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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