Thursday, May 24, 2012

Fantasy Trading - Keeper Edition

If you play in a one-and-done league, there is plenty of advice out there about how to trade. However, if you're in a keeper league, advice is hard to come by, at best.

Whether you're in a keeper league or a one-and-done your primary goals are identical. You want to win your league. Because you're starting from scratch every year in a non-keeper league, this is extremely intuitive. In keeper leagues, though, there is always a struggle between trying to win at all costs versus trying to hoard as many great freezes as possible so that you have a great freeze list every year.

Your goal in freeze leagues is to win every year. This can be accomplished in softer/younger leagues. In experienced/established leagues, finishing in the top three two years running is a major accomplishment. In order to win, you have to be able to flip your young, cheap talent for players that are expensive but provide more stats. Teams that are the most aggressive at trading young talent for stats are generally the most successful teams...but they also tend to have the weakest freeze lists the following year. Since they've traded their young chips away, they also don't have anything to flip the following year to prop their teams up again and be competitive two years running.

Rotisserie baseball's "success cycle" is quite narrow. A team with an excellent auction might be able to squeeze two years of competitive seasons out of a roster, but the reality is that this is not common. The contend/dump/contend/dump cycle is the norm, not the outlier.

With all of this in mind, what works and what doesn't in freeze leagues?

(Keep in mind that these are very general guidelines. Keeper leagues have many different wrinkles. Some allow for laissez faire trading. Others strongly discourage dumping. My leagues allow dumping but use salary caps to limit it.)

Brett Lawrie for Miguel Cabrera
It sounds crazy, but in keeper leagues you shouldn't trade Lawrie straight up for Cabrera. Yes, Cabrera will out produce Lawrie this year...and he'll almost definitely produce more next year too. But the issue isn't earnings but price. You're not just trading Lawrie to the team out of contention. Assuming you can keep Lawrie at $10 (farm players in my home leagues start out at $10), you're trading $10-15 in value at next year's auction for par value in Cabrera at best. In leagues with inflation, you're getting Cabrera at inflation par.

Lawrie's value to you isn't what's important here. It is Lawrie's value to the non-contender that should set the market price. Here is what you're trading when you trade Brett Lawrie:

  • Profit at next year's auction table
  • A dump chip for the non-contender to use in 2013
  • A minimum of three years of keeper status for Lawrie assuming that he'll eventually get a $15 L2 (two-year long-term contract).
The market price for Lawrie shouldn't be should be Cabrera plus a second top-tier player.

But if you're contending Lawrie is trade bait
The market price for Lawrie isn't necessarily going to be Cabrera plus Jose Bautista. The owners in your league will ultimately dictate the market in this year/next year deals. If you shop Lawrie around and the best you can do is Cabrera plus Yunel Escobar and this is the best deal you can get you should take it. You are still improving your team and you are getting two everyday hitters for one (presumably replacing a dead spot with Escobar). You don't want to take Cabrera/Escobar for Lawrie without doing your due diligence, but you might have to accept this "lesser" deal.

Some owners make the mistake of saying that they'll never trade a chip like Bryce Harper because Harper is simply too valuable to ever trade. But that's a mistake. If you dumped last year to get a chip like Harper, your goal is to put yourself into a position to dump him this year so you can win this year. Winning with Harper three years from now will be nice, but winning with the players he can bring back now is better.

Whoever picks up the most stats wins
Deciding what to trade your dump chips for is extremely team and league dependent. There are a lot of questions you need to ask yourself, including:

  • What is the point total that usually wins your league?
  • What is the "typical" return in a dump deal?
  • How much do I have to dump?
  • Are there fair trades in your league? Or is the trading culture mostly driven by dump deals?
What is the point total that usually wins your league?
A lower point total means you can probably take less in a dump deal. Adding 3-5 potential points is a big deal when 85-90 points (in a 120 point league) wins the league. In a league where 105-110 points is going to win, you're probably going to want to do better than that.

What is the "typical" return in a dump deal?
In other words, what's the market? Some of my readers probably saw that hypothetical Lawrie for Cabrera/Bautista deal and lost a little bit of their lunch. Others probably nodded and said, "yup, that's about right." You know your league better than I do. What do your young studs typically net?

How much do I have to dump?
How many dump chips do you have? Just Lawrie? Or do you have Jesus Montero, Eric Hosmer and Miguel Sano sitting on your farm? The fewer dump chips you have, the higher a return you'll need to demand if you want to stay competitive.

Are there fair trades in your league? Or is the trading culture mostly driven by dump deals?
I'm a big fan of fair trades, but I'm a bigger fan of reality. In other words, I can't make a bunch of fair trades and gain incrementally when everyone else is making 2:1 or 1.5:1 deals and gaining by leaps and bounds. Fair trades are good if they improve your team...but you can't make fair trades and hang on to your dump chips and expect to win in most seasons.

While this seems like a lot of factors to weigh while you're trading, in reality this becomes an organic process that is driven by experience. Eventually you will figure out your league's own waters, what the market value is, and how to maximize the league's market value with every trade.

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