Trading is one of the most fun but also one of the most challenging aspects of fantasy baseball. I've been meaning to write a post addressing the finer points of trading (along with a few hints) but I haven't gotten around to it (something I can say for a lot of my writing). This season I've done a handful of trades - most minor, but a few blockbusters - and I've had many more fall through despite gaining steam at one time. The fanalytic (Ron Shandler uses this word - I like it a lot more than "fantasy") trader is going to run into that all the time, and sometimes you have to recognize when something just isn't going to happen. It's like every other episode of ER when someone's on the table and they've got the defib and they're doing chest compressions despite the fact that they know that the moment they stop, the guy's getting pronounced. As long as your doing compressions, there's still a "chance" that it could come back to life, but everyone in the room knows it's a lost cause.
There are players I'm in a continuing league with who I can't remember ever making a trade outside of a draft pick for draft pick trade ("I'll give you my April pick for a pick in June"). This can be chalked up to a few things, and while I won't mention any of them specificly with these guys (some apply for some, some apply to others), surely the players in my leave that have tried to deal with them (and pretty much anyone in any league) have seen these guys too.
All too often, you hear complaints that there isn't enough "action" in the league - no one is making trades, no one is pushing out offers, no one is returning my offers, etc. Just because you're active doesn't mean that you're necessarily stirring up the pot for good trade activity. Just the same as someone who won't call anyone back, there are team owners who from afar seem to be the biggest dealers in the league, but upon closer look are as tough to deal with as the owner who disappears.
- Be specific. Sending out a generalized email to the league saying "I need starting pitching - email me" will get you zero. No kidding - everyone needs starting pitching. If you're a seller and looking to trade off a good starting pitcher chances are that you've already scouted out teams that are going to need the starter you're offering and contacted them. Very rarely will a guy who has a top line starting pitcher that they're shopping say "oh crap - team 3 needs a starting pitcher? Thank the heavens for his email!" The only thing you're going to get out of an email like that is people shopping starting pitchers who you don't want, or worse yet the "I've got starting pitching, let me know" reply, which turns into a painful process if anything. If you're going to send out a league-wide email, talk about the bait first (who you're shopping), then what you want for it. Someone who might have ignored that email because they have six starting pitchers and don't want to lose their depth may see that name you're dangling and send you an offer they wouldn't have before. You're not hurting a player's feelings by dangling him as bait - this isn't real.
- Be realistic. Nothing will kill a deal (and a trading relationship) quicker than asking for the farm for your mediocre utility infielder. Shooting high is encouraged and understandable - see what that owner is willing to offer - but set the bar too high and you'll scare off someone and possibly get labeled in a way that will keep anyone from dealing with you. No one likes to waste time, so set your sights realisticly, and while you're at it, try...
- View the deal from the other team's perspective. If your trading partner isn't returning your emails, take a look at the trade from his perspective. Is there any reason he should do it? What does he get out of it? The best and easiest made trades are the ones where someone who has a position of depth and a position of need finds a trading partner with an opposite position of depth and need. It goes back to Sesame Street - one guy has a whole bunch of bread but no meat, while the other guy has a whole bunch of meat but no bread. They get together, and suddenly everyone's eating sandwiches. Dump/future trades aren't as easy - you, as the GM who's looking to score a big name player by trading off prospects or cheap contracts, aren't going to be giving equal value statisticly. From your view, you're dealing off a handful of players who might not be starting for you or contributing in the slightest for a top player at his position. Sure, you think, why shouldn't this guy do the deal? It's not like he's going to win this season anyway. But there are several other GMs in the same mindframe who want that same player, so your deal has to be the better offer. Could this deal come back to bite you in the ass? Offering up the discounted Wes Helms and the potential "breakout" of Eric Duncan might seem fair to you, but if that player you're shooting for is worth anything, expect that other GM to ignore your offer and wait until something else better comes along.
- Do your research. If your best bargaining chip is your depth at shortstop, your first stop shouldn't be the team that has both Derek Jeter and Hanley Ramirez under contract. Sure, he may have depth at another position you're looking for, but you've got nothing to offer him. He may be willing to deal too, but you're going to get to that point where you realize that there's nothing you guys can do, and that's just wasted time.
- Start off with an offer. I've had trade talks with owners that have numbered in double digit emails without one trade offer being put on the table. All of that is posturing and wasted time chalked up to ownership that is afraid to be taken in a deal. One of the biggest fears of a fanalytic owner is to make an offer and have it taken immedately, with snickering in the background. It doesn't matter if it helped you, if the league thinks you got taken, then you're going to catch hell for it for the entire season. Hell, even if that move helps you win that season, if you traded away good prospects that end up blossoming, then you'll have that trade thrown back in your face for years to come. They won't remember that the trade helped you win the championship - it was that you traded away that franchise player. That being said, you'll get plenty of owners who are afraid to make an offer because they're not secure in knowing how valuable their players are. Get two of these teams together, and it's the longest trade discussion that doesn't go anywhere. Do the research, and start off the discussion with an offer - it doesn't have to be a perfect offer, but it at least is getting the players on the table and will give you a hint as to who is available and who isn't. It also lets the other person know that you mean business and are willing to make a deal right now, and that the pressure is on him to either accept or tell you why he won't. Again though, don't make it too crazy of an offer, because you'll scare off anything that might come out of it, but if you are willing to open up (by making that initial offer), then your target GM will be much more willing to open up as well.
- Reply back, no matter how bad. I'll admit I don't listen to my own advice as often as I should, and here is one of my main weak spots. It's real easy to get a bad offer (or even a vague inquiry) and ignore it or shrug it off. But keep in mind that the GM specificly emailed you (or contacted you - I use email as a general term because that's all the contact I seem to make, but there are some owners who enjoy the phone) so he sees something and therefore did at least a little research. Take a little time to either check out his roster and let him know why you wouldn't do that deal (or what you're interested in on his side if he's just giving you the "I like X, what would you want for him?" email). It's courteous, and it also prevents the sender from sending 300 "did you get my email?!?!?!" followups because he may still think that his deal is good, and that you've got a crappy email client or something, and that's the only thing standing between his Bruce Chen for Cole Hamels deal getting accepted by you.
I'll follow this up in the near future with a look at some of the deals I did this season, how I did them, and some of the deals that didn't quite work out.