What makes for a Top Fantasy Owner

Official Scoring: Why my guy?

Do Baseball Rivalries Exist

Trading Don't be that Guy




I am going to shock and awe you this morning.

I am here to deliver radical ideas, offer advanced applied theory, and subvert the founding principles our sport was built upon.

My plan for today’s First Pitch was to continue our “Top Owner” discussion where we left it, and talk about Blind Faith. Maybe you remember. Regular readers know that two of things I preach the most are faith in “regression to mean”, and a constant willingness to challenge your beliefs and biases. The astute among you already see that as a “Could God make a rock so heavy that even he can’t lift it?” diatribe waiting to happen and it will…just not today.

Two things changed my mind. One was Paul Sauberer’s First Pitch yesterday which dealt with number crunching. At this point in the year we are all like expectant fathers waiting for one shoe or the other to drop (to mix a metaphor) and the last thing we want to read in the waiting room is back-to-back articles on birth control. Paul did a great job yesterday with a number exercise, and rather than over-train those mind muscles today, I figured we’d try a more philosophical station on the mental Nautilus.

Yes, I said two things. Nice catch.

The other was this letter that my buddy, and Insiderbaseball.com colleague Jeff Ackerman got from a subscriber describing an all-too-familiar problem in leagues around the country, a problem that as a league founder, and Commissioner-for-life, is #1 on my hit list. It is a problem that I have given a decade and a half of thought to.

Hi Jeff,

I was wondering if you could help me or give me guidance on an issue that we are having in our pools. We have both roto hockey and baseball pools and small groups have formed within the pools. Some are calling it preferred trading partners, some consortiums, etc.

Anyway, what is happening is that some very questionable trades are being made within these groups, which I believe is not a good thing for the pool as a whole. For example, our last place team basically stacked the other two members of his group with players for the stretch run, while receiving very little value in return. For example, he traded a $1 Matsui and a $12 Blalock for a $38 Ordonez and a $8 Adam Kennedy.

He then proceeded to trade those two players, along with 5 other players for a $33 Barry Zito in the last year of his contract and a bunch of stiffs (Cliff Polite, Eric Owens, Byrnes at $41, etc). This matter, along with others in the past, was brought up at our last meeting and the response was that they did not break any rules.

I believe that this is creating a major problem within our pool as the trust and fun of the pool is being compromised. We tried to pass a hard cap rule that forced you to keep players traded in the last few months or be penalized against your cap next year, but the idea was shot down quickly. Several of our owners feel the same way as I do, that we now have to worry about groups within our pool adding another dimension to the pool that does not need to be there. We should not have to compete against groups but against individuals in the pool. Do you have any ideas on how to handle this situation. I would appreciate any advice you might have.


Dear VH …

Change the rules …

I could stop there, but what would we learn?

I hate to hear about this sort of thing, but it has happened in every league ever formed in recorded rotisserie history (which scholars date back to 1986, or so).

Trading cliques, roving alliances of owners, and dump trades are the #1 killer of fantasy leagues, any sport, and it has to be stopped.

We’ve all heard the usual “leeches and snake oil” solutions … trade-leveling mechanisms, voting on trades, limiting trading partners to teams close in the standings … I disparage them, not because they aren’t viable solutions, but because I have philosophical problems with all of them.

The idea is to encourage trading because it’s the part of the game that is the most fun. Trade leveling over-complicates the process to where you lose the more shy owners …

Limiting trading partners closes opportunities and usually teams that are close in the standings aren’t going to deal with each other …

Voting? … Yikes … I think the Federal government has proven to us that Democracy in general, and voting in particular, just doesn’t work. Not on any practical level anyway. (Do I have a better alternative? No, but I can dream. It would help if say, more than half of us would actually get out and vote … but I digress)

In addition, I’ve run leagues for almost 20 years now. And one thing I know is that the vast majority of owners are going to vote their team’s interests above the league’s interests, and to expect anything else if foolhardy. And let’s face it, voting just leads to more politicking. Voters band together through common interests, urges to retaliate, and personal agendas.

I think of these measures when I see ads for medicines that relives itching, allergies, or depression with the possible side effects of nausea, cramping and diarrhea.

The cure is worse than the problem.

I can play in any of 10,000 leagues, but I choose to run one because then I can create the type of league I want to play in. I do not believe that winning a league should be about how many friends or relatives you have in the league. I do not believe that owners should be allowed to trade only with a small group of owners. I do not believe in Pearl Harbor trades where 6 players are traded to one team before anyone else even knows they are available, or gets to make an offer on those players. I do not believe that owners that are out of the running should be the owners who determine the outcome of the league. I do not believe in owner alliances, or let’s call it what it is … collusion. I do not believe in trade cliques. I do not believe in dump trades. (I know that last one will mobilize the troops, but listen, save yourself a half an hour and forget trying to sell me on the merits of dump trading. If you want to play in a league with dump trades, have at it. I ain’t buying it.)

Cliques, alliances, dump trades, sneak attacks … that’s not fantasy baseball. That’s Congress. If I want that I’ll just go collect my signatures, and matching funds, and have at it.

But I will not tolerate them in my league.

I want a league where every owner feels comfortable talking with every other owner about trades, regardless of how well they know each other, or regardless of whether or not they are related. I want every owner to feel confident that if he makes the best offer, he’s going to get the trade. I want a league where every owner knows who’s available in trade and every trade is made at market value. No one gets a sweetheart deal from a friend, and no league lion separates a lamb owner from the heard and wins the league by soullessly gutting him.

I want a league where everyone knows what’s being traded, and may the best offer win.

So how do I do that?

Well a lot of it frankly is league format and structure. My league has large keeper lists and that prevents owners from selling out completely once they are out of it. That’s just one example. We want a league where you built a franchise over years and teams take on their own personalities and identities. When you play my team you have to deal with Curt Schilling, it’s been that way for years and it’s likely to be that way at least a couple more years, just like when the Red Sox are coming to town so is Pedro. If you cut back to just 5 or six guys and/or start over each year, you take the long range planning out of the game … Now that may be fine for all of you, or some of you. Everyone is looking for a different experience in fantasy sports, after all, and there are no wrong answers, which leads me to my next point.

A lot of it is paying attention to your ownership roster. You don’t invite just anyone to a poker game do you? You want owners who believe in the same things you do.

An owner who believes in skinning other owners as much as he can, taking anyone for all they are worth, trading a guy at 10:00pm that he saw get hurt at 9:55, and who would trade his whole team to his brother if he fell out of the running in exchange for a piece of the payoff isn’t going to last long in my league. Actually he doesn’t even get to sniff my league.

No matter what your philosophy is about how this game should be played and what your fantasy morals are, there’s a league for you somewhere…so please… go find it. If you run a league, you should have an idea of what the league’s ethics are going to be. Then you should make sure everyone in the leagues knows them and you should part company with any owners that don’t share them. An every-man-for-himself, win-at-any-cost, “ethics-smethics” owner in the wrong league will kill it. Dead.

Finally in general terms of day-to-day operations, you need to have a system (keepers, waivers prioirties, caps, format, etc.) that allows bad owners to get better quickly if they work hard and are smart, but you must respect the current season above all else, or why do play the season?

Do you want a weak owner making a deal with a contender that helps him get better next year? Sure, why not? But you don’t want a weak team determining the outcome of the current season by dumping a championship package on a contending team uncontested. In that case the dumbest, or at least the least competent owners, in your league are the guys deciding who wins.

In NASCAR, cars that are a lap down or more are expected to get out of the way and let the leaders race each other to determine who wins. It’s a gentlemen’s agreement and it’s a good one. Lapped cars shouldn’t determine who wins the race. Most fantasy leagues are set up so that a car 150 laps down can just run the current leader into the wall if the second place driver can simply talk him into it. Who thinks that’s a good idea?

I could go on for days on these types of things. I’ve been working on these theories for a long time. But by now I’m sure you want to know how I fix the trading problem. That’s almost impossible to encapsulate here as well, but the basic principle is the principle that drives this country, a free market economy.

Let’s identify the common problems. Either two owners who are chummy make a deal in a closed market without giving the rest of the owners a chance, or one owner takes advantage of a less-sophisticated owner because he has him to himself and can simply talk him into whatever he’s selling.

Almost every bad trade comes down to a closed market because of collusion, or shyness, or whatever reason, or it comes down to a really dumb trade made by an owner who got taken in a con game. The answer is to eliminate those possibilities.

The first thing is to make sure everyone one in the league knows who available for trade. No one gets traded unless every owner knows he’s going to be traded. No closed markets. No backroom deals. No Pearl Harbors.

The second thing is to make sure everyone has a fair chance to make the best offer for those players. Here’s where the free-market economy comes in. If everyone has a shot at making the best offer, then everything trades at whatever the market will bear. No owner ever gets fleeced or gets a sweetheart deal because if the players are moving at a bargain, low-ball, or collusion price, then there’s always going to be an owner that will offer more. There’s always an owner who will pay market value.

The third thing is to have a Commissioner who committed to the philosophy, and it willing to back it up. But I’ll get to that in a while.

How do you legislate this? Great question. It’s very difficult. So I came up with a trading policy for my league. A good commissioner is a consensus builder, so I tried to talk everyone into it … When that didn’t work, I shoved it down their throats … When that didn’t work, I had no choice but to legislate it. That wasn’t easy

The idea is to make it simple, fair and workable. You need to avoid adding complexity to the league, and you need to avoid doing anything that discouraging trading. And you have to give yourself a rule, procedure or policy that you can actually enforce, and are willing to enforce, or you are wasting your time. And you can’t tell your owners it’s good for the league, you have to show them that it’s good for them.

It took us a while, and some trial and error, but we got there.

My league’s policy boils down very nicely to 4 criteria that every trade has to meet. If both owners in the trade can answer yes to all 4 criteria after making a deal, then, for the most part, you are going to have fair deal in which everyone got a shot, and the guy who offered the most got the trade, and he got it at market value.

Here they are:

1) Did everyone know, before a deal was agreed on, that the players were available?

2) Did everyone, before a deal was agreed on, have a fair and equal chance to make the best deal?

3) Did you respond to every team that showed interest in the player(s), before a deal was agreed on, and provide a fair and equal chance for them to make the best deal?

4) Did you respect the balance of power by allowing all the teams in close competition with your final trading partner, a fair and equal chance, before deal was agreed upon, to bid on the trade in an effort to block the trade or drive the price up?

I know … It look too simple. And to be honest there’s about 4 more pages in my league’s rule book of explanations and points of emphasis that define these principles more specifically. But in the end it all pretty much comes down to these four little questions.

We put every trade in my league to this test and every trade must pass all four of these tests, from both sides of the deal, or there will be penalties, up to, and including, voiding of the trade.

The real world mechanics of this are that if an owner wants to trade Player A, ideally he’ll send a note out to the league saying he’s trading A and he’s looking for steals, starters, saves, whatever. We expect every owner to check his mail once a day, so 24 hours after the note we consider the player “shopped”, in other words, everyone knows he’s available.

Then the owner has to answer, and talk to, any other owners who respond to that note. He has to give every owner who wants one, a chance to make the best offer. Part of that is giving him all the info needed to make the best offer, including … are you ready? … revealing the current best offer or offers on the table.

You heard me.

We require our owners to reveal all the offers they get from any other owners of someone asks.

When I write the owner about Player A and ask him what the best offer is on the table, he has to tell me who has offered what. Why? Well if he’s being offered Barry Bonds for the player, it’s a waste of everyone’s time for me to be trying to talk him into Matt Stairs, now isn’t it?

“Ah” you say, “but why should he reveal that another owner is willing to trade him Bonds?” Because it doesn’t matter, the owner trading Bonds has to reveal it because everyone has to know. It’s a free market and all the cards have to be face up on the table. He’s not keeping any secrets because all of that info has to come out by rule.

Before we get to how all of this helps, let’s talk about who it hurts.

It hurts trade cliques, team alliances, and collusion partners. You can’t trade your buddy Mark Prior for John Vander Wal in the stretch run when there’s some other owner who’s willing to trade you Carlos Lee. You are exposed. And once Carlos Lee is offered, your buddy has to pony up an offer that beats that to get Prior. Pretty soon, a couple of bidding rounds later, Mark Prior is bid up to a fair price and the problem of a sweetheart deal no longer exists.

It also hurts owners who fleece weaker owners by cornering them off to the side somewhere until they convince them that John Vander Wal for Mark Prior is a good deal. Once that weak owner offers Prior to the league as a whole, I’m fairly certain he’s going to get a better offer than John Vander Wal and he’s going to get a earful about what’s the best deals for him. He’s going to get a chorus of opinion from which to make his decision and he’s going to get a couple of owners in a bidding war and that will ensure he gets the best deal he can get for Prior, which in terms of the “good of the league” is exactly what you want. No owner is going to steal Mark Prior from a weak owner because if what’s he’s offering isn’t enough, someone will out bid him.

How this all helps is by creating an inclusive trading environment. It gets everyone involved. Owner who don’t trade, usually don’t trade for 1 of 2 reasons … 1) They are too shy to initiate talks with certain owners and too shy to negotiate or haggle…. And 2) They are afraid of making a bad deal.

This helps eliminate most of that.

All owners are included in your trade market, because they know who’s being dealt all the time, and they know what the price is. To get involved in the discussion an owner just expresses interest, and the owner trading the players they want are required to talk to them and give them all the info they need to make a competitive offer. All they need to do is ask what it would take from their roster to beat the best offer and decided whether they will pay it.

Shy owners also know they are not making a really bad trade, because they know that if they are the team offering the player, they’ve polled the league, responded to everyone, told everyone what the price was to beat, and at a certain point, they know the current best offer is the best offer out there. Once they have the best offer, all they need to do is figure out if their team is better off if they take it.

If they are trying to trade for a player they have the benefit of the bidding for the player to determine if they are paying too much before they actually do pay too much, just like they do in a draft day option.

Unfair trades kill leagues.

The only time a trade is unfair is when any owner in the league is left saying, or thinking “I would have given him more.” (Sound familiar?)

This policy helps the teams trading the player by assuring that they get the top price someone is willing to pay. No one can say “I would have given him more” because they had a shot and didn’t.

This policy helps the league by eliminating all unfair trades. Teams can still dump if they want, but every other team gets a shot and the dump goes to the highest bidder. If the second-place team gets a dump trade, the first-place teams can’t say it’s unfair and “I would have given more” because they had an opportunity to do just that and they didn’t.

And more importantly (and this is very important) they had a chance to bid up the dump trade to minimize the gain the second-place team made, by making them pay more.

The policy helps the league by exposing collusion and alliances. It a guy trades Mark Prior to his buddy for John Vander Wal, they can argue until the cows come home how that was a good trade, but let them try it after you’ve offered Carlos Beltran for Prior and was turned down.

That brings me to my final point. This policy isn’t perfect. It can be difficult to enforce short of subpoenaing e-mail records and tapes of phone calls between owners, but the requirement to publicly shop every asset you trade will leave you a trail of documentation that’s fairly easy to put together, especially if an owner is maliciously trying to get a trade past the league.

Beyond that it’s easy for a trade to lead you, as Commissioner, into an area that you can’t allow yourself to visit, player evaluation. Unless the problem with the players involved in the trade is blatant and painfully indisputable, a Commissioner cannot be in the position of judging a trade on player evaluation. All you can do is judge a trade based on process.

But, if you make your owners adhere to my league’s process, you will drastically reduce the chances of a bad trade happening.

Still, there are no guarantees in life and sometimes a bad trade will happen anyway … For example, here’s the one argument you can’t counter … “I just wanted the player.”

If an owner trades Mark Prior for John Vander Wal when he was being offered Carlos Beltran, well that’s pretty hard to defend. The problems there are obvious and a Commissioner must act.

But what if that same owner takes Jose Guillen when he was offered Carlos Beltran? You figure something is screwy, but if he says “I just wanted Guillen, that’s all”, that’s a problem you can’t touch, because you can’t be in the business of telling an owner which player he should take, otherwise you are running every team in the league. Add in contract status, and draft picks, and whatever other variables your league has to offer and you can see how gray these areas can get at times.

All you can do is rely on the procedure and make damn sure the suspicious owner covered his bases. Chances are if there’s a funny trade, he didn’t cover his bases and you can, if you work hard enough lead a bread crumb trail from the bad trade to a policy violation. Maybe the owners agreed to the deal before they replied to everyone who was interested. Maybe they didn’t reply to an owner. There’s usually something.

If not though, you are going to have to let it pass and hope for better luck next time. After a couple of these, the other owners will get sick of this and act, or more precisely, back you when you act.

The last requirement of making all of this work, of course, is that you need a leader that owners trust. You need a commissioner who is capable of stepping out of his role as owner and acting strictly for the good of the league.

Sometimes that means getting someone angry at you. You have to enforce whatever rules your league uses every time there’s a violation. If you miss once, you are done. That will get thrown in your face every time you try to enforce with another owner. If you don’t enforce, you forfeit your ability to enforce.

But the good news is that the more you do this, the more consistent you are, the more faith the owners will have in you. They will see how much better the league is, and they will respond. You will build consensus.

There may be days when they aren’t singing your praises, but over time, if you do the right thing and are fair and consistent. They will respect that.

This stuff is indeed kind of radical. And some of you cringed at the very thought of it, but don’t go with your original reaction. Sit down with the leaders of your league and have a discussion about these issues. Use my league’s policy, or adapt it to your league, and your ideas of what trading should be. Or come up with your own answers to these questions.

It is, after all, your league, and your universe, and it’s one of the few places in this world that you can control and shape until it’s what you want. Don’t give that up to a few owners who don’t share your vision. There’s a league that fits everyone’s tastes and sensibilities. Go find one that fits you, or do what I did …

Start your own. Lou Blasi lblasi@fantistics.com

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