Reality as a Fantasy Lesson

One of the most basic concepts in any economic system is supply and demand. Even if the nitty gritty details are a bit fuzzy, the general idea is simple – a given widget’s value depends upon how many similar widgets exist and how many people want that widget. If there are more people than widgets – it’s expensive. If there are more widgets than people, it’s cheap. You get it.

Now that I’ve insulted your intelligence by crudely explaining supply and demand, let’s get to today’s real topic. Occasionally, a fantasy owner will decide they want to sell a specific player in a specific time period. In my observance, this usually leads to a suboptimal return. It’s always best to sell when there is peak demand for your asset. If you have to push the deal uphill, chances are you’re coming out on the wrong side of it. Reality has supplied us with a fantastic example.

Reality as Fantasy Lesson

The other day, the Pirates dealt Gerrit Cole in a seemingly questionable trade. As I wrote on twitter, the total valuation –  Joe Musgrove, Colin Moran, Michael Feliz, and Jason Martin – smells fine. But I wonder if those are the best specific fits for the Pirates.

Could the Pirates have gotten something a little more top heavy out of the Yankees? Perhaps Clint Frazier, Chance Adams, and Domingo German? That’s roughly the same quantity of value, but it’s arrayed in a much more favorable configuration for the Pirates. It’s safe to assume the Yankees didn’t offer anything like this to the Pirates.

In fact, given what the Pirates accepted, I suspect the Astros were the only actively engaged team. Other teams were certainly keeping tabs on Cole’s availability, but the marketplace is flush. Nobody has an incentive to put forward their best offer when they have a half dozen free agent alternatives along with plenty of trade candidates.

The Pirates, I believe, were right to trade Cole as soon as possible – before offseason conditioning had a chance to turn into a spring training injury. With just two years left until free agency, a twinge in Cole’s elbow could have zeroed out his value to Pittsburgh. I totally get why they accepted the first “good enough” offer. The stakes are very high in the real world.

For us fantasy players, we can afford to take a chance since we know the downside is small. If Cole blew up on the Pirates, it would have cost them $10s of millions of dollars. For us, it might cost $10s of dollars. And he’s not definitely going to be injured – that’s “just” a 40 to 50 percent chance per season. A lot of those potential injuries are relatively tame.

If the Pirates made a mistake, it had to do with timing. Presently, the supply of high quality pitchers is such that everybody who wants one is pretty sure they’ll get one. Maybe they’d prefer Yu Darvish or Cole to Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb, but there appear to be enough seats for everybody in this round of musical chairs. The Astros were able to benefit from a first mover advantage. Now the market for everybody else is just a little bit tighter.

Had the Pirates waited for Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Cobb, and Lynn to sign, they might have found demand to be more robust. At this rate, we might not have a resolution on those pitchers until March. But as long as there was still a contender that felt they absolutely needed to upgrade their rotation, Pittsburgh would have had better leverage.

Back to the Fake World

Frequently, fantasy owners decide that to fill a need, they’ll make a specific player available. I’m doing this right now in my deepest dynasty league, offering Mookie Betts in an attempt to solve holes at second and third base. The market is one engaged owner (the Astros equivalent), another owner who has dangled some tempting ideas but won’t quite pony up (Yankees), and opportunists who smell blood (probably the Twins, Phillies, etc.).

I have an offer in my inbox for Betts right now from that first owner. I might even take it. The offer, which I’ll refrain from discussing, is analogous to the Astros offer for Cole – good enough yet not ideal. I get an older but similarly elite asset to Betts plus a couple old core performers.

Part of the problem is that demand for Betts probably won’t spike until after the draft when it’s easier to offer a vast quantity in exchange for quality. That’s due to our keeper rules – we have a keep 28 deadline coming up in 18 days.

If I take this deal now, I’ll solve some glaring needs. I’d definitely improve my roster in 2018. On that alone, the offer has merit. However, I must weigh this against the potential for a superior future alternative.

So when is “good enough” actually good enough? Obviously, I’ve been dancing around this question because there isn’t a clear answer. We can’t predict the future. We have no idea if something Betts does will entice a rival to make a ludicrously profitable proposal or scare everybody to the hills. We could choose to follow the old adage about the birds and the bushes. The Pirates did. Or we can dream on future possibilities.

One thing is clear, when you’re selling a premium asset, it’s important to gauge if demand is likely to increase or decrease in the future. That will help you to decide if it’s the right time to strike a deal.



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Had the Pirates waited for Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Cobb, and Lynn to sign, they might have found demand to have vanished because everybody who really needed a pitcher had already signed one.