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The Art of the Deal

A rambling on the right and wrong ways to approach a trade


Negotiating trades is a lost art. It is a skill which can net you a larger return in any trade, in addition to leaving open doors behind you for future deal making. Trading in most of today's fantasy leagues has been reduced to random offers, or what I'll term "cold-calling", and hoping the opposing manager accidentally clicks "Accept Trade". There is no negotiating, very little analysis of the other manager's needs, and even less consideration for what a fair return should look like. This minimalist approach to trading leaves a lot of value on the table and is just flat out annoying.

On the FakeTeams site, our team of writers receives a ton of questions about which trades our readers should or should not do. I used to think readers were coming to us with a proposal in hand and trying to decide whether or not to accept, but I'm now aware that some readers are suggesting hypothetical trades in the comments and offering these deals to the opposing managers after we give the go ahead. I know because I fell victim to my own advice and received a trade offer from a reader shortly after giving my approval in the comments section. Needless to say, I didn't like the trade from my end and declined.

Managers need to learn to negotiate a trade, and accept the fact that deals will never get done on the first offer. Cold-calling turns off a lot of managers because it gives the impression the manager offering the trade is making a few insulting assumptions. First, it assumes the other manager knows your team needs. You have been monitoring your standings and setting your lineups every day so who is this other guy to determine what your team is missing? A random trade offer also leads the receiving manager to wonder why the cold-caller is trying to get rid of the players he's offering. If you haven't expressed any interest in these guys, he probably has some other motive for dumping them - poor performance, change in role, etc. Laziness is my biggest knock against cold-callers. If a manager doesn't want to take the time to see what I'm looking for in a trade, clearly they are not interested in a mutually beneficial trade. They are just trying to pull a fast one.

So what is best way to go about negotiating a trade? Well, it starts before you even recognize the need for a trade. You can lay the foundation for an easy trade by taking notes on all cold-calls you receive or any prior league communication. I keep an Evernote notebook of all trade offers I've ever received from teams so that when I see the need for a trade, I know right away which players an opposing team might be interested in. The next step is reach out to a manager who you think might be a good fit, but don't reveal your hand just yet. Write the manager an e-mail asking if he's looking to improve his roster (who isn't?) and what specifically he wants. Maybe add a line to ask him to include a list of players from your roster they might be interested in. Do not mention the player(s) the manager has previously expressed interest in, in fact don't mention any of your players in the first e-mail. It's all about the other manager at first - you're here to cater to the needs they deem important.

Once a mutual interest has been established and the opposing manager has expressed an interest in trading, you need to try to give the other team a sense of ownership in the trade. You want them to make the offer that is ultimately accepted, or at the very least make multiple counteroffers during the trade process. This important for two reasons: if the trade turns out lopsided in your favor, the other team will have less of a sour taste in their mouth if they made the final offer. It won't look like you ripped them off. It also makes you seem reasonable and the other manager is more willing to stick with the trade negotiations. Think of Inception and the concept that a dream will only stick if it is self-generated (I just went there). The manager will have more confidence in trade talks if they think they are running the show. I like to give managers this sense of ownership by sending out a "feeler offer", or in other words an offer with an explanation. Ideally you'd like them to fire off the first offer, but if they oppose, send out a trade you know they won't accept and caveat it by saying something along the lines of, "Is this sort of what you were thinking? If not, feel free to counter or give me a better idea of what you were hoping to acquire". Don't try to rip them off, but give an offer that will encourage discussion and leave them wanting to get more out of you. Also be sure to include the player(s) the team was previously interested in and include a line about your previous trade talks. They could very well have lost interest in this player, but at least now they are explicitly telling you who they like and don't like, and establishing a sense of ownership. Bounce a few offers back and forth and see if you can hammer out a deal.

It usually only takes two or three counter-offers before it becomes evident that a trade is or is not possible. Don't fret if a trade falls apart - remember to always keep a door open behind you. Values of players are volatile and a bad trade one week can look like a great trade the next. Two tips for what to do when it is obvious a deal will not work out: 1. Make your intentions clear. Do not say you'll think about it and never get back to them; it will only upset the manager that they waited that long just to hear a "no". 2. Don't threaten the other manager with a "final offer". This is the definition of closing a door behind you. If you are really unsure about how to end trade talks, just say you are having discussions with another manager on some of the players involved in this trade and that you'd like to pursue that opportunity. If things change you'll get back to them.

Negotiating trades is an art and is a different experience with every manager. It is important to get to a point where each manager is offering their input on the trade. Allow the other manager to make the mistake of undervaluing or overvaluing certain players and capitalize off their mistakes. Don't try to impose your will on the negotiations. And cut out the cold-calling.