In the comments section of my article from last week, Jack asked:
“What do you think about the ‘vulture’ approach? Guy’s #1 SP goes down with Tommy John surgery scheduled, so you swoop in … and offer your decent third or fourth SP for a needed (good) player. Sure, it’s taking advantage of someone who may be shellshocked and vulnerable, but you are also solving a problem.”
I don’t have a problem with this approach at all. If a player of yours gets hurt and you try to trade him before it is common knowledge that is unethical, but the tactic Jack outlines is perfectly fine. I would go one step further and say not only is it OK, but it is an integral part of trading successfully. We’re human, and while we aren’t necessarily trying to take advantage of other people, we are more likely to approach someone for a favor or with a request if we believe they will be receptive. Most of us don’t want to fleece our opponents but we do want to make a favorable trade for ourselves.
This is something that is frequently lost in these thought pieces that are filled with noble sentiments about thinking about your trading partners’ needs and feelings and not stepping on their toes with an insulting offer. While it has been stated many times that “winning the trade” is a shortsighted way to view trading this doesn’t mean that you should contort yourself into a pretzel and make a deal that at best is a wash.
This is loosely connected to the “buy low/sell high” philosophy that used to be more prevalent but has receded into the background because most fantasy managers are smart enough to know that they shouldn’t trade Jorge Mateo for Anthony Santander on April 20. Not only are there opportune times to approach people about trades but there are methods we should consider employing during these windows so that our rival doesn’t feel like you’re trying to take advantage of his misfortune.
Beyond Jack’s solid example, there are several instances where we should approach someone about making a trade. Below are a few of these examples, with the wrong and right way to try and make a deal.
When a player is underperforming
WRONG: “I see George Springer is off to a bad start. I’ll trade you a lesser player for him.”
RIGHT: Focus instead on your opponent’s overall needs and see if they are looking for help in the categories where the underperformer is hurting them.
When you focus on the disappointing player, you’re doing at least three bad things.
- You’re being transparent and obvious about trying to benefit from the player’s eventual upswing.
- You’re inadvertently reminding your opponent that they made a poor choice at the draft.
- You are coming in with the implication that you are going to try to make a trade for 75 cents on the dollar. Who wouldn’t be turned off by this approach?
Even if you want the slow starting player, it’s better to start off with a broader framework that allows you to identify your opponent’s weakness and provide something that can help. Instead of being the vulture trying to pick at the carcass of your league mate you are a potentially helpful trading partner. And if you are engaging in a dialogue instead of simply passing offers back and forth you might eventually land on the slow starting player anyway. If your trade partner says “yeah, I’m sick of Springer I never have him on my teams and wish I had never taken him” you might eventually get your target.
WRONG: “Have you given up on 2023 yet? I know you really had high hopes coming into this year, but it really doesn’t look like it’s going to happen for you this season.”
RIGHT: Start out by seeing if you can negotiate a straight up trade assuming both teams are in contention and see where the discussions go.
There will be cases where someone simply posts “I’m bailing on this year” and it’s completely fine to offer them current for future deals. However, simply waiting on everyone in your league to compose a polite missive that states “To Whom It May Concern, I am no longer playing for this season and here are all of my trade targets that you may submit formal offers for in writing” isn’t realistic. You will need to be somewhat aggressive and see if can convince anyone on the fence to raise the white flag.
It is worth starting with a more traditional trade framework first for a couple of reasons. First, while you might not be able to convince someone to give up you still might find yourself making a deal in your favor because teams with unrealistic title hopes sometimes will swing for the fences. A team in sixth might make a fair swap with you and then throw in a closer because they’re already next-to-last in saves. The second reason is often these discussions can lead to an opponent talking himself into giving up without you having to do it for them.
WRONG: “This deal seems OK but I need to get a throw-in. If you don’t give me [Player X], I refuse to make the trade.”
RIGHT: Build your framework around a trade without additional players and see if your opponent will offer something extra voluntarily.
The concept of a “sweetener” in a deal is a good one. The application of this by fantasy managers trying to put a trade over the top is often where a heavy handed approach will kill a deal. The quickest way to end negotiations is to ask for someone who isn’t truly a throw-in but is truly a second player. If we’re close on Hunter Brown for Grayson Rodriguez in a keeper league and you’re asking for Trevor Story, you’ve probably lost the plot.
My approach generally favors working toward making a deal without the additional players and seeing if my opponent will offer the throw-in at the end. This doesn’t always work, but that extra player on reserve or draft pick is more likely to come if you’re going back and forth on names and your opponent believes that little something extra will push things over the top. You might think Alexis Díaz and Devin Williams are very close but your trading partner doesn’t, so he or she might say “Instead of Diaz how about Williams and Kevin Newman for Ryan McMahon?” I know, Newman doesn’t sound exciting but as I noted above it’s a throw-in, not a 2-for-1.
Being aware of your team’s needs is important but knowing how to navigate your league to get what you want is more than half the battle. Next time, I’ll look at the different types of personalities you’ll encounter in a fantasy league and what you can do (if anything) to work with them successfully.
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