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June 1, 2009
I don't do a whole lot of fantasy-specific pieces, but when I can combine looking like an idiot, not taking my own advice, and serving as a cautionary tale for others, well, that's just some good content.
There's a principle I came around to years ago, dating back to a drawn-out negotiation in a Strat-O-Matic league that ended up—and I wish I were kidding—with one of the parties following the other back to his hotel room and pressing the point even as the first readied himself for sleep. This was over, and I really should lie about this, Damion Easley. I don't even remember if I had Easley and wouldn't give him up, or wanted Easley and wouldn't close a deal without his inclusion. I do remember how impossibly awkward it was to be all but tucked into bed, but with another person in the room trying to close a deal, apparently unaware of the ludicrousity (Monday word) of the situation.
I learned from that, first to close doors more quickly behind me, but also that when you're trying to make a trade, you don't sweat the "plus." The plus always gets you into trouble, when you worry so much about not giving up that fourth-round pick or becoming distracted by the throw-in. Swapping Carlos Beltran for Tim Lincecum is a big enough deal that if you're interested in making it, the minor details should never get in the way.
I know all this, thanks to Damion Easley, except that apparently I don't.
Thanks to Mike Siano of MLB.com, I joined an AL-only keeper league, a money league, back in March. Mike was looking for dead money to fill the prize pool, and naturally landed on the guy who finished 19th in a 12-team AL-only league a year ago. I inherited a fair roster, ended up keeping the maximum of five guys, including a by-rule $11 Jason Bartlett that I wasn't happy about. I loved my team after the auction, in which I used the same strategy I'd gone into AL Tout Wars with—one closer, one starter, lots of skilled middle relievers. This is also known as "The Rafael Perez Immolation Technique," and RPIT should only be attempted by professionals.
Suffice to say I have one of the best offenses in the league, and one of the worst pitching staffs in the league. The above trade offer—I had kept Josh Hamilton and FAAB'd Matt Harrison—would rectify that to some extent. That he was offering Justin Verlander was just candy given that I had, just hours prior, filed what amounted to a mash note to Verlander for Sports Illustrated. Plus David Murphy? The only proper response to the e-mail was "I accept."
I don't mind that structure, but I don't like Murphy at all as a player—last year was a peak for him, really just a big couple of months. Is there a comparable player you could plug into that slot? Zobrist instead, perhaps?
Enter the plus. Josh Hamilton for Justin Verlander was such a good trade for me that the rest of it didn't matter one bit. He could have been offering Donnie Murphy, Billy Murphy, Dale Murphy, or the last guy cut from the Dropkick Murphys, and it would have been a good trade for me. Hamilton is overrated by dint of storyline, because his body doesn't appear to have what it takes to play regularly at a high level in the major leagues. On the day this offer was made, he ran into a wall and was removed from the game. That was May 17. I might have saved this a few days later, when Hamilton looked like he was coming around and before Verlander made his next start.
If Hamilton checks out OK and it seems as if he will I wanted to see if we can come together on an agreement... Who are some offensive players besides Zobrist that you would want to get back in a deal for Verlander?
What I should have said in reply was:
Let's just do the original deal, the two-for-two that was on the table. I don't want to get caught up in the bit parts. It's a good trade.
What I actually said was:
Might be hard to find guys who don't throw the trade out of whack. I named Zobrist since he's a part-time player, more or less, with some value. I don't want Crosby, Wigginton, or a catcher. Where does that leave us?
That was the last I heard from the other manager. A day after the above, Verlander threw six good innings against the Rangers, striking out eight and getting the win. He followed that up with seven shutout innings with six strikeouts on May 25. Hamilton rejoined the lineup May 20, even homered May 24 against the Astros, but with each passing day, it was clear that the trade was dead. The two players were going in opposite directions, with clearly divergent values, and whatever deal had been there on May 17 was long gone.
The cliché is that sometimes the best trades are the ones you don't make. It takes two people to not make a trade, though, and my inability to see past David Murphy to the meat of this trade—to take the advice I've been giving for more than a decade about not sweating the plus—was the unconscionably stupid act that led to the deal not being made. Now, Hamilton has a 696 OPS since the offer hit the table and is headed for an MRI machine, while Verlander is off to his Kevin Brown-flavored career.
So I'm spending a column to make this point again. If you play fantasy baseball, if you play Strat, if you play Scoresheet, if you do anything that involves trading... remember Damion Easley. Remember David Murphy. Remember that there's no major trade worth holding up because of the secondary and tertiary players involved. Just pull the trigger, and don't sweat the small stuff. If you get too caught up in winning every fraction of a deal, you will eventually make the kind of play that costs you a league.