Last week, Howard Bender wrote about trade bullies, which kicked up some good discussion in the comments. Whereas Bender was categorically against trade bullying, I’m all for manipulating your rivals. After all, they’re “rivals.” They exist solely to be defeated through any means necessary. They’re also probably your friends, family, and co-workers, so try not to get carried away.
That said, I rarely bully in trades and have very little respect for the tactic. It’s too crass. There’s no seductive subtly to bullying; I don’t get to cackle sinisterly while I watch my foe fall apart all on his own. It’s like using a bulldozer to knock down the Great Wall. I guess that could be fun, but I’d find so much more pleasure in convincing the Chinese to take it down at great personal expense. Or better yet, pay me to do it for them.
One of my favorite fantasy pastimes is to plant bad ideas and watch them sprout. I learned this trick quite by accident. I would spend weeks trying to pry a target away from a rival, even making offers that were disadvantageous to me. Inevitably, the player I was targeting would go from untouchable to trade bait. The downside was that I never seemed to be the one to win the player. Another owner would always benefit from my hard work despite that I usually had an obviously superior offer available.
I spent about two years trying to figure out how I could get that previously untouchable player to come my way, but I never did solve the formula. Maybe it’s some kind of shoot-the-messenger effect. I realized that although I wasn’t solving my goals, my rivals were de-optimizing their rosters. Now I think of the tactic as overcoming the endowment effect, and it’s really quite simple to execute. Just be prepared to live with the consequences.
I reserve this tactic for my closest competition for two reasons. It’s pretty damned evil. If you consider testing the evil waters, I strongly recommend offering a lot of honest, heartfelt advice to balance your malicious deeds. The second reason is that the end result of your meddling is unpredictable. You don’t want a bad team to fuel one of your closest competitors, but if your top rivals are making the bad moves, you’re more likely to benefit indirectly.
As I’ve hinted, it’s surprisingly easy to coax people into making bad decisions. Most rosters have a couple lynch pins – players who form the backbone of the owner’s strategy. If you remove a lynch pin or two, the rest of the roster strategy becomes less coherent, leading to sub-optimal outcomes or replacement level players in starting positions.
Usually an owner knows on some level that a certain player and his expected performance is necessary for success. So when you offer Yu Darvish and Addison Reed for Chris Davis, the other owner will say no. That owner probably sees Davis as being worth 8 points to his team in runs, home runs, and RBI. Where else will they find 40 HR and 110 RBI when the waiver wire has Juan Francisco as the top alternative?
Follow up the rejected offer by indicating that you might be able to do better, but it will require careful consideration. Request them to give you idea of what it would take to make something happen. Usually that’s when a ridiculous counteroffer is sent. Poo-poo the counteroffer because you both know it’s unreasonable. Bandy a few ideas back and forth with the supposed intent of reaching an equitable agreement, but at this point you’re just slowly cutting off negotiations. More often than not, you’ll see the player in question shopped around the league until a deal is reached – sometimes for a lot less than your original offer.
One thing to keep in mind, don’t use your site’s embedded trade wizard for this conversation. This is to be done by email, text, phone, or any other medium that cannot be officially accepted. You probably don’t actually want your offers to be accepted. You’ll be making high-ball offers, which may be a term I just now coined.
Why does this seem to work? Well I have no actual proof that it does, but it’s a strange coincidence to see so many “untouchable” players dealt shortly after my meddling. My guess is that when a person is presented with a viable, beneficial offer, it takes days or weeks for them to overcome the endowment effect. Once they do, that player goes from untouchable to trade asset number one. Your offer is gone, but there are 10 other owners with possible offers. I think we also see this regularly in real baseball where rumors of a trade or a coach being fired come before any indication that it’s been thought about by management. The much dreaded “stamp of approval” may be a good example. I honestly believe that the question itself builds more momentum towards a coach being fired than any internal talks.
Final warning: balance your karma. You can’t mess with anyone if they all think you’re a jerk. You’ll see the best results if you’re generally trustworthy. Personally, I’m hoping that my leaguemates who read this will take me at face value when I say I am usually being earnest when I start a negotiation.
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