Monday, June 1, 2009

Smiles and Frowns: The Trading Block

What's a guest column without a Bad Boys quote?

"Now back up, put the gun down and give me a packet of Tropical Fruit Bubblicious.”

OK, there were plenty of ways to introduce the same point, but the point remains: In the relatively-early-going, don’t be too eager to trade and accept less than fair value for your talent. So get your finger off the trigger, get a pack of gum, and think carefully about that trade offer. Trust the players with sustained success in the league.

In fact, before making any trade, ask yourself if you would advise your buddy to make the same deal (I acknowledge the suggestion makes this article sounds dangerously similar to a women’s magazine self-help column). I often find I am more critical of a friend’s trade than my own (closer now). I’ve even made offers before because I’ve simply been bored or wanted to shake-up the clubhouse. And the answer is yes, I’ve deluded myself into thinking that my fantasy baseball team has morale and chemistry.

Here are four more points about trading:

1. Most trades should involve players at different positions.
Otherwise, it’s suspicious and you’re not likely to close a deal. For example, if I’m offering you 35 year-old Jermaine Dye straight up for Nick Markakis, basically I’m telling you that I think Markakis is the better outfielder and/or that I think Jermaine Dye may break down like Travis Hafner (or, for an imperfect but more amusing analogy, break down like Oprah when she realized she was on the wrong side of 200 again).

An exception to that general rule concerning same-position trades would where, say, one team needs some speed and the other some power, and it’s a swap of Jacoby Ellsbury for Carlos Lee. That’s a reasonable deal and addresses both teams’ needs which, after all, is supposed to be the point. The underlying reason is that when the players are same position, it boils down to a completely linear evaluation—who is the better guy at this position? You’re likely to fare better in a mixed-deal where you can argue, or your league-mate may perceive that it’s worthwhile to trade a top-10 second basemen for a top-15 outfielder. There are more variables and more room to give less and get more.

2. Don’t make your best offer first, but don’t lose credibility.
While you know best who you’re dealing with, and that matters, the best practice is usually to toe the line between offering less than fair value, and fair value. I usually propose a trade that I would be glad to accept, but realistically expect that owner will counter. Also, when offering, have an idea of how you will be willing to tweak a deal to make it work. For example, on a team where I need a solid outfielder and a closer, and I’m deep with starting pitchers, I offer Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Wainwright for Carlos Beltran and Jonathan Broxton. I hope the owner will take it, but need to be prepared to up the ante and substitute a better pitcher to close the deal (but not a pitcher that would tip the balance the other way).

Now, the second part of this point is “don’t lose credibility.” This is important because when an owner comes out of the gate and targets a team with a weak second baseman and makes a ridiculous offer like Emilio Bonifacio and Paul Konerko for Albert Pujols, all credibility is lost. How can you take that owner seriously? That’s probably not someone who will give you fair value. That’s the type of guy that would _______ and not have the common decency to _______. Got it?

3. If your league-mates won’t give you fair value for a player, just keep him and don’t consider an opportunity to “sell high” lost.
I’ve been shopping Aaron Hill to a number of teams with weak second-basemen, but none of them believe. If you’ve got a player like Hill who is grossly exceeding pre-season expectations but can’t get fair value in return, just enjoy the run. Who knows how long it will last. Did any of us think that the goofy guy from Napoleon Dynamite would be able to turn that performance into a dozen mainstream roles? Who knew that George Foreman would make more money peddling grills than he would as a heavyweight boxer when people cared about boxing? How did this take a simple point turn into a ridiculous rant about grills? His name is Jon Heder, by the way.

4. Keep in mind the value of “name value.”
This point ties into the “fair value” idea. It’s common for players to get assigned a certain value based on name alone, i.e., Grady Sizemore. I’ve got nothing against Grady except that he’s one-week my junior, millions richer and doesn’t have a beer gut, but I think his stock has become inflated because of his “name value.”

People like to say they have Sizemore on their team, and so owners might be willing to pay more to acquire Sizemore than he’s worth. I don’t mean to diminish that he’s a 30-30 guy right now, but in a vacuum will he really prove that much more valuable than Jason Bay by season’s end? If you have Sizemore or someone like him, use the name value to your advantage in a trade.

Two examples of the converse: Vlad Guerrero and Ichiro. Their name value is declining. I think Vlad’s much more so than Ichiro's at this point, but they’re both declining and the window to cash in on their name value might be closing too. I think it’s safe to say that both of their best days are in the past. Much of Ichiro’s value was his speed and, well, he’s slowing down (caught stealing 4x already this year—4 times all of last year). Vlad is at least two years older than we thought he was last year, and he’s becoming a fixture on the DL. Still, there’s always an owner that would rather slot Vlad in the roster over miscellaneous OF with the same numbers.

Now consider the folks who drafted Raul Ibanez. They probably expected a good second or third outfielder. They got better. Ibanez’s power is hardly a surprise, but he’s sporting a .343 average and 17 homers already. Impressive. How about Adam Jones? He’s already got 10 homers, 40 runs, 36 RBI and a .360 average to his credit. And Johnny Damon? In my view he’s been slightly undervalued for a few seasons. Damon’s already got 10 homers and five steals. It was a short porch in right field at the old Yankee Stadium to begin with and now balls are flying out of the new one. I don’t think it’s unrealistic to expect a career high for homers (he hit 24 with the Yanks in 2006). The point here is, these players for whatever reason don’t currently have and may never have a lot of name-value. And that’s ok. Just don’t trade them for less than they’re actually worth.

Having said all of that, go rip someone off. If all else fails, just get some Skittles.
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