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, The Hardball Times, RotoWorld, MLB Trade Rumors, and The Fake Baseball. Follow him on Twitter @BaseballATeam or email him here.

31 Responses to “Sometimes It Pays to Make a Bad Trade”

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  1. Ruki Motomiya says:

    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.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      Obviously I expect regression in Brantley’s power, but I think we are looking at a true breakout, such that his HR/FB will regress to around 10-12% rather than his previous tiny rate. I’ve watched him a lot this season and there’s no reason he should be hitting for considerably less power. I see a regressed Brantley as ~20% above league average batting out of the 3 hole. A regressed Gordon isn’t even in the regular lineup.

      I can see calling the other one a win. Anytime one side of a trade is predicated on multiple “if’s,” it’s sketchy. The guy I got is healthy, pitching well in the majors, and could even end up keepable for more years.

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      • opinions says:

        A regressed Gordon is still FAST and SS eligible. Michael Brantley, is he even a top 25 OF from now to the rest of the year? OFs are easy to dig up. I’d trade Michael Brantley for Dee Gordon on any of my teams, need or not.

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      • Simon says:

        A regressed Gordon, as we know from previous years, is fast, SS eligible and playing in the PCL.

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  2. Burton Cummings says:

    Regression is “oh so likely” for Dee Gordon??

    Last 14 days: .174/.255/.239
    Last 7 days: .136/.208/.136

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      Exactly. When you trade for a player, the owner usually asks you to pay for stats that already happened. Gordon’s hot start is already done and gone. It’s very unlikely I’ll get anything close to it. However, 7 or 14 day splits aren’t really demonstrative of anything except for statistical noise or possible injury.

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  3. centerfield_ballhawk says:

    Brad, what is the best way to prevent pitcher hoarding in a mixed league head – to – head with deep rosters? I would imagine putting an innings limit or a maximum start limit in place would work… but where do you begin?

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      In my opinion, the best way to decrease pitcher hoarding is by raising the importance of offense. Many H2H leagues end up weighted where pitching takes 50%+ of the budget, which differs from how we generally approach fantasy games. To swing that back into balance, you need more active roster spots on offense. Although I’ve never seen it, I imagine a 6×5 format could work too.

      A weekly caps can also help, but I usually see it result in smarter use of pitchers rather than fewer rostered. In my opinion, the solution to the problem is to make the waiver wire position players really bad, such that it makes sense to have a bench of position players. Then teams can decide where they want to specialize.

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      • centerfield_ballhawk says:

        I never thought about adding two more outfielders or an extra utility spot. This has been an ongoing discussion in my keeper league… and an innings limit just seems like a bandaid to me. Thanks for giving me another option to present to the group.

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      • Chancellor says:

        I also recommend switching from Ks to K/9. It’s not what you’re used to, but it’s a lot of fun, and it completely changes the paradigm when it comes to volume pitching, because you’ve only got one counting stat for starters in wins (or quality starts, which I also HEAVILY recommend, but that’s a different topic). When you’ve got three rates and just one counting stat, while pitcher hoarding is an OPTION, it’s not nearly as attractive an option.

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  4. jfree says:

    Not sure I can see where the story explains the headline. I was hoping to see a clearly unbalanced trade where it only really makes sense when you look at context (and no ‘win this year v future upside’ is about as boring a trade as one can make). Eg – you don’t care much about a category because you’ve won it already – but giving a lot up to one player squeezes others so the trading partner is almost as important as the players involved. Or – roster depth is so screwy that one or both is viewing them as basically a bench player rather than a starter.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      I guess I have a different opinion of Gordon than some of you. I have every intention of cutting him as soon as Zobrist returns. He’s extremely unrosterable in a shallow OBP league. At least not long term. He’s an adequate roster patch, which is how I plan to use him. Comparatively, I see it as reasonable to use Brantley as a permanently rostered platoon starter in this particular league.

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      • GFuzz says:

        I think the fact that it’s an OBP league is driving some of the confusion. It’s a major weakness for Dee and a major strength for Brantley. And I’m inclined to agree that Brantley has true breakout and big run production written all over him. Dee Gordon also has Guerrero and his half an ear breathing down his neck.

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      • stuck in a slump says:

        It seems like everyone is down on Brantley, but this was a a guy that from day one I targeted as a sleeper, and while he never had a ‘break out’ until last year’s mini one, but had also never performed badly enough to get cut from my team. Outside of his HR/FB rate, nothing about him screams unsustainable. Given that he just turned 26, and that he had a slight uptick in power last year, it’s not inconceivable that he could be a true talent 15-20 HR threat capable of 20+ SB, which is rosterable in most leagues.

        Gordon on the other hand, only brings speed, and if he can’t get on base often enough, his value tanks a ton, he can bring you some runs, which Brantley can do, but he wont bring you RBI’s, HR’s, or a high enough average/OBP to help in those categories. I’d rather have a guy that wont kill me in any category with a chance to be plus in all than a guy who will be elite in one but be a drag in three to four others.

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      • Ruki Motomiya says:

        How is it being an OBP league benefitting Brantley? It hurts Gordon, but Brantley’s career BB% is…7.6%. His career OBP is .023 higher than Gordon’s career OBP, except Gordon will probably contribute more via steals even if he is demoted later for Alex Guerrero than Brantley will for his counting stats on the year. Hard to say Brantley is a guy capable of 20+ SB when he has never exceeded 17 in his big league career and while he has stolen some this year he hasn’t exactly blazed. Likely to hit 15 HR but neither ZiPS nor Steamer sees him hitting 20. He’s rosterable but I would bet Dee Gordon outvalues him unless Brantley continues his absurdly high .ISO. Plus, if Gordon hits like ZiPS/Steamer suggests he won’t hurt you much in non-HR/RBI cats while bringing in a ton of steals. Gordon doesn’t need to sustain a huge breakout, just be good enough to hang on and keep stealing bases. Considering he is younger than Guerrero and that you could move HanRam to 3B (And indeed Uribe ain’t exactly going to be there forever) I imagine they want to give Gordon the chance to succeed.

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  5. feargal sharkey says:

    I’m not so sure I would cut Dee Gordon to get Zobrist back in my lineup, what exactly has he done so far that you like so much and what do you really expect the rest of the way? I traded Zobrist weeks ago for Ryu and I couldn’t be happier with that decision even though I lost a few starts from Ryu.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      Remember, it’s an OBP league. Zobrist is above average in all five categories – one of very few players who can say that. He’s a top 5 SS and has lovely multi-position eligibility should I discover another shortstop I want to keep. Maybe Gordon does something to change my mind, but I don’t think I can survive the drain on OBP.

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  6. LOL says:

    How is Dee Gordon that much better than Villar?
    Gordon might steal 20 more bases, but Villar can pop 10 HRs.
    Villar and Gordon will have similar OBP , so I would give the advantage to Gordon in runs due to the guys behind him, and him batting leadoff.
    But surely he would lose in RBIs. As bad as THE Astros are in the 7th and 8th spot, he will get more opps than hitting after AJ Ellis and the pitching slot. Plus lower slugging for Gordon. Gordon will finish with very few RBIs.

    Villar also has more guaranteed playing time. Expect some sort of timeshare when the Dodgers bring up their 2B prospect.

    In a 5X5 OBP league, today I would take Villar over Gordon.

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  7. Brad Johnson says:

    Long term I agree, they’re similar values. However at the moment Gordon plays everyday whereas Villar sits rather frequently. For me, that’s huge. I’ve left something like four shortstop games on the table since picking up Villar and it irks me something fierce. I could make those up in the outfield, but at SS it’s just stats I’ll never get.

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  8. SeattleSlew says:

    Why Michael Brantley gets no love? I don’t expect him to keep hitting homers at this pace but he could have a really good year hitting close to 20 HR 20 SB while hitting in the middle of the Indians line up. He also makes contact constantly. Whats not to like?

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    • murphyluke says:

      I’m with you on this. Brantley was under-rated before the season because his value is so evenly spread out over all 5 categories. Now he’s breaking out in a major way, yet he continues to be under-rated. I’ve watched him play a lot this year and I’m pretty surprised that he hasn’t shown power like this before. He’s much bigger and stronger than I had pictured. I think that he had offseason surgeries the previous 2 seasons, so this was his 1st offseason where he got to really train the whole time instead of just rehab.

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    • Ruki Motomiya says:

      I’ll take someone who hits 5 HR/50 SB than someone who hits 20 HR/20 SB. It also feels optimistic to say Brantley will swipe 20 when he never has in the majors and isn’t blazing it, while his .ISO is currently unsustainably high, no projection system predicts him to hit 20 HR and his HR/FB has gone incredibly high. It’s at 18.8% compared to a career 6.2%! Podhorzer seems to think he can sustain something like a double of his current, but that’d mean you’re getting 9 HR the RoS if you haven’t reaped his rewards already. Brantley is someone to sell high before his power becomes more normal.

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      • Brad Johnson says:

        fwiw, I consider 20/20 to be preferable to 5/50, which is evident in the way I build my rosters. For one, a HR is worth a lot more than a steal. It’s a 4 category stat compared to just one category. Balanced production throughout the lineup also makes it so much easier to sweep offensive stats. I’m not saying I’d never take 5/50 over 20/20, but in a vacuum I’d lean toward the balance. I can take 30 steals off the waiver wire if I need them.

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      • Ruki Motomiya says:

        I find power about as easy as steals to pluck off the wire (Since everyone feels they can pluck steals off the wire, they tend to get snatched up). I would take something like 25/20 over 5/50 but I’d take 5/50 over 20/20 because a 5/50 player is a better trade chip, provides better value (Especially in H2H, but I assume we are not counting H2H here, but I may be biased because two of my leagues are H2H) and offers more roster flexibility. Steals are a two category stat, not one: Along with AVG Steals are a good indicator of Runs (HR do contribute to runs but tend to be smaller than their contribution to RBI because you can get multiple RBi off a homer, but only one run). What’s the fourth stat HRs contribute BTW? AVG seems very iffy because any hit raises average and HR hitters don’t necessarily hit for a better average than someone who simply hits singles over homers there. Plus, 50 steals is arguably pessimistic for Dee Gordon (He’s at 30 already) and 20/20 is arguably optimistic for Brantley (Though 20/15 is not overly optimistic).

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      • Ruki Motomiya says:

        Just real quick add: Even though I’m arguing pretty hard in favor of Gordon over Brantley, this isn’t meant to be a sleight towards the article or it’s message. It’s just I felt Gordon vs. Brantley wasn’t a strong example of it because you arguably got the better of the trade.

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  9. Grant says:

    Last week I traded Homer Bailey for Howie Kendrick, it was a tough trade, but in a 14 team league with large benches, and Brad Miller craping at second I needed one bad. Everyone gave me crap about it. But Bailey had a terrible outing last week, and looking forward to another one this week. Kendrick has been pretty solid, hopefully it keeps going that way.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      I’d give you crap too, both players are due for regression and not in the directions you want to hear. Yet your situation seems to be similar to mine, if you felt it was time to give up on Miller, then Kendrick isn’t a terrible replacement. Pitchers are easy to find.

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