. When there's clear evidence of collusion, the trade should be rejected by the commissioner. The definition of "clear evidence of collusion" is tantamount to the famous judicial definition of pornography: "I can't define it, but I know what it is when I see it." The trade has to be so inequitable on its face that it would be clear to anyone who gave it even just a cursory glance would say as much. In this case, I prefer giving your league's commissioner sole powers to reject that trade, especially if that commissioner is also not an owner. The more owners you open the process up to, the more you bring their personal agendas into the decision-making process.

Beyond these exceptions, the free market should prevail when it comes to legislating trades. Good luck wading the choppy trade waters in your league!

--

Jeff Erickson is the senior editor at Rotowire, and the host of XM Radio's "Fantasy Focus," heard every weekday at noon ET on XM Channel 175. He can be reached here.

Related Content:  Trade,  Trades

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