Trade strategy: Overcoming economics

Last week, I talked about the fantasy baseball trade market and economics of keeper leagues. I talked about how, as the trade deadline approaches in a keeper league, only a few teams will be in contention. The other teams will be looking to trade off their non-keepable commodities, creating a larger supply of these players than there is demand for them, dragging down the price.

The trade deadline is fast approaching for most leagues, either this weekend or next. If you’re out of contention and haven’t traded off those players you don’t plan to keep, you might be experiencing some difficulty doing so. Is it too late? Fortunately for you, the answer is “no,” as long as you play your cards right.

In my favorite keeper league, I’ve been looking to trade Brian McCann, Jose Reyes, and Matt Holliday (though they are all borderline keepable in this format). Earlier today, I received an offer of Eddie Guardado for McCann. Laughable, right? Well, this owner had read my piece last week, knew that the deadline was noon tomorrow, and knew that there were only two or three other teams I could possibly trade McCann to, so he thought that this was at least a respectable starting offer.

Regardless, within a half hour I’d talked him up to McCann and Holliday for Corey Hart. Here’s how things transpired up until that point:

He tried to say that with the deadline almost upon us, he didn’t have to give up anyone good because if I didn’t make a trade within a few hours, I’d have to take whatever I could get. To this, I told him that I was prepared to sit on my players unless I got an offer I was happy about. I said that I would rather take a small hit now in order to make a statement that in the future, people would know that they can’t low-ball me and get away with it. And I was absolutely prepared to do it if necessary.

I also told him that I had decent deals on the table with a couple of other owners that I was considering taking. I then explained to him that even if he overpays a little, giving a little bit more than what he wanted would still be the right move. He would be getting quality players and keeping them away from his competition. I said that if I were to trade Reyes, Holliday and McCann to a competitor, it would be nearly impossible for him to win. I told him that even if it was a strict defensive trade, it was worth it. That he’d be the one getting several top-notch players only sweetened it for him.

So he bumped his offer up to Hart for McCann and Holliday. This offer was not what I was hoping for, but it was good enough for my next move. I went to another owner in my league who I knew had interest in these players and told him that I had a couple of deals on the table that would send two of these players to one of his rivals (leaving out the specifics of how many potential deals I had in place, with who, and which players were involved). I explained everything I told the first owner to him as well, and after some persuading landed a deal I was very happy about. The final deal:

Matt Holliday and Jose Reyes
Jason Bay and Ryan Ludwick (both at great prices), a first and second round pick in next year’s minor league draft, and a collection of prospects (Mike Moustakas, Austin Jackson, Eric Patterson and Wes Hodges)

I’d say that’s a substantial step up from McCann for Guardado. The only downside is that with this trade, it seems unlikely I’ll be able to trade McCann to anyone but one owner, and he has been reluctant to trade. I asked if he had interest in Holliday, McCann or Reyes and he gave a simple “no” and ended it, typical of how he handles all of our short-lived negotiations.

I’m desperately hoping he loses because of this trade and comes to his senses next year. He might be my only option, though, as the first owner is in a distant third and will likely deem himself out of contention now. I told him, though, that he needed to step up his offer or risk standing pat and losing the league.

Concluding thoughts

While I still believe that selling earlier is a good idea, waiting until the very last minute can also work as long as teams don’t deplete themselves of keepable players before then. This becomes a matter of inspecting your league early on and projecting how the market will shake out. As long as you handle things right, though, the pendulum can swing back even at this late point in time and give you the leverage back. This is due to elasticity, a concept we’ve talked about before as well. Owners will be more willing to overpay if they have no time to find a substitute, which happens in the hours before the trade deadline.

So as your own deadline is approaching, if you haven’t done your selling yet, I’d highly recommend taking this approach. Really drill into your opponents’ heads that if they don’t trade for your guys, their opponents will do so and leave them in the dust. I must have repeated some variation of this at least five times to each owner so that they understood.

If anyone ends up pursuing this strategy, I’d love to hear your story. Just shoot me an e-mail.

Situational update

EDIT: This morning, right before the deadline, I managed to swing a trade with the owner who previously had said he had no interest in Reyes, Holliday, or McCann. With Reyes and Holliday going to his biggest competitor, he wanted McCann. Another owner did as well, so I played them off of each other just a bit and managed to get Jonathan Sanchez, Max Scherzer (under a very valuable minor league contract), and a minor league draft pick. Not bad for a guy who I thought I might be stuck with.

Another lesson: once you trade off one of your guys, his competitors will feel the pressure and might up their offer for your other guys.

MLB’s Diversity Fellowship Is a Step in the Right Direction
It is not a perfect program, but it certainly counts as progress.

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