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The Art of the Trade Offer and Why You Don't Insult Your League

It's late afternoon and you check your email. One new message, cool. Oh, its from Yahoo Sports! You know what that means, either a trade has been accepted or proposed, and trades are exciting.

Trades mix things up and keep them interesting. It's becoming the end of July and that means it's trading deadline in real baseball and for many fantasy leagues. This is when things really start to heat up as you read rumors and eventually see actual transactions take place. It's constantly checking the news, reading rumors on various websites, and constantly hear names bandied about.

It's fun, it's exciting and it gives fans something to cheer or jeer about even if their favorite team (real or fantasy) is 10 games back.

In fantasy, I used to always get excited when trades were proposed or when I decided I was going to sit down and find the perfect trade partner. I would find a team that makes a lot of moves and then scour their lineup for to see how I could help them and they could help me. That's how I see trades; as opportunities to improve my team and not an opportunity to rip off somebody else.

At some point, when "Buy low/Sell high!" gained popularity in the fantasy mainstream, something changed. No longer were trades about making equal and fair offers, they were about people trying to trade their two-week hot streak of a bad player for a two-week slump of a good player. Trade offers became jokes.

My rant really continues after the jump...

In my main keeper league, of which I've been a member for a decade, I own Felix Hernandez. As a Mariners fan, I have been following Hernandez since he was our star 16-year-old. Somehow, I would make sure that he would be mine. I saved up my waiver priority and in August of 2005 when he reached the majors, he was mine. I have owned Felix in that league since then and I have not made it a secret that he's my favorite player and the bounty to get him would probably be more than any owner would probably want to give up.

There's nothing wrong with holding a strong bounty over the head of a player you love. In real life teams do it all of the time. Would the Nationals trade Bryce Harper? Would the Blue Jays trade Jose Bautista? Would the Mariners trade King Felix? Absolutely. But will they? Probably not because these players are labeled as "untouchable" by their respective teams, which basically means "It's more than you can afford."

The Yankees could trade for Felix, but they'd have to "sell the farm" in order to do it. And likewise, you have to sell the farm in order to pry Felix from my hands. So what kind of offers have I received for Felix?

I can say that in 7 years, not only has a trade offer for Felix never made me think twice, they are most of the time not even an offer that would make a non-Felix fan think once. Each offer is more insulting than the last. I don't know why this is but here are several possibilities:

  • The Immature Owner. Don't be an immature owner. I can recall that a long time ago when I was just starting out in fantasy, I used to make bad trade offers. I wasn't doing this on purpose, I honestly thought at the time it was a good offer. I hadn't spent nearly as much time researching the game, the players, the development of players, and I had no idea what Small Sample Size meant in the context of the game. All I knew was that I had a player who was doing good and I wanted a player on your team. When I would make a bad offer, sometimes the return offer is basically a joke. How many of us have gotten a really insulting trade offer and countered with an offer that was your 3 worst players for their 3 best players? It happens, it is part of the game, and it's stupid. Stop doing it. Grow up. When I receive a bad trade offer, I just reject it and move on. And I've rejected a lot of trade offers this year.
  • Selling High/Buying Low. Stop acting like being a well-established star doesn't count for anything. Did you know that over the last 30 days Emilio Bonaficio is ranked 11th in Yahoo, has stolen 16 bases, and plays 3 positions?! This is probably the kind of message you will receive with a trade offer that includes Bonaficio in return for Hanley Ramirez. If you think that these two players are equals because of a 30-day sample, then you are an idiot. If you think that I will accept this, then you think I'm an idiot, and that's insulting. Now I don't ever want to do business with you.
  • The DL Highjack. When a player hits the disabled list, other managers treat it like you're the one on the disabled list. Like all of a sudden you're going to be so stupid, or so upset, that you'll sell your player off to the lowest bidder. But a 15-day DL stint, or even a longer one, doesn't change a players value so immensely that they'll go for whatever is offered. I recently had an offer for David Wright, who was going to be activated the next day, in return for JJ Hardy. The owner noticed that I had Aramis Ramirez, and that I had Stephen Drew, and figured I would sell Wright for just any shortstop. But it doesn't work that way. I respect the fact that Hardy is having a career year and that Wright has spent significant time on the DL, but since when did that change their value so immensely that I would make a deal that was still at its heart: David Wright for JJ Hardy?

Now, some may call this an overreaction on my part to consider it an insult when an owner makes a terrible offer. You may be right, but you also have to consider that I am not the only person that feels this way. If you are in a one-year league with owners you don't know or have any relationship with, this might not be a big issue, but it still displays the fact that you aren't giving respect to the other owners in your league. If you see one owner make a bad trade with another owner you may see it as an opportunity to get on the bandwagon and even up the playing field, but if you are in a keeper league or in a league with friends, it's about building a long-term relationship that will benefit you over the long haul.

Like I said before, I used to make bad trade offers. I learned that if I continued to do that, it would breed the idea that I wasn't a good owner to make deals with and I would not have as much of an opportunity to better my own team. As time passed, I started making less and less trade offers. A big part of this was because of the amount of time I would spend on making a trade offer. I had to find not only the players I wanted, but the players I wanted to part with. If I wanted to really improve my pitching and make a big splash, I had to decide that I was okay to move a player like Prince Fielder or Ian Kinsler. I don't see this kind of compensation often being given out by other owners, and that's too bad.

We hold onto our own like they are the only good players that will ever come around. I make a few trades a year, and they are almost always blockbusters. Not only does this make trading more exciting, but it makes it more impactful to the teams involved in the trade.

My suggestions to anyone trading:

  • Don't be afraid to let go of your stars. Maybe your first offer doesn't include Prince Fielder, as such is the negotiation. I watch a lot of Pawn Stars, and you'll never hear Rick jump on the first offer from a seller. Even if he knows that the person has completely low-balled himself or herself, he's going to counter-offer with a bid that's much lower because he knows that if their first request is $2000, that means they're willing to go as low as $1500, so he's going to counter with $1000 or $900. But that doesn't mean that you're first offer is Justin Smoak instead of Prince Fielder. That's like your first offer being $200,000 when you know it's only worth $10,000. Now, I won't even talk to you.
  • Consider the overall value of the players. Just because Player A has been in a one month slump and Player B has been on a one-month hot streak, ask yourself "Would this have been laughable a month ago?" Is Player A Albert Pujols and is Player B Michael Cuddyer? At the heart of any trade offer is still a few names that carry more weight than just the last 100 at-bats. If Pujols value at the start of the season was 1 dollar on the dollar, his season up to this point doesn't make him 10 cents on the dollar. He's still a first round draft pick, if not #1, and he's still one of the best players in the game. At worst you have to consider him 90 cents on the dollar, which means that you still have to give up one of your top players, if not more.
  • Ask yourself, "Would I accept this deal?" Put yourself in the other owners shoes and think about how fair this deal would look to you if it came to your inbox instead of the other way around. Stop trying to fleece other owners and instead try to start an open dialogue with a fair and reasonable offer. I can't really believe that most of the offers I see wouldn't have been laughed away if the shoe was on the other foot. I like the art of the negotiation and I'm open to offer, counter-offer, counter-offer until a settlement is reached. But we're never going to get to the first counter-offer if I dont think your first offer was anything close to reasonable.

I hope the opinions I have laid out here come across as they should and don't sound just like a bitter rant because someone offered me JJ Hardy for David Wright or that in Felix Hernandez's entire career nobody has ever considered for a second that they should give up a good player to get him. What I want this article to be about is an open discussion about trade offers and how they will affect your fantasy persona. And whether you like it or not, every owner in fantasy has a reputation in their league.

Some of the reputations are good and some are bad. I can't think of a single scenario in which having a bad persona in a fantasy league has ever been beneficial to anyone.

So think twice before you make an offer. Consider everything carefully and ask yourself, "Is this fair?" I know that in many leagues between friends, offers come in all shapes and sizes and most of the time people are just having fun. For God's sake, have fun, otherwise what are we doing this for unless there's a large monetary prize at the end? But let's turn the bad offers on their heads. Nothing is more fun at midseason than a blockbuster trade.