The real baseball teams have been playing for over a month and, consequently, so too have our fantasy baseball teams. As always happens, our perfectly planned team has proven itself to be imperfect. Maybe our hitters are underperforming, maybe are starting pitchers have fallen victim to injury, maybe our closers are no longer closers. It happens. The lucky (and/or skilled) among us have been able to address these weaknesses via the waiver wire or early season trade, but most of are or will be in the position of looking to the trade market for an upgrade.

Groundbreaking stuff, I know. But a big thing we see in a lot of trades or trade discussions is improper framing of the decision being made. The most pervasive error in this regard is to simply look at what our team is missing and then trade from a strength or redundancy to improve that weakness. This is not inherently a mistake and this process might lead to optimal decision-making and strategy, but there are other factors we need to consider to improve our odds at getting to optimal that optimal choice.

1. Cost

This is a big one. Going from zero to one closer is great, but it is obviously not great if you have to give up a lot of production to do so. In points leagues, calculating cost is more straightforward than it is in rotisserie leagues. In the former, we need only calculate the projected points gained over the player being replaced versus the projected points lost from the player being given up. If this is a player on our bench, then the cost is obviously minimal. It is easy, though, to become overly focused on our weaknesses and consequently give up production equivalent to or in excess of the benefit we receive. This is even more likely in rotisserie leagues where the math has an extra step, in which we must not just determine projected production gains and losses, but also how those gains and losses will play in each category. In this circumstance, it is tempting to look at category where we have points to gain and add in that category, but too often this happens without carefully taking into account the ways we might fall in categories in which we are losing production.

Lastly, while still on this point, because improving weaknesses is the most common approach to making trades, gains made in this manner are more likely to be negated by competitive response. Going back to the saves example, if the team with the least amount of saves adds a closer via trade, but so too do the teams with the second and third least amounts of saves, then no one has improved (unless they can catch higher ranked teams). That said, there are still additional costs to consider.

2. Opportunity Cost

Opportunity cost—the benefits of the alternatives not chosen—is the other big cost when deciding what to trade and trade for. Going back to the popular process discussed above (trading to improve our greatest weakness), and also considering the popular process of scanning through our potential trade partners’ rosters for “fit,” it becomes clear why we so often miss out on (or fail to drive up the price) of the best trade targets. By “best trade targets,” we mean the players that, once traded, we all collectively groan, wishing we had been the ones to acquire that player. Beyond the sub-optimal, albeit popular, processes listed above, our tendency to focus on weakness restricts our ability to land the most prized trade hauls.

Many a times following a losing season I have said to myself, “My team was good, but the best free agents and trade targets just didn’t lineup with my roster.” It turns out that I was probably not unlikely as much as I was the victim of my own poor process. I was not factoring the opportunity cost of making only focusing on weaknesses and not looking at creative ways to upgrade in areas where I was already doing fine or even better than fine. So what to do?


Search for values:
instead of looking for “fit” (as in you need a catcher, and I have an extra catcher, while I need to improve my starting pitching and you have great starting pitchers), scan teams’ rosters for players they might be willing to sell below cost. Maybe it is a player on which they are looking to sell high (disposition effect), maybe it is trading them a player that they feel they missed out on and thus covet, maybe it is a player that fits the mold of a trade-type that has worked for them in the past, or maybe it is something else, but finding these trade partners that are placing value on something other than expected value is how we can make the best trades for ourselves.

Factor in competitive response:
The trades we make will only be worthwhile if they help us catch those we are chasing or ward off those chasing us. A trade that provides gains that are easily negated by a trade from our competition are not worthwhile if we think there is a good enough chance our opponent will take such action (and not have to pay too hefty of a price). We instead should be looking for ways to improve that will (i) allow us to continue to improve and (ii) be difficult for our competition to negate.

Do not consider trades in a vacuum:
Related to factoring in competitive response, do not look at a trade as a single, isolated event. Often, the most successful trades I see are a series of trades a team makes all at once. Making multiple trades in close proximity makes it more difficult for one’s competition to emulate.

If we take anything away from this article, I hope it is that we can better frame our decisions and strategies this year’s in-season trade season, by considering more costs and factors than we were doing before. That said, best of luck out there.

Thank you for reading

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