Regardless of what your league format is, trading is one of the most exciting parts of fantasy baseball. Trading is a great way to improve your team if you do it right. The best trades are done by the best negotiators and negotiating skill can be the difference between a good trade and a bad trade.
So few articles these days, however, focus on actual in-season strategy because it’s very difficult to provide advice on strategy that is pertinent to the masses; this is due in part to the numerous different league formats. I will explain a few general rules to being a great trader and then I will discuss some brilliant Rotisserie league tactics.
The first rule of perfect trade negotiations is to try to not be the acceptor of the deal. This obviously has its flaws when the occasional ridiculous offer -- example Bryan Lahair for Jay Bruce (you get Bruce) -- is offered to you; you take that in a heartbeat no questions asked.
Let me take you through a trade negotiation between me and my best friend Tony. This particular league is a 10-team H2H Roto mixed league with no FAAB for waivers. Yes, not the ideal situation for waivers, but it’s a fairly moot point in regards to this trade negotiation. The quick disclaimer is that this is a league I play in with my friends from school so when I tell you that someone dropped Jesus Montero, you won’t be surprised. Insert jaw drop here.
In any case, I was higher than Tony on the waiver wire priority list so I picked up Jesus Montero. Now I have Carlos Santana at catcher, Billy Butler at DH and a revolving door at first base in this league which is OBP instead of batting average. With Carlos Pena (an OBP stud), Montero would not have played every day on my team, but I would’ve had some use for him because I could slide Santana in at first.
Now, here is the most important part of the negotiating process. Tony desperately needed a catcher, and I knew that. It factored into my decision to pick him up, but as always, I like to have anyone with value on my team because it always pays dividends down the road.
Tony had an overhaul of strong young pitching whom all of which were relatively in the same tier -- Madison Bumgarner, Jordan Zimmerman, Anibal Sanchez, Matt Cain, Gio Gonzalez, Jonathan Niese, Wandy Rodriguez and Brandon McCarthy. Tony knows that I am extremely high on Jonathan Niese, so naturally his first offer was Jonathan Niese for Jesus Montero.
In a vacuum, that is a fair trade for both sides simply because Niese will help me more than Montero will, but as my worst pitcher on my staff, he would’ve became the first drop when I had to get Cliff Lee activated off the DL.
In order to grasp the full art of negotiations, let’s break down this Niese for Montero offer. Tony knew that I was very high on Niese. This automatically means that Tony feels like he is by far getting the best part of this deal. I said no, and he offered Brandon McCarthy or Wandy Rodriguez, both of whom are not close to the value I was looking for for Montero. I said no to both deals. I then offered Montero for Bumgarner knowing that he would decline.
Offering a little higher than reasonable is a very important step in negotiations. It gives you a bargaining post from which to stand. You hit your trade partner with this line: “Look, I want Bumgarner, but I’ll settle for (fill in the blank)”. After the Bumgarner offer is declined, your next offer must be more reasonable or you risk losing the negotiation, but in this case I knew that wouldn’t happen. Tony, being a very shrewd and skilled fantasy player as well, said, “Well that’s fine I don’t need Montero at this time.”
This statement was an attempt to get me to panic and immediately lower Montero’s asking price; don’t fall for that trick! So I lowered the asking price -- or so he thought -- and I asked for Anibal Sanchez. He then asked me to rank his pitchers because he clearly wanted to know how much I value Sanchez.
This is a necessary step by the way as the other side, but you can’t fall for this either. You lose your bargaining post again. So, needing to make it simpler, I told him the highest I would accept is Bumgarner and the lowest I would accept was Sanchez. Ironically, I would’ve preferred Sanchez all along, and of course he isn’t going to give me the Bumgarner option because he values Bumgarner higher than Sanchez, and I’ve pretended like I feel the same way. So after about four trade offers, I finally got exactly what I wanted for Montero.
The second rule of trade negotiations is to never trade for a player on a hot streak that went later in the draft then the player you are giving up in a one-for-one. This rule is geared towards being able to milk as much value as possible out of the deal.
For the next example Tony is involved in a trade with another league member, but in this case, he got the better end of the negotiation. The trade is: Tony gives up Mike Aviles for Asdrubal Cabrera; power and speed are actually fairly identical for both players but Cabrera’s defense however has given him more of a chance in his career to showcase those skills.
The reason Tony got the better end of this deal is because Asdrubal has better peripherals and a better “recency bias.” The problem here is that there is a chance Aviles produces the same as Asdrubal does for this year, but given that it’s only a chance, the other owner could’ve gotten another player out of this deal in a two-for-one. Once again, a reasonably fair trade but one owner could’ve gotten more out of it
The third rule is to never in 10-team mixed leagues (unless you are down in the standings) give up one great player to get two good players. This rule does come with a caveat; you can make such deals if you factor the player that the other team will add onto their roster into the deal.
The fourth rule is to never accept a trade just to accept a trade (with the obvious caveat being if it’s a ridiculous offer and you benefit). You have to assess your team and make sure you are not being swindled into a trade.
Here is the reason why you decline the first deal in such cases; if you decline, and the owner sends you another offer, you now can pack away in your mind that “this owner really wants this player.” Decline the second offer but say, if you are really interested in this player -- let’s say someone is trying to get Adam Jones or BJ Upton for his upside of .300 batting average (yes Upton’s current contact rate supports that) -- we can possibly work out a deal. Turn their desperation into a bonus for you. Always put yourself in their shoes and try to figure out their train of thought for making a given trade.
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