Do Baseball Rivalries Exist

       

     

Sunday, 15 June 2003

Trading: Don't be that guy!

Have you seen the commercials for Foxís extreme sports show 1-2-3-4-5? Thereís a few of them. One has a rhinestone cowboy trying to break a bucking bike in a motocross. Another has a nerd slinking around a skate park (is that what they call them, or did I just show my age?) and another has a future CPA stunning a trio of GenX surfers in a line at a break. They should all have Leeann Tweeden in them somewhere, but thatís another story for another time. Do you remember their hook? Itís ďDonít be that guyĒ. Thatís my theme today.

June 1st is the unofficial opening of the trading season in fantasy baseball. Sure there are trades made before then for various reasons, but as you enter June you are armed with a good sample of your playerís performance and your teamís overall performance. You have an idea of what you have and what you need and you can formulate a plan. (You do formulate a plan donít you?)

My league is fairly savvy in a lot of ways. Itís a veteran group. Many have been in the league for years. Many know a bit about baseball in general and fantasy baseball in particular. Iíve got a pretty good book on all of them as far as trades are concerned, which is to say I know how each of them approaches the process so I can tailor my approach to them and maximize my chance of getting a deal done.

Last week I started sending out my first individualized shopping notes to some of the teams that are probably starting to look towards the future. I told them who Iím trying to move, and who I would move for the right deal, and I outlined the players on their roster that I might be interested in talking about. Then I asked them if, given that info, they had any ideas.

I was just trying to drum up some conversation.

We are like any league. There are guys who trade a lot, Iím one of them. And we have guys that almost never trade, and we have owners in between those extremes. I send them all notes, because you just never know. But I was bit surprised to get a note from one owner who almost never trades. And it wasnít long before I remembered why.

Let me start with the fact that I made the first mistake right out of the gate. In the note to him, I listed Javy Lopez as a player I might be interested in. To be honest, I hadnít noticed how hot he was at the time. I had problems at catcher and Javy, being a middle-of-the-road offensive catcher, would be a (hopefully) cheap upgrade for me. I hadnít caught up to the fact that he was currently channeling Johnny Bench, so I was making a rookie trading mistake right from the beginning. I was asking for perhaps the hottest player in baseball. That never ends well.

But that was the last mistake I made. His owner made all of the rest.

Now I could write for days about making trades. I love making trades. Itís an art and a science. Itís the best part of the game as far as Iím concerned. At our deadlines, in the final few hours when all the balls are in the air and thereís blood in the water, my stomach is churning, even now 17 years into this, and I am living large. Thereís nothing better.

But as we enter the prime trading season this year, I want to talk today about basic, fundamental trading etiquette. There are core does and donít. The ďdoesĒ make trading more fun and more productive. The ďdonítsĒ will want to make you punt your cat (Here, kitty, kitty, kitty Ö)

There are a couple of guys in my league with whom I match up with very well in terms of trading personality and I love dealing with them. This guy isnít one of them. Every league has one of these guys. We have more than one. He overvalues his players. He undervalues your players. His playerís last two weeks are what the player is. Your hot players ďdonít have a track recordĒ. He goes for the homerun on every deal. And he will not pull the trigger unless he wins the deal big time Ö UNLESS ... it involves the Mets (insert your guyís favorite team here), in which case heíll knock his wife over in his rush to hand over the farm and bag of chips to your arch rival to get a questionable player because now that heís a Met, heís headed for the Hall.

We have a service-time system in our league where rookies and sophs are very cheap, so they are valued more in our league than in most and the leagueís general bias towards youth (the vast majority of our owners drool over kids) makes them even more valuable. I had been offering a pair of rookies around to trying to make a small upgrade trade. I was hoping I could pull back one productive veteran from a team falling out of the race for a couple decent kids, thereby getting a small upgrade and opening up a roster spot (My reserve list is filled with players I donít want to cut. I hate that. Thereís no room to make a spec claim or to try and beat owners to players a week or two before they hit the league radar).

On this guyís team, the three players I targeted and showed interest in were Andy Pettitte (I just lost Schilling and Runelvys Hernandez and needed some insurance), Johnny Damon (he and Pettitte have been struggling quite a bit, and so I thought maybe they might be a little looser than theyíd normally be), and Javy (who I though was a so-so veteran who, while not great, was better than what I have, but I hadnít noticed heíd sold his soul to Satan when I wasnít looking).

Well, to this guy of course, all of these players arenít veteran role players. In his mind itís still 1999 and they are all gems. He dismissed the two rookies I was offering and immediately cut to the chase. He said heíll give me all three of those players for Austin Kearns, Ken Harvey, and Rich Harden.

And I didnít even get dinner first.

I quietly explained that I donít need all three players (and only Lopez would crack my current lineup, even with Schilling and Hernandez out) and Kearns and Harden are two players that I probably wouldnít trade unless someone offered me a deal that would win me the Championship this year.

Kearns just has too high a ceiling to give up on now for a couple of stretch run veterans I wonít keep and with our service time structure, I have Rich Harden for the next two years minimum, at the rotisserie equivalent of .75 cents Ö total Ö for the two seasons Ö combined. So you see how valuable he could possibly be to my team in terms of cost vs. production (which is only the entire game, friends). And we arenít even talking yet about Hardens trade value when everyone is trying to get under the cap next March or the March after that.

And I wonít even tell you how the other owner tried to sell me on the idea that this trade would win a Championship. And then, with a straight face (with owners like this I can never tell if they just think they can sell to the point where they arenít shy about asking for these types of deals, or that they actually believe their offers are reasonable), he came back with ďAll right, how about Javy Lopez for Jesse Foppert and Rich Harden?Ē

Now Foppert, because heíll use up his rookie qualification in our league this year, will cost me the equivalent of .50 cents next season and then heíll be a full price player the year after that, but heís still returning a lot more production to me than Iím paying for (the rotisserie equivalent of $25 or so under our admittedly unique system) and he will likely do so again next year. Thatís the type of return on investment that helps you win titles. I canít afford to trade Foppert for Javy Lopez, Foppert and Harden. Even if Javy has permanently morphed into Johnny Bench, that just doesnít make sense for me.

I explained this to him and here is where it got out of hand. He got miffed because I didnít agree with his assessment of the assets that were on the table and he made a sarcastic crack and threatened to trade Lopez to the owner of the team that has been my arch rival for the last few years. He thinks (apparently) that will push my buttons and Iíll say ďOh, ok, donít do thatÖhere, take Victor Martinez too!Ē

Now why did these talks derail so badly? They went south because the other owner simply doesnít understand the people skills aspect of making a trade, which is why he doesnít make them often. Hereís some of the ďdonítsĒ that sunk this dingy of a trade discussion.

1) Donít try to fend off trades. Instead, look for ways to make trades happen. You never have to make any deal, no matter where the conversation goes, you can politely decline. If both of you search for ways to get the deal done and both of you want to get the deal done, more often than not, itís going to happen. Instead of simply looking for all of the problems with a deal, look for ways to address the problems and offer what works for both teams.

2) Donít ignore the other ownerís perspective. If you canít come up with a reason why the other owner would make the deal, donít offer it. Sometimes heíll offer you a trade that you donít understand from his perspective, but thatís ok. If you donít understand the other teamís needs and how you offer fills them, you are wasting your breath. And by all means donít ask for the guyís proverbial liver. He only has one and he needs it. Itís much easier to get a guyís proverbial kidney. He has two of those, and can get by with one. (thatís a metaphor!)

3) If the other owner doesnít see the ďbeautyĒ of your offer donít try to talk him into it. That never works and people just get miffed. If he makes a statement about your offer that includes a misconception on his part, then feel free to offer a small ďoh by the way rebuttalĒ, but leave it discreetly on the table as you regroup your offer and let him realize what he may be wrong about. Let him figure it out. You just leave a bread crumb trail. Trying to talk an owner into a deal never works, and itís less stressful and much more fun to continually remind the owner later that he screwed up by not taking what you offered him.

4) Donít talk more than you listen. This guy went through the whole process of exploring trade possibilities between us without asking me a single question. He wasnít interested in what I needed. He was only interested in what he wanted. When I didnít want to give him what he wanted for what he wanted to give me, he was lost. He had no other ideas. The guy is nearly in last place and he ran out of ideas two offers into the process. Declarations end discussions. Once the talks end, there is no trade. No one gets any help. Questions continue the discussion. They leave the possibility of a trade open. Ask the other owners what he thinks he needs, then try to address those needs. Itís amazing how easy it is to get a deal done when you give the other owner something he actually needs. If he turns down an offer of yours, ask him what was lacking. That gives you the information you need to make a more attractive offer. If you drop a trade discussion without having a good understanding of what the other guys was looking for, or without at least a couple rounds of questions (ie:ďWhat would you need to accomplish in a trade for say Jesse FoppertĒ ), you havenít done your job.

5) Donít swing for the fences on every deal. Hey if you are in a one-year league with people you donít know, and will never hear from again, by all means, pull out your skinning knife and turn into Hannibal Lectar. Go for the throat. Otherwise, keep in mind that you have to deal with this owner again, and you have to deal with all the other owners who see you make a deal with this owner and if you keep ripping people off, you are going to find yourself talking to yourself in short order. You donít have to kill the other guy to make a deal that helps your team. And you know what? You donít even have to win the deal to help your team. Itís possible to overpay for what you are getting and still help your team. In fact the reason I make so many trades is because I overpay for what I get with in the context of the deal, but I donít make a trade unless Iím better after the deal. The two concepts arenít mutually exclusive. If Iíve got 4 ALL-Star first basemen and can only put three in my lineup and I have two awful catchers, then at some point it makes sense to trade and All-Star first baseman for a catcher who simply better than awful. Sure I overpay for that catcher (and I better make sure that the absolute most help I can get in trade for him), but my team is better, which is the whole point. You can make good trades that both teams end up happy about and improve your team. And you can make a small trade and improve you team. Every trade doesnít have to be a blockbuster. I donít care if itís your last reserve for his last reserve. Are you better after the trade? Then make it. One brick at a time Ö any move that makes you better, even a little better is worth doing.

6) By all means, donít make the mistake of BS-ing the wrong guy. Know who it is you are talking to. If you are talking to a veteran owner whoís won a lot of titles and made a lot of trades, donít try to tell him you know more about what he needs then he does. And if you have a guy whoís adept at the art of negotiating, donít use a 5th grade ploy like ďOk, Iíll just trade him to your rival.Ē If heís not laughing it off, then that guy is thinking ďIt is me, or did he just call me stupid?Ē.

You need to know what he other guys team needs in terms of players, and you also need to know what the other owners needs in terms how you deal with him. Some need help, some need advice, some need to think they are arriving at the offer, not you, some need to get a little concession from you, some need a little give and take.

If you use the wrong approach on the wrong owner, you are cooked, no matter what you offer him. He didnít handle me in a way that made me want to trade with him, but I didnít handle him well either. I should have just said that his offer didnít work for me, realize we didnít value Javy the same and left him with ďIf you get any other ideas, feel free to drop me a note.Ē

He didnít want to hear all of the things that were wrong about his thinking. He wasnít going to respond well to that and I knew it. But I did it anyway. All that did was make it harder to go back to him the next time. I didnít help myself there long term. Itís a small group of owners. I canít afford to burn bridges.

So Ö make good trades. Be a guy who helps his trading partners so you can go back to them for the next deal Ö Look for ways to cut a deal, donít look for reason not to Ö Be a guy who other owners like to deal with. You can end up not making a trade but still have a good friendly, productive discussion with an owner and that helps the next negotiation Ö Make the small deal. Donít be afraid to overpay if the deal makes you better Ö Ask questions. Be reasonable. Understand what motivates the owner you are trying to deal with and tap into it. Be an owner that gets deals done and makes his team better.

Donít be that other guy.

 

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