Last week, fellow Tout Wars NL participant and industry friend Todd Zola sent out an email to all of the Tout and LABR warriors, asking each to give their brief thoughts for a roundtable he was putting together.  The question:

If you are obviously not going to win a league such as Tout Wars or LABR, will you make trades with those competing in an effort to move up in the standings, even if it is not a "money" finish?

This is a question I have a very strong opinion on, though up until this year I didn’t realize there were people who held the opposite stance.  You can read everyone’s responses here, but here’s the Spark Notes version: most people said “yes,” but a few said “no” (with varying shades of grey).

For me, the answer is simple: yes.  Unequivocally and always.  The argument from those who say no is that trading with contenders will influence the standings and can even decide who wins the league.  Well, yeah.  That’s what trading is: an attempt to make one’s team better.  An attempt to win.

The best argument presented in favor of making these kinds of trades is that, even if you don’t trade with a contender, you’re going to influence the race anyway. (I believe I was the first to raise this point, but many others reiterated it throughout the discussion.) If the contending owner is winning the home run category by 30 long-balls but is in a tight spot with steals, he’s going to need to trade power for speed if he hopes to win.  Sure, maybe if you trade with him you hand him the title, but if you refuse to trade with him, you’re merely handing the title to someone else—his competitor.  Not doing anything is still doing something.

And personally, I think the owner who realizes he needs to buff up in a certain area and actively looks for trades to improve deserves to be rewarded (or at least not punished).  He shouldn’t be put at a disadvantage just because the value on his team happens to be clustered among certain categories, in essence wasting some of the value, while his competitor’s team is more balanced.  And, of course, every team has room to improve somewhere. If one competing owner comes to me with a trade offer that improves my chances of moving up and/or winning, I’m going to take it.  If that owner’s competition is upset, well, maybe they should have been talking trade with me themselves.  They have no one to blame but themselves.  If you’re contending for a title and not regularly checking in with the other owners in your league, you’re probably making a mistake.

Trading is a part of this game that we play; it’s a vital skill that most championship-caliber players need to have.   If we’re not going to engage in trades, though, then why do we allow them at all?  Why not just draft and hold?

Another point that I don’t believe was raised in the roundtable is how to handle free agent pickups.  If you’re not going to trade with contending owners for fear of altering their chances of winning, are you going to submit FAAB bids for players that they might also want?  It’s a slippery slope.  And at what point do you say, “Okay, my season is over, no more trading or picking up free agents for me”?  Even at that, maybe you can’t win the league, but if you pack it in, refuse to better your team, and slip a few spots in certain categories, that could very well affect those at the top of the standings who were close to you in those categories.

In LABR NL this year, I’m currently in fifth place and desperately trying to claw my way into a money spot (I’m 4.5 points out of third).  With perhaps insurmountable leads in wins and strikeouts, I’m doing all I can to trade my starting pitching, which I have a lot of (Cole Hamels, R.A. Dickey, Ryan Dempster, A.J. Burnett, Tim Hudson, Erik Bedard, Michael Fiers, Wade LeBlanc, J.A. Happ, Ted Lilly).  Unfortunately, many owners feel content with their own pitching and would rather not give up offense, leaving only five or six teams as potential trading partners.  I dealt Hamels to one of them but haven’t found a suitable deal for any of my other guys yet.  One of those teams, when I approached about a potential trade, gave me the “I’d rather not affect the top of the standings” spiel.  Eliminating a potential trading partner and removing an entire roster of hitters from play artificially limits my options.  If I wind up having to sit on all this pitching (I won’t deal them for less than I feel they’re worth, regardless of the tight spot I’m in; doing so would hurt me when trying to make trades in subsequent years), it’s going to be very frustrating.  If I could just get even value for a couple of these players, I should be able to manage a top-three finish (or better).

There’s a lot more that can be said about this topic, but a lot of it was said in the roundtable itself, and quite frankly, I’m running on fumes when it comes to this debate.  There are some really intelligent people on the opposite side of the fence from me, and their points are all well taken and worth reading; I just don’t happen to agree with them in this case.  What do you guys think?