Whether it is because of injury, underperformance, or opportunity, we often look to acquire available players. Figuring out which available player will perform best is a very difficult task. Figuring out which player will be able to provide the most value to our team in a keeper league is even more difficult. At any given time, the combination of our goals, the trade market, and league norms can greatly alter the players we should be acquiring from the available-players pool. We will take a look at each of these factors and hopefully find the best ways to approach them in order to make the best decisions we can.
Obviously, the players we are going to be targeting in a keeper league will depend on our goals. If we are playing for this year, we want players that are going to get us the most points or move us the most in the standings (or best defend our current position). That said, it can be a mistake to only target win-now players if we are going for it and only target potential keepers if we are playing for next year. The mistake being made here is treating free agency as single means (player acquisition) to an ends (current production or future value), when there are really multiple, often more productive, means to that same ends.
Say what? What say I is that while Free Agent X might be the player that can provide the most production in, let us say, the stolen bases category through his own play, Free Agent Y might be the player that can provide the most stolen bases by being a more valued trade asset. This calculation is sometimes straightforward, but we are not really interested in those scenarios; rather, we will now take a look at the factors that make this a bit of a gray area.
Assessing the Trade Market
A lot goes into determining the trade market at any given time and being able to have our finger on the pulses of our leagues’ trade markets is going to be very important in making optimal waiver decisions. Why? Because the value of any player at any point in time is going to be the greater of the production the player can provide and the value of the assets the player can return via trade. We can nitpick here mentioning that value is also dependent on roster availability, and we could nitpick that nitpick by mentioning that production was already dependent on roster availability. Regardless, in order to know how much a player can return in a trade, we need to know how much other teams value such a player or might value such a player if he breaks out or captures a valuable role. What we ultimately need to do is assess the supply and demand for trade assets at any given time. Of course, this is much easier said than done.
Keeping “our finger on the pulses of our leagues’ trade markets” is easier in head-to-head leagues, where the teams in contention and out of contention are pretty clearly determined by record and ‘rithmetic. The math is more complicated in rotisserie leagues, where whether a team is in it or out of it is largely dependent on the beliefs of the individual owner. To elaborate, no one is issuing the PECOTA-equivalent playoff or final standings odds for individual roto leagues; thus, whether a team on the fence (which is most teams at this time of year) wants to go for it or rebuild depends on whether they believe they can compete and whether it is worth it. It is important to note that your opinion of another owner’s team’s place in the competitive landscape is pretty much irrelevant. What is relevant is what that owner thinks of her or his team’s place in the competitive landscape. Knowing an owner’s opinion of their team is thus the difficult part and the important part.
The easiest way obtain this information is through trade talk. We have discussed the merits of trade talk and it is hard to overstate its usefulness. I have found that asking if an expiring contract is available or if an owner is selling minor leaguers is a good way to figure out how an owner views her or his team. While there is no guarantee that your leaguemates will provide such information, any information we can get can usually help us better assess the trade market and thus be able to better value free agents.
While using trade talk to assess the trade market is a good start, it almost never gives a complete picture. Some owners are unresponsive and other owners have no interest in tipping their hand. Additionally, what people think they should do and actually do are often different things. This brings us to our old friend—league norms. To use a less textbook-ish term: Know your league. If possible, recount who tends to be aggressive at the deadline and who tends to make smaller moves, and then match that information with where those teams stand in the competitive landscape. I know this is a lot of extra work for seemingly small decisions, but it is necessary to know if you should be spending your FAAB dollars on the player who you will be able to trade at deadline or on the player that is going to get 5-6 starts over the next month.
It is easy to say that there is relatively little difference in the options we face when making these decisions and it is easy to say that there is a lot of uncertainty in these valuations. These things are easy to say because they are true. It is also easy to say that these decisions do not matter because of these truths. Doing this is a mistake. It is a mistake not because it is going to make a huge difference for any single decision, but these decisions add up in keeper leagues. The owners that make these decisions are the ones who are more likely to possess the “sweeteners” needed to complete bigger trades and are the ones who tend to be able to position themselves for contention most frequently. I understand that this might not be worth it to some (and that’s okay), but if we want to be more competitive more frequently, making these extra improvements to our process are the actions needed to get us there.
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