Sometimes It Pays to Make a Bad Trade

Trade strategy is a favorite topic of mine. We’ve discussed many of my beliefs and practices here on these very pages. I think one of the things I’m known for is patiently waiting for a trade to become rather favorable to me before pulling the trigger. Thus is might come as a surprise when I tell you about two trades I executed today.

The first trade was in the Fox Experts League. It’s a 12 team, 5×5 format with OBP and standard thin rosters. Shallow is one word I would use to describe the league. Ridiculously shallow are two words I would use to describe it.

A few days ago, I lost Ben Zobrist for however long it takes him to come back. I was shocked and dismayed to learn Jonathan Villar was the best shortstop on the waiver wire. So I’ve suffered through Villar the last few days. A trade was the best option to patch this hole, but since Zobrist isn’t expected to be out long, I didn’t want to look for a top guy.

My team has two strengths. In a league with three outfielders and one utility spot, my group of Ryan Braun, Shin-Soo Choo, Brandon Moss, Matt Holliday, Melky Cabrera, and Michael Brantley was becoming hard to manage. My other overflow is at closer. I have six current closers plus another top reliever. There are only five reliever slots in this league, but my Jenrry Mejia and Wade Davis can be used as starters.

The trade I eventually made was Brantley for Dee Gordon. The Dodgers second baseman was far from my top choice to replace Zobrist. Regression is oh so likely and in an OBP league, he’s a three category killer. If somebody were to ask me on Twitter if they should trade Brantley for Gordon, I would respond with my usual “It depends, but probably not.” In this case, my particular strengths and weaknesses allowed me to deal a backup for what amounts to a four category upgrade. Even though Gordon really only offers runs and steals, he’ll probably outperform Villar in RBI and OBP.

Smelling blood, my trade partner initially asked for Greg Holland and Brantley. Then he reduced his offer to Mark Melancon and Brantley. Finally, he acceded to my demand for a straight up trade. It’s not that I couldn’t deal an outfielder and a closer – I clearly could. But when I know Gordon isn’t nearly as good as Brantley, then I feel it’s necessary to draw a line. It’s also worth pointing out that the club I traded with is currently in third place and just 3.5 points behind me for second. Had he been further down the standings, I might have made a more radical offer in an attempt to acquire his Hanley Ramirez.

I think there are two lessons here. No matter how picky you are about finding an advantage in your trades, sometimes you have to do something quickly for a player you don’t like. However, even when you have to act quickly, it pays to take the time to work out a truly fair trade. Paying more than Brantley for Gordon would have been ridiculous. I was desperate, but negotiating over several days sold my rival that I wasn’t desperate, so I got a more reasonable price.

The other trade I made was in the Ottoneu linear weights league aptly named FanGraphs Staff Two. This particular league was the topic of a lot of words over the offseason between Chad Young and me. I took over the worst roster in the league and performed some radical surgery in an effort to turn it around. One of the players I acquired for my rebuilding effort was Danny Salazar. Whoops.

Despite blanking on one of my rebuilding blocks, my team has performed well. I’m currently in fourth place – 650 points behind first and 250 behind second. I have a reserve of innings, so I could yet gain a little ground.

We’re getting to the point in the season where the trailing teams are getting itchy. They want to acquire top prospects before their rivals. This year, the market is badly skewed by Brandon Warne and Marc Hulet. Together, they probably own about 40 prospects including almost all of the best ones. The contending teams have very few “win later” players to put on the table.

Thus when Mr. Warne approached me this morning with an offer of Hisashi Iwakuma for Salazar, I jumped on it. Both players cost $8, so it was an apples-to-apples swap. Due to his low walk rate and friendly home park, Iwakuma is a good play in our format. He’s undeniably injury prone, but there’s reason to fear injury with Salazar too. Iwakuma has proven he can succeed with minimal velocity, whereas Salazar has been mashed since he lost three mph off his heater.

Salazar certainly has higher upside long term. Iwakuma is in his age 33 season. Between age and injury, he may not be keepable for very long. However, my roster is well balanced with both keepers and win-now talent. Iwakuma gives me a pitcher who can help eat some of those reserve innings with a high points per inning ratio.

Enough good starts could help me climb back into the race for first. Ottoneu teams get a total of 1,500 innings. I’m on pace for 1,388.2 IP. The three teams ahead of me are on pace for at least 1,637 innings. Therefore, I’ll gain ground by default later. We need to watch out for Chad Young, who is nearly 500 innings behind pace.

The lessons here are simple. In a keeper league, the win now team can give up a little upside in exchange for current talent. Duh. It’s also important to be aware of pace when inning caps are in play. My team is doing better than my fourth place showing because I have over 200 innings in hand against the three teams ahead of me. Chad’s team has probably done the best even though he’s in seventh place. Yet at some point, you have to acquire quality pitchers to fill those innings. Iwakuma is the first domino for me.

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Brad is a former collegiate player who writes for FanGraphs, RotoWorld, and Rotoballer. Follow him on Twitter @BaseballATeam or email him here.

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Ruki Motomiya
Ruki Motomiya

I’d argue you won both trades here. Once Brantley stops hitting his absurd .ISO, I can’t see him maintaining a .221 ISO, he’ll be worse than Dee Gordon is, and Iwakuma seems likely to be keepable for a few years, and given Salazar’s question marks even just Iwakuma for, say, this year and the next is probably worth it @ 8 dollars. I’d say that none of these were really “bad trades” even leaving aside anything except the value of the players.