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Early Season Trade Etiquette for Fantasy Baseball

How does the old saying go? If you can not find the idiot in the room, it might be you? That works for fantasy owners as well. If you cannot see the annoying trader in a league, it just might be you. Fantasy baseball is a game with owners trying to win, so no strategy is out from the beginning. No team wins without making moves, and moves can make or break a season.

Trading in fantasy leagues is a dark art, both trying to find value but also not alienating owners down the line. The main reason trading matters more in fantasy than “real baseball” is that often there is not a pool of minor leaguers to draw from when someone ends up on the DL. A team will not have a Tyler Naquin stashed at Columbus to replace Lonnie Chisenhall. Waiver wire pickups don't have the same value and often will not fit specific needs. Also, when trading, a fantasy owner is giving up starters as opposed to that top AA prospect.

So then, early in the season when trying to add value via the trade market what rules should be used to maintain order in a fantasy league? This article will provide some advice to better support trading in fantasy leagues. The bigger question: what real-life GMs do you not want to imitate?

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Do Not Trust the GMs

The Dick Williams

The 2018 Cincinnati Reds are historically bad, and while not all blame is on the GM, it is hard to ignore the glaring faults in this team. No pitching headlines the package, but some of this is the result of injuries and bad luck. The more egregious problem? The reliance on subpar roster fillers that make up the team. Kevin Shackelford, Dylan Floro, and Rosell Herrera headline the inept package. What can fantasy owners learn from this? When there are holes in a roster pay up and get the players that are needed.

So now the scenario: a month into the season a team is dealing with injuries. Taijuan Walker, Tim Beckham, and Eric Thames all filled essential roster positions until early injuries. When the options are to find the Cliff Pennington of the league or make a trade, take a risk and add some life to the season. Not only does this help personally, but also will keep the market for trades in the league reasonably consistent and will make people looking for trades offer fair value. One team dropping out limits demand and therefore the price increases, creating an unfair advantage for teams already at the top. This early in the season there is still time to make up ground, and making a trade, pushing the envelope, will make sure to keep the season full of energy. At the very least, depressing the trade market now hurts the competitiveness of the market later in the season, when a team might be back in the race.

Rotoballer rule #1: Trade early and often to keep your team in the race.  Replace with value as opposed to settling for replacement.

The Billy Beane

Imagine this scenario. Sitting down for coffee in the morning and the trade offer pops into the inbox. The other team is offering to trade a starter and a bench bat for a top offensive player. The email goes something like this: “There is no way that your bat keeps this up, and I’m willing to take the risk but will give you huge upside, and bounce back in these players in return.” Usually, the email comes with cherry-picked stats and advanced metrics to prove how great the deal is on your end.

Why is this the Beane? Well, it's about the numbers. Remember that all fantasy players who have some dedication to their team consume or read some advanced metrics, or are aware of the underlying trends in the game. It could be the Statcast data on the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball broadcast or this article on a site like Rotoballer. No matter the case, this attempt to sell a player always puts the offering team in a place of bad faith. Why? If the trade is such a slam dunk for the original team then why is the deal even being offered?

Word to the wise, when offering a trade that little dialogue box is not the space for debate but some friendly banter. So then, a month into the season do not think that a player will be oblivious to the sample size factors, the streaks that players like Edwin Encarnacion take early in the season or all the other elements. Do not expect to trade Matt Koch with his 1.93 ERA for Chris Archer. At the very least do not be the owner who accompanies the Koch trade offer with a list of fantasy buzzwords to hide the fact that one is underperforming, and the other went undrafted six weeks ago.

Rotoballer rule #2: Use stats and data to complement a trade as opposed to hide the cracks in the foundation.  If you win big on a trade early, that owner might not be willing to play ball when you need it later in the year.

The Reverse Derek Jeter

Perhaps this should have been referred to as the Brian Cashman, but who could fault him for taking advantage of a situation like Giancarlo Stanton? Still, the principle applies in fantasy leagues concerning trading for superstars. Every season there are stars off to slow starts who end up right where they should have been by the end of the season. So then what to do with these players? Do not expect to be able to offer a bunch of scrubs for a Joey Votto or others just due to the slow start. In fact do not even be that owner who tried.

The Votto owner still thinks and knows they have Votto so why would they sell low this early in the season? If Votto still has value how much should an owner offer to make this a fairer trade?

In points leagues always try to send over a bit more value than getting back if trading for a star. A good number is 10-15% added to the current value just to keep things exciting and equal on paper. Looking at the current CBS rankings by points, taking Votto as the example, so far CBS has awarded him 77 points. Using the numbers from above, a trade of Hanley Ramirez for Votto might look fair on paper with current stats, but not in perception to the owner. A deal of Ramirez and a pitcher for Votto and a pitcher, with the pitcher with Ramirez being 5-10% better than the player with Votto would look and feel good for both sides. At least it starts the trade-off in good faith. It also gives the team a better chance to get Votto who should pay off more than that 15%.

In roto leagues compare categories. Team A is trying to trade for Lorenzo Cain, who will add in runs, home runs, and stolen bases. In scoring value, this would be three major categories. When trying to deal for Cain, Khris Davis would be a reasonable value regarding points but would be losing the SB value. So then If Davis is an upgrade on RBIs only, try to find those other two categories to make the deal more equal.

While not a hard and fast rule, trading by adding some value will make the trade look and feel better for both sides. Always overpay as opposed to under-bid. Such a rule will keep both sides in conversation throughout the season.

Rotoballer rule #3 - Add value to trades and even when selling low try to find the middle ground for both owners. Use points and scoring in-season but use pre-season ranks to check the ballpark.

The Dan Duquette

The trade rumor that dominated this offseason without resulting in any tangible action was the rumors of Manny Machado leaving Baltimore. A few reasons why this trade might not have worked out: either Peter Angelo wanted to keep Machado in Baltimore, or the price was too high. The first does not apply to fantasy so moving to the second, what can owners learn? When adding a player to the trading block, this signals that a team is willing to move them. When the offers come in, make sure to actively engage to the get the best price.

On the other hand, if a team is dealing a star early, it is either to fill a hole in the roster or to sell-low while an owner thinks that the player still has some value. When flipping a star do not expect to get back the same value back from the draft, as if you are dealing there is a reason. Take the reverse of the above section: when selling or offering a trade with a star be willing to bake only that 10-15% into the value added as opposed to trading for pre-draft market value. When trading for a player add value, and when dealing away a player be willing to sell a bit low.

Rotoballer rule #4 - Use the trade block when you are looking to deal as opposed to need to deal. Be willing to trade everyone if the right deal emerges.


Trading in fantasy baseball is perhaps the most fun and most frustrating aspect of the game. If there is one thing to be taken from this article, it would be to play the game in a way that benefits the whole league. While on the one hand there is an interest to win, at the same time trying to steal players hurts the overall effect and market in the league, which could come back to bite a team. When in doubt, trust others in the league, pay fair value and try to be one step ahead in ways that make sense for all sides.


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