Trading: Theory

This is article one in a seven-part series on fantasy trading. To read the introduction, click here.

To start us off, we need to first understand the concept of “trading”. While I do believe everyone has an idea of the purpose of trading, I think it tends to get lost due to simple oversight and the tendency to get lost in the moment.

If anyone has taken even the most basic econ class, they will know exactly where I’m going with this. To put it simply, in a trade there is no real “winner” or “loser”. For a trade to occur, both parties need to feel like they are getting something of value in return, and giving up something they value less. While we, as third parties, may be able to step in and render judgement on who got the better deal, both parties will still feel like they’ve won. That’s how trading works, and it always will.

To put it in a less neutral, and more fantasy baseball relevant context, trading is giving up a player you don’t want (or need) for a player that your want (or need). All of you know this, but stepping back and looking at it from a third-person perspective is important.

When you offer a deal to a fellow owner, you are always trying to make your team better. But, so is the other owner. They certainly are not going to accept a deal if they think it makes their team worse, and neither would you.

Remember this the next time you offer someone a deal. Ask yourself “Will they perceive a benefit from this trade,” and you are far more likely to get deals done. Notice that I did not say to ask yourself “Will they get better”, instead “Will they think they are getting better”. While I don’t advocate being a scumbag and ripping people off, you can trick people into making trades that may not actually make their team better.

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Zach is the creator and co-author of RotoGraphs' Roto Riteup series, and RotoGraphs' second-longest tenured writer. You can follow him on twitter.

18 Responses to “Trading: Theory”

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  1. lester bangs says:

    Wake me when the series starts. There’s nothing insightful in Part 1.

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    • JR says:

      There’s at least one person in my league who doesn’t adhere to the basic principles laid down in Part 1, and probably one person who doesn’t get it in most leagues.

      It’s also important to know that dressing up trades requires more than picking up Johnny Cueto off waivers to throw in with a 2-1 top ten players deal.

      Most people understand the proper etiquette for trading, but there are many people who would benefit from reading this intro.

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    • Johnny Tuttle says:

      Hey, Lester:

      Where can I access your articles online?

      Thank you,


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    • Mojowo11 says:

      Wake me when the comments start, there’s nothing insightful in the first one.

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  2. Ben says:

    Boy, that was a waste of money, wasn’t it, Lester?

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  3. Toz says:

    No offense, but this is a fluff piece. I’m admittedly a little disappointed with the writing here at Fangraphs recently, because I expect a lot more. Shamefully, I’ll also admit to writing this same fluff piece on our blog about 2 and 1/2 years ago…I’m still a little embarrassed.

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    • Reverend Jim says:

      Sad to say Toz, but while you may consider this a fluff piece, it really needs to be repeated every year. Not only for the new people that join, but to remind some of the more closed minded owner, or the scumbags as Zack refers to that like to rip people off. The sad part is the people that really should read this will pass over it thinking they know more so it falls on deaf ears. Yes some of this and probably some of what is to come is common sense, but there are many out there that lack this basic attribute. You know who they are in your league. Send them the link. Best case you improve the competition level in your league. Worst case, they call you an a-hole for sending it to them.

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  4. FireOmar says:

    FangGraphs has really gone to shit. I guess the freelancer rates are better at Bloomberg.

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    • jkruse says:

      Spend your time on another site then. Some people are thankful for these articles and while this one is pretty basic, it contains advice everyone can use. I can’t stand it when people criticize the content on free websites.

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      • Toz says:

        Jrkruse – I am critical of this particular series of articles, and of some other writing as well, because Fangraphs holds itself out as a much higher quality site. It provides some incredible statistical data, some stuff that the sabrematrician in all of us can really get excited about. And then the writing falls flat. I am sure that some people are equally as critical about my own blog writing, and, sometimes, perhaps those people are accurate. But so far, this series of articles adds nothing to the analysis. In fact, it does not even separate keeper leagues from one-year leagues from dynasty leagues from Ultra leagues from mixed leagues from AL/NL-only leagues.

        We’re all entitled to an opinion, and I thank you for expressing yours as well.

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      • Zach Sanders says:

        Some keeper specific tips will be up on Thursday.

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      • jimbo says:

        @ Toz

        “Fangraphs holds itself out as a much higher quality site”

        Where do you get that impression from? My impression is they try to do high quality stuff and have risen to the top because of said quality. I’ve heard a couple people suggest that Fangraphs has an ego problem, or isn’t living up to its “own” hype.

        Real curious where that comes from.

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      • Toz says:

        @jimbo I don’t see Fangraphs suffering from an “ego” problem. What I see is a great collection of sabremetrics. It really is in a class by itself for collection and presentation in terms of a free site. But some of the writing just doesn’t match up with that collection of data. Some does, don’t get me wrong, but, generally speaking, there is a lot of fluff.

        Moreover, this particular piece might be more appropriate for February, not July. If you have been waiting to make a trade until now, you might be in trouble.

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  5. Charles says:

    “To put it simply, in a trade there is no real “winner” or “loser”.”

    This is not always the case. Often enough that I wouldn’t make that sort of assertion. A near certain example would be trading for the same position. Even trading for different positions, things like injury history weigh heavily on value, and obviously an injury would certainly make the above statement untrue. And no matter what, any player’s performance can be compared with the highest performing unrostered waiver player at his position – and those differences compared between the traded players.

    Someone most certainly wins, and someone most certainly loses. Making the trade is about perception, but the effects can be quantified.

    But I do think the main message of the article (recognizing the perception of your trade partner) is valuable, although probably obvious to most people who take FB seriously enough to be reading any of this.

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    • jimbo says:

      Thus the reason to start with what IS a trade?

      The peeps who think this is a fluff piece might think it speaks only to the ripoff artist. Where you say making the trade is about perception? I think that is where Zach’s comment applies.

      There are really 4 “values” involved, and the sum total of perception around them precludes a winner or loser at the time of the deal:
      1. The value I place on my players.
      2. The value I place on yours.
      3. The value you place on mine.
      4. The value you place on yours.

      In this context things like position, injury history, and production can influence value only in non-quantifiable ways. To progress toward sophisticated trading, I DO think it is imperative to re-remember those 4 “dials” and how to alter each one.

      Just this season I’ve noticed I’m placing a bit too much value on some of my own players…and that’s hampered my trade talks. I make a heckuva deal (imo), focused on the needs of the other team as much as my own, and get turned down. One of those dials needs tuning.

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  6. As much as it sounds like simple common sense, I never cease to be amazed at some of the ridiculous trade offers I receive – as though the owner hasn’t even bothered to look at my roster beyond the player that they covet. This in the 4th year of a keeper league mind you!

    I’m of the mind that I’m willing to trade any player at any time IF I see an opportunity to improve my team. Give me that opportunity and if the pieces fit, you’ve got a deal.

    While I wouldn’t say this is fluff, I do look forward to deeper analysis of the subject as the series continues.

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  7. Brian says:

    The use of the word “scumbag” is particularly unsettling. It is not the use of that kind of language necessarily, since this is a website largely used by adults. The word is powerful, and can be an accurate description of a human being who possesses no principles, or consideration for those around him. But to put it in an article about fantasy baseball, to describe someone who gets the better end of a trade, is a poor example of editing, and poor judgement by the writer. That — not the story’s lack of an original point or anything stimulating — is what falls short of’s lofty standard. Aside from that, hopefully the reason this story is empty is because it is serving simply as a foundation for the next six articles.

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  8. James says:

    why should we not criticize just because its free advice? perhaps the criticism will make the website writing better which it clearly needs to be. This article was a waste of time but its only the beginning in a series so hopefully it will get better.

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