Just as is the case with real-world general managers tasked with running a major-league franchise, a successful fantasy baseball trader needs to do more than simply target the right players. If you're in a league with friends, perhaps you don't have to deal with the pressure of having to build up trust in a very short period of time and presenting yourself as a "person of honor," but even if you're in a league with total strangers, navigating trade talks involves several steps beyond initial introductions.
I believe in accounting for stats and scouting, both on the field as well as when chatting with other fantasy managers. Dealing with human emotion and instinct deserves just as much attention as looking into player BABIPs and other numbers. We're all looking for those blockbuster leads -- the inroads with the biggest payoff. As David Mamet wrote in his classic play "Glengarry Glen Ross," one should "always be closing." However, he also warned us about the cost of using underhanded tactics to get ahead.
When you decide something on your roster needs to change and it's time to start to making fantasy trades, be careful to avoid these mistakes:
1. Don't "play salesman"
We might as well stay on theme by kicking things off with a directive not to follow Blake's advice (as played by Alec Baldwin in the movie version of Mamet's masterwork). Fantasy swappers should skip the pretentious and condescending pitches -- especially if they don't personally know their opponents. An insulting tone may prompt the other player to cut ties before anything starts.
2. Never ghost potential partners
Online dating has introduced us to the term ghosting, which refers to when you completely ignore someone after making initial contact. Just as with any relationship, be it a marriage, a catcher-pitcher battery, even an exchange between an umpire and an angry fan, communication is key. Be clear about what you want from the other individual. Respond to trade offers instead of just letting them hover in your inbox for days.
Also, the way you communicate is crucial. People don't like to be made to feel stupid, so avoid talking down to your fellow leaguemates. That said, you can still initiate a conversation with an honest question. For example, "Please let me know if I'm wrong, but I'm looking at the standings and I'm guessing you may need some help in RBI. Maybe I can help?"
3. Don't focus on just one or two teams
Cast a wide net. Put out a public announcement and contact any and all teams you think would be a solid fit. Keep all of your avenues open. Don't just deal with a few people with whom you're more friendly or feel more comfortable around. This may seem obvious, but limiting your opportunity limits your results.
On the other end of the spectrum, we all know that one fantasy manager who peppers us with persistent emails. Please don't be that player! For those of you on the receiving end of this barrage, try to respond when you can and keep them in the loop if you're going to take a while to get back to them. Never completely burn a bridge if you don't absolutely have to do so.
4. Ignore league standings
In rotisserie leagues, the key is to determine which squads have a surplus of a stat you need. In points leagues, if you're loaded with pitching and limping on offense, find someone with the opposite strengths and weaknesses. And, if you happen to find someone ahead of you in the standings, then so be it. Remember that the people you're trading with expect help of their own in order to agree to a deal: "You're loaded in stolen bases, but need saves. Make this deal and we can both improve." This isn't collusion. It's looking for common goals with a competitor.
5. Don't focus on who "wins" a trade
Sure, you want to make a trade happen and you also want to maximize your return. At the same time, you don't want to make an offer that "gives away the farm" that is immediately accepted. The best course of action is to try and determine what the other owner thinks about a player before throwing out that first "baseline" offer. Most fantasy managers tend to overvalue their own assets, so that should provide a clear read from the get-go.
Once you've gotten an idea about what kind of offer won't be considered insulting, there's nothing wrong with throwing out at least one proposal that attempts to tip the scales slightly in your favor. After all, investigating the possibility of a bargain is not deception. In fact, it's your duty. And, at the same time, don't be offended if your potential trade partner responds with an offer you feel is a bit one-sided in their direction.
Negotiation is a game that, for at least a brief window, must be played. Don't drag the process on too long, but in a market filled with differing viewpoints, it's fine to play that game a bit before meeting in the middle.
6. Don't pay up for banked stats
The concept of "buying high" has become a household phrase. However, in an era when we have so much help with internet fantasy advice, the "buy low, sell high" axiom rarely holds up in its textbook form. Remember that whatever stats a player has accumulated prior to your deal don't come to your team with him.
Case in point, I've fielded plenty of questions about whether or not I would trade for Pete Alonso. Will he continue hitting homers the rest of this stellar rookie campaign? Of course he will, but he is starting to cool off in terms of batting average. One shouldn't put too much value on someone set to regress negatively toward the mean.
Instead, it's best to value players based on an honest accounting of their likeliest future performance. While that still may be solid, perhaps it's not at a level that will actually help your club enough to go through with a trade for the return being requested.
7. Don't be afraid to be honest
If negotiations have hit a snag, revealing that you're discussing moves with other teams -- and, at a bolder level, offering specifics of what they are offering you -- could very well help things come to a resolution. That resolution could result in you getting a deal done, or it may quite quickly end the talks completely. However, in either case, your willingness to be transparent typically reflects more positively on you for the future than would mystery.
8. Don't rely too heavily on flipping players
Sometimes, pre-emptively swapping out a risky name for a stable piece gives you more trading power later on. In last year's Tout Wars mixed-league auction format (which I won), I was quite successful by trading Michael Wacha (pre-injury) for Joey Gallo, whom I intended to push into the market as an elite source of power, which I didn't need. The return I ultimately got for Gallo helped push me over the top.
However, you must be careful. Pulling off multiple-step deals is tricky -- especially in leagues with a waiting period between trade approvals. Injuries can happen and scuttle a swap. Trade partners can get cold feet and change their mind after you've already knocked over that first domino. It may be safe to agree on a three-team trade ahead of time, but even those can run into roadblocks.
The upshot is that if you're trying to think a move or two ahead, make sure you'd be comfortable with the results should things end up falling apart before all the pieces are finally in place. Even if things are going smoothly, be sure to act quickly before any conditions change.
9. Don't be afraid to walk away
Finally, trust your gut and that little voice inside your head. Never feel obligated to complete a deal just to complete a deal -- even one you initiated in the first place. This is especially true if at the end of the day you feel it just won't help you enough. And if you've avoided all of the other pitfalls we've discussed above, you'll almost certainly have plenty of other options still open to you so that you'll still have a chance to find your best match.