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July 9, 2013

Fantasy Freestyle

Trade Vetoes

by Mike Gianella

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If you’ve spent any time at all listening to Jason Collette and Paul Sporer on Baseball Prospectus’ fantasy podcast, you have heard both of them rail against trade vetoes. And recently at Dynasty Guru, Bret Sayre wrote about vetoes as well.

For the most part, I agree with Jason/Paul/Bret’s stance. Differences of opinion on what a player is worth are what make our game interesting, especially in keeper leagues. If I think Byron Buxton is worth my Robinson Cano and Justin Verlander, who are you to tell me that I’m wrong? Maybe Buxton will be a bust, but maybe Buxton will be the next Mike Trout, and I’ll have control of him for years at a super-cheap price. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

However, in a handful of cases, having access to a veto mechanism isn’t a bad thing. Below are two specific instances where a trade veto was or may have been a good idea.

Example No. 1

A league has two owners who are father and son. The son is perpetually rebuilding, and is almost always waving the white flag in late April or early May. While the son usually makes a good faith effort to let everyone else in the league know that he is dumping, these efforts often seem half-hearted to the rest of the league. The son makes his dump trades with his father 90-95 percent of the time and it seems like the son does a pretty poor job of maximizing his value. With the exception of one rare season, the father is in contention every year and the son is out of it and dumping every year.

None of this is a good reason to nullify trades. Yes, the son should do a better job of shopping his trades, and it’s unfortunate that his father is benefiting from the deals. However, there is nothing about the deals themselves that is bad. The players the son is acquiring are certainly the types of players that could be useful chips in the future; it is his execution that is the problem, not the intent.

In the middle of a heated pennant race last year, the son flipped a $45 Andrew McCutchen, and three players who would go back into the player pool at the end of the season: Ryan Braun, Brandon Phillips, and Aaron Hill. In return, he received a $10 Bryce Harper. The price seemed high, but for 2013 value there could be no arguing that a $10 Harper was a much better commodity than a $45 McCutchen.

The following winter, the son flips Harper back to his Dad for McCutchen even up. McCutchen is arguably an inflation keep, but Harper is clearly the better keep for 2013. Worse yet, the trades in tandem give the impression that the father/son may have had a side agreement where the father would get Harper back after the season ended. While McCutchen is a great player, given the $35 salary difference it is impossible to see why the son would have made the second trade.

Example No. 2

Greg is a poor fantasy owner. He finishes in the bottom third of the league almost every year, his auctions are bad, and he’s the guy who always calls out players who aren’t eligible in the player pool. While all of this makes him insufferable, you could learn to deal with the guy if it wasn’t for the terrible trades that he makes. He’s always making deals with the same two owners (who happen to be brothers), and his deals benefit these two owners significantly.

Just like in Example No. 1, the deals themselves aren’t really a problem. While the trades are poor, all of the players Greg is getting seem to be the types of players that should help him win the following year. Just as with the son in Example No. 1, the issue here seems to be the ability to translate these trades into a successful strategy, not collusion.

However, there are some problems with Greg that go beyond poor trading acumen. Unlike the son in the first example, Greg doesn’t even bother shopping his players around in dump deals. When any other owner besides the brothers sends e-mail to Greg asking if he will make a trade, Greg’s response is a terse, “I WILL NOT DO THAT!!!!!” (The caps and exclamation points are Greg’s, not mine.) It does not matter if the offer is lousy or reasonable, Greg’s answer (if he bothers to send one at all) is always the same borderline lunatic response.

It gets worse. After yet another inexplicably bad trade with one of the brothers, you find out that Greg has given out his cell phone number to the brothers but not to the rest of the league. The brothers have access to this clown while the rest of the league does not. While this still isn’t quite in the territory of trade nullification, it does create an awkward situation that is less than equitable for the league.

In March, Greg trades his two best freezes to one of the brothers for a $23 Todd Helton. While Greg has always made bad trades, this one doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Helton hasn’t been worth $23 in years. It almost seems as if Greg is helping out another owner. Once again, though, the league is reluctant to question Greg’s acumen. If—for whatever reason—Greg thinks that Helton is going to turn back the clock and earn $23, it’s difficult to justify vetoing the trade, no matter how terrible it is.

But then, at the freeze deadline. Greg throws back Helton.

Now Greg has not only helped out another owner, but he has done so while getting absolutely nothing. In this scenario, Helton did not get hurt at the 11th hour. Nor did Greg have a significant number of freezes that left Helton on the bubble. Greg kept four fewer players than the maximum number of freezes, could have kept Helton, but threw him back. He essentially traded Helton for nothing.

Should these trades have been vetoed?

In these instances, my answer is yes. In both cases, these trades were not merely a lone bad deal but part of a far larger pattern of behavior. At issue is not so much that the McCutchen and Helton trades were both bad but rather that they bring attention to a larger problem. Unlike a dump deal in the middle of the season where the benefit to the second-division team is difficult to question, here the opposite is the case. In Example No. 1, if the son thought that he was getting the best player from his father in the middle of the pennant race, what could have possibly changed the following March? In Example No. 2, there isn’t even a rationale that could defend Greg’s behavior. If he wasn’t going to keep Helton, why did he make this deal in the first place?

While I do believe there should be a mechanism to overturn trades like the two examples I outlined above, there are inherent problems that come with having a veto mechanism:

1. An owner with an ax to grind

Most fantasy owners are fairly reasonable, and while they don’t like it when they miss out on a trade, they are good at seeing the other side of things. We’re only human, though, so sometimes it’s easy to get bent out of shape over a trade and see a lopsided deal that whiffs of collusion even if there isn’t any cause. There are also situations where one owner might have bad blood with someone in the league and see collusion or foul play where none exists.

2. The guy who complains about everything

We have all played in a league with this guy. He’s mad because he hasn’t won the league in eight years, but it’s not his fault. The rules aren’t clear, and it’s everyone else’s problem, not his. He found a loophole in the rules, and it’s not fair because the commissioner won’t let him exploit it. He’s the guy who wants to spend 45 minutes arguing about the league constitution at the auction when everyone else just wants to get started and have a good time.

This is also the guy who is going to want to protest every other trade in the league. Maybe nothing will come of his protests, but allowing a situation where nearly every trade comes under review is a surefire way to suck the life and enjoyment out of a league.

3. A unilateral commissioner veto can create an arbitrary process

Leaving a trade decision in the hands of a commissioner—particularly when the commissioner is also a league member—is a recipe for disaster. We all like to think that we’re the most fair-minded people in the world, but we all have our biases and blind spots. Putting one person in the position to allow or veto every trade puts way too much power into one owner’s hands and gives him an advantage over the rest of the league that he should not have.

If you are going to allow vetoes, the guidelines below are a good way to allow for a process but to keep that process as even-handed as possible.

1. A minimum of three owners should have to object before a veto is even considered

A challenge to a trade should not be made lightly. You are not only questioning the inequity of a deal but the judgment of the owners that made the trade. If three owners are willing to call foul on a deal, a vote should be considered. One owner objecting isn’t enough and can simply be a case of sour grapes.

2. Challenges should be limited

A limit of one challenge per owner per season is a good idea or two challenges at the most. Having an unlimited number of challenges can simply allow a petty owner to perpetually challenge every trade in the league. The idea isn’t to quash trading but rather to offer a serious avenue to overturn a trade that might be truly damaging to a league.

3. A supermajority of votes should be required

In a 12-person league, I would recommend at least seven of 10 owners should be required to overturn a deal, but might even recommend eight of 10 owners (remember, the two owners in the potentially foul deal won’t get a vote). This rule prevents someone from simply being the league gadfly and deciding to protest a trade every time an opponent makes a trade that he doesn’t like. The combination of limited protests and a high threshold to overturn a trade theoretically should curtail protests in the vast majority of cases.

As I noted above, I am in the Jason/Paul/Bret camp and am emphatically against trade vetoes. I should be able to run my team as I see fit and my judgment should be trusted. Furthermore, if I make a bad trade or overpay, it should be on me to do a better job the next time, not on the league to decide whether what I did was wrong or right.

However, I can’t go so far as to say that trade vetoes are universally a bad idea. Although extremely rare, I believe there are cases where having a veto mechanism in place is necessarily. In addition to the scenarios I outlined above, other cases may include:

  • A team trading all of its dump chips for an inconsequential farm player.
  • A team dumping for a player whose salary is so ridiculously high that he can’t possibly be viewed as a dump chip.
  • A team out of the race that has already dumped trading for players at the end of a contract that cannot be kept the following year, particularly when its intent seems to be to block other contenders from getting those players.

While these scenarios might all sound absurd, I have seen every one of them happen in a Rotisserie-style league. Trades that have a marginal benefit for a rebuilding team or a potential benefit that backfires are one thing. Trades that have zero benefit can sully a league. A veto mechanism should be a last resort that hopefully is never used by your league, but your league should definitely have such a mechanism just in case.

Mike Gianella is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mike's other articles. You can contact Mike by clicking here

Related Content:  Trades,  Fantasy,  Vetoes

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