Back in May, I penned an article talking about how imprudent it was to take the standings too seriously so early in the season. When making a trade back then, I advised trading for value as opposed to need. A lot can happen between May and July, and simply accruing as many stats as possible—regardless of how they’re distributed amongst the different roto categories—is the best course of action early in the year. We’re past the All-Star Break now, though, and the time for discussions on theoretical value is waning. Trade deadlines are less than a month away in many leagues, and what matters most now is how the individual category standings are shaking out.

If you have a big lead in home runs, for example, adding Adam Dunn to your roster accomplishes nothing, even if you can get him for 75 cents on the dollar. Sure, he adds value to your team, but fantasy championships aren’t won using abstract concepts of value. In the end, it comes down to points in the standings, and for a team like this, Dunn doesn’t add any of those points.

(That’s not to say you shouldn’t accept the deal; if you don’t have to put much legwork in, certainly don’t pass up a chance to add “value.” It’s just that it shouldn’t be your primary goal. If a good deal of this nature falls into your lap, go for it; it will usually give you more options when looking to deal for the categories you really need.)

When contemplating a trade early in the year, there generally three categories it will fall into, in my mind:

1.     I receive more value than I trade away
2.     I receive equal value to what I trade away
3.     I receive less value than I trade away

It’s obvious which of these are preferable, and whenever possible, I will try to get more value than I trade away. I don’t see much need for even-value deals early in the year, because they accomplish nothing. After all, if I’m trying to build as much value as possible, this doesn’t aid in that goal.  The only reason I see to make such a trade is to build rapport and goodwill with another owner in anticipation of more deals later in the year.  But on the flip-side, you could reject such a trade simply to aid your reputation as a strong trader (if you feel doing so would be helpful).  It all depends on the exact situation and the owner in question.

Once we reach this point of the year, however, even-valued deals become much more appealing on their own merits. Naturally, I’ll always want to acquire more value than I trade away, but it’s no longer a requirement if I’m going to make a trade. If I have a surplus of a certain category, even if I can’t get any extra static value, I am more than happy to trade that excess for a similarly valued player who will help in another category.

In many ways, I view this point of the season as a categorical balancing act. If I think my roster has $320 of static value sitting on it, that’s a good thing, but not enough on its own. It’s up to me to shuffle my resources around as much as possible to gain as many points in the standings as possible. If I’m winning the home run category, every home run above the total of the guy behind me is wasted value. (The same logic applies if you’re in the middle of the standings but with a big buffer between the teams above and below you in the category.) If I’m wasting $10 worth of home runs, the effective value of my roster is only $310, so I would need to find a way to funnel that $10 worth of home runs into, say, $10 worth of usable steals. Of course, this is all theoretical and difficult to do with 100 percent accuracy, but the better you get at moving pieces around, the higher you’re going to finish.

In some cases, if you’re desperate enough, it may even be advisable to trade $10 worth of home runs for $5 worth of steals. Again, value is an abstract concept and not especially useful this deep into the season. The categories are what really matter. It’s important to never convey your willingness to do this to your leaguemates, though. Even if you are desperate, you want to conceal this as much as possible so that you don’t get taken advantage of. Taking less than even-value is a last-resort kind of move that you should only make if you think it will win you a championship. Otherwise, you set yourself up as a weak trader who can be easily pushed around. Maybe you’ll finish sixth instead of fourth, but it’s better to keep a strong reputation so that next year your leaguemates take you seriously when you try to trade with them.

This is the basis for how I evaluate trades at this time of the year. On Monday, I’ll use one of my actual teams as a case study to show you how I go about evaluating my position in the standings and deciding upon the best course of action to make a run at the money.

Thank you for reading

This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.

Subscribe now
You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
Quickie - in non-keeper points league, which side do you take?

Starlin Castro & BJ Upton for Trumbo/Bonifacio?
Well, it's tough to say for sure without knowing the point system, but I'd have to think Starlin/Upton is better.
"I don’t see much need for even-value deals early in the year, because they accomplish nothing."

Well, if you end up overdrafting a category, perhaps because the best available player was heavy in one category like saves or steals, then even-value deals still have value early on in a year.