Anytime I write about league conflicts or ethical issues, I get far more responses than I do for any particular advice column. This was certainly true about last week’s article–your responses were both overwhelming and enlightening. Some of the ideas came from leagues that have been in existence almost as long as our fascinating hobby has lasted. It never ceases to amaze me to see how these leagues have evolved, look at the various permutations in their league rules, and find out how long some of them have stuck together.
Before I get into some of the proposed solutions, let me clarify one point. “Dump” trades, done properly, not only are acceptable, but are also desirable for a well-functioning league. The short-term imbalance created by a dump trade is a far lesser evil than having a team hopelessly out of the race with little-to-no recourse for improvement. The trick, of course, is to have well-conceived dump trades that strike the appropriate balance between what’s good for the league in the current season and what’s good for the rebuilding teams for the future. Sure, there’s a risk that the teams already in bad shape will also make judgment errors in evaluating keepers and prospects. But isn’t that also true among major league general managers? If you make enough trades, occasionally you’re going to get burned. That shouldn’t invalidate the entire practice.
Furthermore, the dumping teams win these deals in the long-term plenty often enough. For every trade of Bobby Abreu (and Cory Lidle) for C.J. Henry, Matt Smith, Jesus Sanchez, and Carlos Monasterios, there are plenty of counterexamples. The gold standard probably is Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz. Alexander helped the Tigers win the division in 1987 by going 9-0 and was a league average pitcher in 1988, and Smoltz didn’t contribute much until 1989. Ask a Tigers fan in 1990 whether the tradeoff was worth it, and they’d answer in the affirmative. Hindsight helps us see that Smoltz’s long-term value was so high that the Braves won the trade, but at the time it was the perfect dump trade for both teams. Then there are the trades that the dumping team wins outright in an even shorter time frame, like the Scott Kazmir-for-Victor Zambrano deal. These results are constantly mirrored in the fantasy world.
Still, I appreciate that there are varying levels of tolerance for those dump trades and the length to which teams can go in those trades. Acknowledging that difference, here are some of the proposed solutions that I’ve heard from various readers.
Open Market Trading
From reader J.P.:
The best solution for our league has been Open Market Trading. The main complaint most everybody had when a lopsided trade is made is they didn’t even know the player was available. For years and years we’d have at least three different message board blowups over trades, usually with a common theme. ‘You got ripped off, you could have got more,’ or ‘I would have paid more!’ That’s not a problem any more. Once a trade is agreed to, it goes to the message board for 48 hours. Any counter-offer that’s made in public must be responded to before the trade goes through.
While a formal open market isn’t an absolute necessity, J.P. brings up a really good point. The dumping team should have a duty to the league to maximize its potential return in trade talks. It’s a really good practice if you are that dumping team to make sure that everyone knows that you’re dealing, and to let them know who is available. That doesn’t mean you need to wait for an offer from each team, or that you can’t take a really appealing offer right away if you get what you want. But a lot of the hard feelings from a dump trade can be resolved if the other teams feel like they had a legitimate chance at your players.
From reader A.S.:
Player salaries double every year and we have a minimum keeper price per player. So the guy that just got Webb and Russell Martin won’t get to keep either next year. If a team goes too far all out for this year, they’ll pay the price next season.
There were a lot of e-mails to this effect–many leagues accelerate the increase of player salaries, cutting down the number of keepers in the league, and thus also reducing inflation in the subsequent auction. The more players available in the auction the next year, the easier it is for a losing team to rebuild.
Reader S.L. of the American Dream League, one of the longest-running and most widely-known leagues, had a number of great suggestions:
First, we limit freezes. No team can ever freeze more than eight players, and depending on where you finish, you get only four freezes. (First place and last place get four freezes, second place and 11th place five, third and 10th six, fourth and ninth get five. The others–from fifth through eighth get the full eight freezes.) The idea is that the top teams get dinged a bit, to prevent dynasties. The low teams get punished–this is an incentive not to give up. Also, this makes it very hard for a team destined to finish low to stock up on freezes.
Second, and most important–the price of any traded player goes up to a minimum $15. (If the price is $15 or over it stays the same.) This clearly eliminates the value of a hugely valuable freeze while preserving trades. (Traded players retain their salaries in deals made during the offseason.)
We also limit the length of a salary–two years. If you want to keep a player after that, you get what is called a ‘topper’–during the draft, after bidding on that player ends, you can grab the player for one more dollar. (A topper, though, counts as a freeze.) This is as much to keep things hopping and prevent dynasties–which aren’t fun for the other 11 teams–as it is to prevent sell-out trades. Another thing we do to keep things moving is hold ‘jubilee’ drafts every five years, where we all start from scratch.
From reader R.A.:
I’ve been in the same keeper league for the last 15 years, and we’ve devised a fairly good method for regulating trades. Every trade is subject to a vote to decide whether a trade is approved or declined. If a majority of owners disapprove of the trade then it’s declined.
There are positives and negatives to this approach. One positive is that there is a system in place to ensure that completely imbalanced trades are stopped. The catch is that most owners have to be fairly mature. Unfortunately there are a few owners in our league that abuse their veto power. With 14 teams the league is big enough to handle a few immature owners and most trades are handled fairly.
R.A. discusses the flaws in this system already, so I won’t go into too much detail. I tend to think vetoed trades cause more discord than does a bad trade let through, so I wouldn’t be inclined to have such a system in my leagues. But then again, that’s one of those areas where your mileage may differ, and the system clearly seems to have worked for him.
Adjustable In-Season Cap
From reader T.G.:
One of your suggestions is an in-season salary cap. However, you say that it can be tricky to set the proper amount for the ceiling. We solve that issue by, in a way, letting each individual set his own ceiling. This works in two ways. First, you get $375 at the draft to pick 33 players. You must draft 33 players, but you don’t have to spend all your money. And you don’t get any FAAB or extra money in-season. So effectively you decide how much money you want to leave available for wheeling and dealing later on. The other way is that we make money a fully tradeable commodity, including money for the next season (despite some creative owners who have tried to trade money for 2012, I only allow the immediate next season’s cash to be tradeable). Owners can also free up cash by dropping players (you continue to pay half the salary of any player you drop). Now neither of these things prevent ‘dumping’ trades, but they do assist in deciding on the right ceiling for an in-season salary cap.
We also have not only a trade deadline (July 31), but also a keeper pickup deadline (August 31). In other words, after August 31, you can continue to pick up players, but you may not keep them. So if someone decides to drop a bunch of superstars, they can’t be kept for cheap.
Finally, we make keeper slots tradeable commodities as well. Each team starts with ten. Through trades from last season, I kept 20 players from ’07 to ’08. This gives ‘fire sale-ing’ owners one more way to get full value back for their superstars. It gives them more opportunities to keep players that they might have picked up cheaply.
This should help give you examples of how to structure many of the ideas that we spoke about last week, especially in terms of the in-season salary cap. We’ve run into the “dropped player” keeper problem in the RotoWire Staff League, and have established a number of restrictions and penalties for trying to drop and pick up players under long-term contracts, as well as players with expiring contracts, to prevent some teams from “out-lawyering” (and I’m a recovering attorney, so I feel no prohibition in using that term) the rest of the league.
From reader E.S.:
Our league (New England Sharks Fantasy Baseball) is a draft-based long-term keeper league with a great incentive for avoiding last place. At each year’s draft, after the beer has begun to flow, but before the picks start, the last place team is renamed by the other owners in a nomination and voting process. (It should go without saying, the viler the proposals, the more enthusiastically they are received). The proud owner is required to refer to his team as the “2006 last-place XXXs” in all communications with other owners for the rest of the year. If they make it out of the cellar, they can get their team name back at the next draft.
The shame and penalty aspect of last week’s article probably drew the most responses. I thought that this was the most unique out of those. It might not be the most effective of the bunch in curbing dump trades, but it certainly would inspire me not to finish last.
This is just a sampling of all of the great responses we got after last week’s piece. There are a lot of excellent ways to structure your league’s rules to reflect your owners’ preferences. If you consistently have problems with dump trades in your league, try out one of these proposed solutions.