Vetoes are a popular check and balance to the trade market, but it’s unclear whether they should even be allowed in most leagues. I have a firm opinion on the topic, but my main goal is to create a discussion about the pros and cons of trade vetoes as we head into Thanksgiving break.
The purpose of the veto is to prevent unfair trades from affecting the league. It seems, in theory, to suggest an owner’s sole sources of surplus value should be from the draft or waiver wire. They should not be able to acquire surplus value from their rivals.
This argument holds more merit in a league with widely varying skill levels. For example, if you put Eno Sarris and your mom into the same league, it stands to reason that Eno would have a big advantage. Eno’s probably many, many times better at fantasy baseball than your mom. Probably.
There’s nothing wrong with unbalanced leagues, the kind that let co-workers, families, or childhood friends share something over which to bond. However, judging from the comments here on RotoGraphs, most of you are in cutthroat leagues with a competitive field of owners. I’m sure there are one or two laggards, but every owner knows what they’re doing.
In such an environment, the use case for a veto is seemingly marginalized. If everybody knows what they’re doing, then a seemingly lopsided trade was made intentionally. Unless you can prove collusion, it’s probably just a case of divergent values. Is it fair to veto a trade because one owner sees things differently than the majority of the league?
Let’s consider the Mike Trout trade I discussed on Monday in the ottoneu league FanGraphs Staff Two.
$55 Mike Trout
$14 Jonathan Lucroy
A rival received:
$5 Corey Seager
$4 Steven Souza
$3 Jace Peterson
The general assessment was that I rooked my rival. One commenter said he would consider a veto of this trade. However, another commenter did the math using Steamer values and found that both Trout and Lucroy are overpriced. My own price sheet has them as slight values, but only because I manipulate what I consider the “neutral price” to favor skill sets I like.
So we have a trade where sentiment strongly favors me, but the math is less rosy. Moreover, this is a situation where mine was perhaps the only team that could afford to acquire Trout. His owner would have been forced to cut other high quality players like Robinson Cano, Stephen Strasburg, or David Price if he kept Trout. With their price tags, those players wouldn’t have returned much.
This is a situation where both owners accomplished a specific, reasonable goal, and the math is at least somewhat supportive of the trade being fair. By comparison, if I had made the same trade in a standard Yahoo league, one where prospects hold almost no value, there would be a stronger cause for a veto.
In a competitive league, the best remedy to an owner who consistently makes bad trades is to replace him or her. Using the veto is simply masking the symptoms of a broken league. I’ve seen leagues where trading stops completely, owners leave, or the veto is used tactically to prevent other rivals from improving.
My advice regarding vetoes is to enact a league constitution with clear guidelines regarding when a veto can be used. In my own leagues, a trade must be “clearly unconscionable.” Owners participating in such trades, especially the seller, are subject to removal at the commissioner’s discretion.
These are some of my high level thoughts about vetoes. They’re a dangerous tool that can take away from the enjoyment of a league. A veto is like taking advil for a sore pitching shoulder. It will mask the pain, but it won’t fix your problem. In fact, if you keep pitching, the advil will just let you do more damage. Vetoes are the same way, they just make the league even worse. I always prefer to attack the cause of a problem rather than a symptom.
I didn’t mean to make this so much about how I feel, it just happened that way. Mainly, I’m interest in how you feel about vetoes. So get to it.