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August 8, 2007

Fantasy Focus

Dumping

by Kenn Ruby

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My league's constitution defines dumping as "…the inelegant but scientifically precise term used to describe what happens when a team out of contention gives up on the season and trades to a contending team its most expensive talent and its players who will be lost to free agency at the end of the year, typically for inexpensive players who can be kept the following season. A 'dump' trade is always unbalanced, sometimes egregiously so, with the contending team giving up far less than it gets, and the non-contending team giving up much more in order to acquire a nucleus for the following season."

It's a good definition, and anyone who plays in a keeper league is signing up for a league in which dumping could occur. So why does it always cause such hard feelings?

Fantasy baseball players strive to pattern their game to be as close to its real-world counterpart as possible, but this question may be one of the fundamental divergences between our game and the real thing. Dump trades happen all the time in real baseball. They're accepted as part of the game, and when the Braves get Mark Teixeira for their best prospects, they're considered savvy and "going for it now." The Rangers may get the last laugh in 2009, but the Braves could win this year.

Dumping in fantasy baseball often has the opposite effect. A lopsided trade--whether a true dump or not--could damage the integrity of the league with shouts of "veto!" and "throw him out of the league!" I get questions all the time at RotoWire.com from people who say, "this trade was vetoed in my league," and I look at it and wonder why. Someone recently asked me why an Ichiro Suzuki for Ryan Howard trade was vetoed in his league. The owner receiving Ichiro was solid in power but needed batting average and steals. The owner receiving Howard needed some power but had the highest batting average in the league. That's a perfect trade for both teams, yet it caused an uproar in that league, presumably from someone who wanted Howard for himself and felt he could have offered more.

And that may be the crux of it all. We think we could've offered a better package. We look at a dump someone else made and say, "why didn't I think of that?" We overvalue our own players, we undervalue our competitors' players, and we start questioning the relationship between the dumper and dumpee. Feelings get hurt.

As far as I can tell, you don't see that in the majors. We all think that being baseball fans and fantasy baseball owners qualifies us to be a better general manager then the guys running real teams, but in actuality, we probably wouldn't do a better job than our real-life counterparts. Well, maybe except for David Littlefield.

Real-life general managers are forced to take the emotion out of it. While we might think that the $800 we're "losing" as a result of an unbalanced trade is a lot of money, even the worst GMs in the league have millions of dollars at stake. Do you think that Mets GM Omar Minaya was upset when it looked like the Braves were going to get Teixeira? Do you think he tried to veto the trade? No, he just worked a little harder to bring in Luis Castillo and probably made sure Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran saw the Mets team doctor that day.

When you play fantasy baseball, there is no greater day than draft day. You sit in a room for 10 hours with 11 other people just like you. They may be your friends, mere acquaintances, or perfect strangers, but you tease each other like you might tease your own brother. For one day, you are all family.

It's those familial bonds, though, that get you into trouble. When a dump trade happens in a league among friends, it's very easy to take things personally. "Hey, this guy was my brother three months ago! How could he do this?" To the two trading owners it could be even worse, especially if you have a guilty conscience: "What will they think of me? Will they even want me back? Should I have given up even more?"

Whether you're directly involved in a trade or not, you need to block out those thoughts and have the strength to make the dump deal to win the league. Like it or not, it's difficult to win in a keeper league without some kind of dumping. That's not to say it can't be done, but once there is one dump, others will soon follow, and you need to hop aboard the train just to keep pace.

I started the ball rolling in my league a few weeks ago, trading Tim Lincecum, Matt Kemp, Fred Lewis, Will Inman, and others for a nice package of expensive non-keepers. I really had no choice but to make a move. Our top four are so tight that there is no margin for error left. I knew my competitors would be trading at our July 31 deadline, despite the fact that there hadn't been a deal in months in our league. This lack of trading was very uncharacteristic for our league, but it was very clear to me that we were all waiting to see what the others would do. I didn't even necessarily need all the players I received, but I was just happy that they didn't end up on the roster of any of the other contenders.

So I pulled the trigger. There wasn't a big response from my league. Were the other contenders upset? Did they sit there stewing over their misfortune? Not a chance. A week later, the other contenders responded: they made strong trades of their own. Now we're all locked and loaded and ready for one of the greatest pennant races our league has ever seen (a recent glance at the standings revealed a three-way tie for first with fourth place half a point back).

I like to think our league is more enlightened than most, that the personal stuff doesn't enter it. We all just do what we have to do to win. It's a lesson to take to heart. If someone in your league makes a deal you don't like, your goal should be to top it. Isn't the whole point of the game to have better players than the other guy anyway?

A wise man once said, "it's not personal…it's strictly business." Of course you can still be friends with the other players in your league, but until you run your team following this mantra, you'll never be consistently successful playing this game.

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