Ottoneu Strategy Corner: Various Offseason Trade Strategies

Over the past two weeks, we’ve discussed player valuation in Ottoneu leagues and sending signals to affect the perceptions of other owners. Today, let’s move on to a topic that is a little more near and dear to our hearts – offseason trading.

Trading during the offseason differs greatly from in-season swaps. You have the flexibility to pursue strategies and gambits that would be disastrous during the season. This article will cover various types of trades and when/where/why/how to use them.

Before conducting any trade talks, you need to perform an honest assessment of your league. This starts with the players you know will be available in the draft. Then, identify teams that have payroll issues, teams that will have a lot of money available in the draft, and if there are any positions where scarcity could cause big problems in building a deep team. The goal here is to prevent yourself from keeping a pricey player at some position if there will be a glut of similar players in the draft. Similarly, you probably won’t want to trade your only decent shortstop if 13 of the top 15 are likely to be kept.

Now that you’ve conducted your analysis, we can begin targeting owners for trades. In order to keep things brief, I’m going to trust that you can properly estimate a player’s value. Ottoneu is a hard ecosystem to thrive in if you don’t have a talent for understanding the relationship between cost and value.

Like any trade, offseason trades can be very straightforward. Perhaps I have six $10 outfielders and no third basemen, and you have three $10 third basemen and only three outfielders. We could do a simple swap that benefits both teams and move on with our day. Were this scenario to play out during the regular season, I may be disinclined to make this trade if I suspected it might help my rival more than me. Especially if the other owner is near me in the standings. In the offseason, I can assume my opponent would draft away his problem, so there’s less reason to careful.

In terms of strategies, they depend on how your roster is positioned. From a high level, if you have too much money allocated to your roster, you should try to trade high priced assets for low cost ones. In FanGraphs Staff 2, Marc Hulet inherited an expensive, thin roster with a few top tier players like Miguel Cabrera ($59) and Stephen Strasburg ($43). He’s since traded both players to two owners with a lot more money to spend (Robert Baumann and me). In return, he received six players – Carl Crawford, Nolan Arenado, Joc Pederson, Patrick Corbin, Dylan Bundy, and Robert Stephenson – that substantially improved his team’s depth. All considered, he traded $119 of players, of which only $8 Greg Holland was a true bargain for a $45 package of lottery tickets. This isn’t a strategy that all or even most owners should pursue, but it was the right one for his roster. His long term outlook improved dramatically with these two trades.

There is also the opposite perspective. If you have a ton of money available but not a lot of talent on your roster, you can look to acquire a pricey player. That’s what brought Marc and me together for our trade. Even after acquiring a $59 Cabrera, $8 Holland, and $3 Seth Smith for a package that only totaled $22, my roster has roughly a third of its budget remaining for the draft. I’m relatively certain that Cabrera is the best use of $59 available to me. Furthermore, I was planning to cut Crawford and Arenado, so it felt like I was trading a $2 Pederson for a big package. In this case, two owners with very different rosters were able to come together for a mutually advantageous trade.

In previous articles, I’ve hinted at the damaging power of the endowment effect, a topic I plan to cover in more depth shortly after the January 31st keeper deadline. It sounds counterintuitive, but you can use the endowment effect to your advantage in offseason trading. Basically, the endowment effect means that a given person likes things that they own more than things they don’t own. Let’s say I have $8 Danny Salazar and you have $8 Sonny Gray. Let’s pretend that they are perfectly identical in value. Neither of us should care which pitcher we own, but in reality, I’ll want more than Gray to trade Salazar and you’ll want more than Salazar to trade Gray.

Here’s where you leverage advantage. Offer a marginal player that you’re very confident is a waste of resources for an obviously poor asset. For example, I have a $15 Mike Moustakas that I have thus far failed to trade. That’s probably because Moustakas isn’t worth $15. My fellow owners find him interesting but only as a $3 asset. I tried to trade him for a wide variety of garbage, ranging from a way overpriced James Shields, to a cheap but ultimately worthless Wade Davis. My theory was that if I could get somebody to accept him via trade, then they would be more inclined to keep him, thus wasting $12. Ideally, you can target players you would like to redraft at a cheaper price – perhaps that $42 Starlin Castro.

Which leads me to my next point, you don’t have to acquire players that you’re going to keep. The FanGraphs league that I use for my examples has only a few owners who will be able to participate actively in the draft. I find that’s generally true of most Ottoneu leagues. If that applies to your league, than you can acquire interesting, overpriced players as throw-ins – especially if they play a position you need to fill. Just remember to cut the player. Even if you don’t win that specific player in the draft, you will have increased the talent pool at your position of need. Also, if an owner is on the fence about keeping a player and you inquire about him, it might tip him in the direction of keeping that player. That’s usually a good thing.

Alternatively, an owner might be happy to dump a dead weight contract on you and overlook the actual interesting player you were targeting. I think that’s what happened when I traded my $47 Dustin Pedroia and $5 Josh Bell for $29 Chase Utley and $4 Christian Yelich. I coveted Yelich, and was really targeting a Pedroia for Yelich swap, but I made the deal about two overpriced second basemen with some prospects thrown in. I do like Utley and I may even bid on him, but he’s an easy cut at $29.

Offseason trades can also be used to sabotage your rival’s strength in the draft. You must be exceedingly careful about this, but you can intentionally lose a trade on a value basis in order to bloat your rival’s roster. This is a very situational strategy and one that can easily backfire. The Cabrera trade I discussed earlier could fall into this bucket. At the time, I was positioned to spend over $200 in the draft, but Marc tacked an additional $40 of commitments on me. He may have slightly lost the trade on paper, but he strengthened his position in the draft relative to me. Similarly, I may have come out on the short side of the Pedroia deal, but that owner now has an additional $48 of commitments assuming he reached the same conclusion as me about Utley.

So, I’ve reached 1,300 words, which is the unofficial point where a strategy discussion turns into long-winded ramblings. We’ve covered several of my favorite strategies for offseason trading, but many more remain. Let’s continue the discussion in the comments.

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Brad is a former collegiate player who writes for FanGraphs, MLB Trade Rumors, The Hardball Times, RotoWorld, and The Fake Baseball. He's also the lead MLB editor for RotoBaller. Follow him on Twitter @BaseballATeam or email him here.

6 Responses to “Ottoneu Strategy Corner: Various Offseason Trade Strategies”

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  1. jjdouglas says:

    Another important factor that should be considered is what year the league you are playing in is entering. As inflation impacts prices in the 3rd or 4th year of a league, the buying power of each individual dollar is theoretically (not accounting for inefficient owners) minimized at the auction. So in some instances it can make sense to take on high dollar contracts, in order to leave opponents with more money in the auction. In these instances, teams are often left looking to replace a large amount of production, but are left bidding on a shallower talent pool, and consequently overpaying for 1 or 2 studs.

    Basically, they end up paying more money for less or similar production just because they wanted to have a large budget (compared to other teams) at the auction. This would have to be altered based on the owners you play with (have to know your competitors after all), but generally I have found it beneficial. Thoughts?

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    • OtherSideoftheCoin says:

      I agree with this. I’ve taken over a 2nd year team that essentially didn’t participate in year 1. I’ve been trying to contact owners to take over their higher-priced potential drops just to avoid some of the bidding wars that may occur. A $60 Trout or $40 Strasburg may not be practical for the current owners, but there are 3 or 4 teams who should literally never stop bidding at auction.

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    • Jeff Zimmerman says:

      I will give out a secret to Brad, but I am only in keeper leagues right now. Just to get the feeling/excitement of redrafting, I drop just about every player I am on the fence with. I get the feeling of I am getting a new team. There is only one draft/auction a year I feel I should participate. In some cases though I am forced to redraft/bid the same players.

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      • Brad Johnson says:

        I’ll be touching on this as part of my endowment effect article, which I think I will move up to next Monday. In keeper formats with no restriction on the number of keepers, I find that owners keep way too many players. If the player isn’t returning an obvious surplus (call it $6+), then I’d rather have the resources in draft.

        The exception is when I’m new to a league. Keeping players at or near cost is a conservative strategy, but that might be warranted when you’re unfamiliar with your league and rivals.

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  2. BubbaBiscuit says:

    I really enjoy ottoneu and any articles about it. Even though these tactics are so meta and a bit dark to find a way to coerce an opponent into self-sabotage that I don’t think I could do them on purpose, that the game is deep enough to allow these tactics to materialize is amazing.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      The present author is devious and prefers dark tactics. However, most of the ideas I’ve suggested can be employed in a similar but more honest manner.

      Ottoneu is basically a dynasty league with 12 owners instead of 20. Call it a semi-dynasty. It opens up nearly as much meta game as the real thing.

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