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The Art of Trading Draft Picks in Fantasy Baseball

If you are in a league that allows managers to trade draft picks, there is a strategy that you should consider. For this strategy I will use some concrete examples from a 10-team keeper league in which I regularly participate. This league allows managers to keep 3 early keepers and 2 late-round keepers (drafted in the 16th round or later). Here are the draft results from rounds 4 and 5 in 2013:

ROUND 4:

1. Jason Heyward

2. Hanley Ramirez

3. Adrian Beltre

4. Jered Weaver

5. Matt Cain

6. Adrian Gonzalez

7. Cole Hamels

8. Zack Greinke

9. Jay Bruce

10. Cliff Lee

ROUND 5

1. CC Sabathia

2. Madison Bumgarner

3. Yoenis Cespedes

4. Billy Butler

5. Ryan Zimmerman

6. Matt Holliday

7. Roy Halladay

8. Paul Goldschmidt

9. B.J. Upton

10. Gio Gonzalez

Obviously there were some good picks in those two rounds, but there were more bad picks than good ones. As it turns out, Weaver, Cain, Gonzalez, Hamels, Greinke, Sabathia, Bumgarner, Butler, Halladay and Upton went too high. At draft time, you really have no idea how players will perform; it's all projection and speculation. You don't know if a player will have a season-ending injury in May. There is so much uncertainty in March, all you can do is conduct your research, develop a strategy and then cross your fingers and draft. That's not a great model, but it's fun and it's what fantasy baseball managers do. But, there is a safer, more effective alternative.

Here are some guys that managers were able to trade for at the trade deadline using next year’s draft picks:

Bryce Harper – 4th round pick

Stephen Strasburg – 4th round pick

Madison Bumgarner – 8th round pick

Mike Minor & Edward Mujica – 6th round pick

Chris Sale – 7th round pick

Jake Peavy – 10th round pick

Jered Weaver – 6th round pick

Notice that Weaver was drafted in the fourth round but was traded for a 6th round pick in August. Bumgarner was drafted in the 5th round but was traded for an 8th round pick in August. Strasburg was a keeper, but was traded for a 4th round pick in August. None of the busts (Hamilton, Upton, Sabathia, etc.) attracted any interest at the trade deadline. Why? Managers had more information and were able to make better decisions.

Question: Do you have a better chance of picking a winner at draft time in March or at your league trade deadline in August? Regardless of what type of league you play in, there will be managers who will have thrown in the towel by your trade deadline. These managers usually have good players on their team that they don’t intend to keep next year and/or who are worthless to them this year. They have nothing to gain by leaving these guys on their team, so you can pick them up using draft picks.

It's simple; you can keep your draft picks for next year and roll the dice OR you can trade them to help you this year and just do the same thing next year – kind of like a draft pick ponzi scheme. You are in a much better position to assess a player’s usefulness in August than in March so why not use draft picks to get them in August. Sure, you will go through next year’s draft with fewer early round picks but you can make up for it by trading more draft picks at the end of that season.

As another example, last year a manager threw in the towel in August and picked up an extra 4th round pick and two extra 5th round picks. Here’s how it went:

Jered Weaver

Zack Greinke

Yoenis Cespedes

Roy Halladay

B.J. Upton

Now, those might not be the guys you and I would have drafted (he did have some bad luck), but that’s how he used his picks. Can you guess how he finished this year? He ended up throwing in the towel again and trading his players for draft picks while the teams that pillaged his team last year made the playoffs again this year. The first few rounds of the draft always have busts, but there usually aren’t many busts when you trade for a player in August. There will always be risks but by employing this strategy you are taking more uncertainty out of the equation. That is always a good thing.

Here’s another catch; in our league any player drafted in the 16th round or later is eligible to be kept in the round he was drafted. So, I usually try to trade early picks for a stud player and a 16th to 20th round pick, thus increasing my odds of drafting a late-round stud. This season I had two picks in the 20th round and selected Coco Crisp and Chris Davis. I had an extra 23rd round pick and got Matt Carpenter. Carpenter and Davis will likely be my two late-round keepers next season. So, the strategy not only helped me win last year - yes, I won using this strategy - but helped me land some amazing late-round talent…oh, and I’m in the championship round of the playoffs this season.

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