Over at the mailbag, Mike asks a trading question that is almost as old as Rotisserie League Baseball itself:
I've been offered a trade that I don't know how to evaluate, even after having played roto for a long time. When should I want to trade for a very good player at what I think is a fair price?
In keeper leagues, every owner should have the same goal during the offseason: adding raw value to his team so he can put himself in the strongest position possible at his auction. In serious leagues, you're not going to be able to trade a $20 player with a $10 salary for a $15 player with a $12 salary during the offseason. What's more likely is that the $4 freeze you think is worth $4 is going to get traded to the owner who has a $5 freeze you think is worth $8. What's even more likely is that your differences of opinion are going to be incremental and you will fail to make a trade.
There are times where you might want to make a trade where you take a value hit. You don't want to take too big of a hit, but if you're losing a little value in trades like the following deals, you might be better off.
1) Categorical Need
During the regular season, this is an easy one to figure out...particularly midyear when it starts becoming clear where your team excels and where it is deficient. In the winter, it takes a combination of planning and forward thinking to decide whether or not a trade like this is right for you.
The "scarce" categories are the ones where you might do something like this. If it appears that your auction is only going to have three closers available, you might trade an undervalued keeper for a closer at a par price. You might also decide not to make the trade, see what happens in the auction, and either buy a closer or chuck the category overboard. How much you might overpay in the offseason depends a lot on how much you think you would have to overpay in the auction. If categorical scarcity historically pushes owners to pay $4-5 over inflation for a closer, overpaying by $1-2 might make sense.
Of course, you might also just want to dump the scarce category entirely. Speaking of which...
2) Category Dumping
You have a terrible freeze list and know that even with the best value auction you've ever had you're still probably going to finish sixth at best. You don't want to just wind up dumping in June but suspect that this is what's going to happen unless you're the luckiest guy in the history of Rotisserie. What do you do?
Depending on how your freezes are stacked, you might decide to dump one or two categories. If a $23 Jose Bautista is your only power hitter worth keeping and you have a decent core of base stealers, you might try to trade Bautista and opt for a no power strategy. If you have a market value closer but weak pitching and a lot of bats, you might flip that closer and go with a cheap-o pitching strategy.
Making trades like this can be advantageous because it is typically less obvious to your opponents what exactly it is you are doing. Most owners don't expect you to trade a category away in its entirety, or trade a $23 Bautista for a $5 Alexi Casilla. The best thing about this tactic is it can lead to owners reaching out to you thinking that you're making a run of poor trades...as opposed to laying the foundation in March for a successful auction.
3) Trading for the Future
If category dumping isn't for you, you might want to try and catch lightning in a bottle before your auction and grab some futures. I'm not talking about blue chip studs like Wil Myers who their owners won't trade in a million years, but rather second tier farm players that might or might not be freezes at $10 and don't have the top-tier prospect pedigree. Think players like Josh Reddick and Kyle Seager entering last season. They probably weren't keeps at $10, but if you froze them at those prices you not only wound up with good freezes for 2013 but potential dump chips in 2012 as well.
Before you get all excited about trying this strategy and preparing for your Yoo Hoo shower this coming October, there are a couple of important points to keep in mind. First, while Reddick and Seager are terrific examples of non-blue chip prospects that worked out, there are also a lot of these types of players that don't make it. This is a risky strategy that you should only try if you're desperate. Second, in some leagues owners guard their potential dump chips so closely that you might not be able to trade for a borderline young player under any circumstances.
4) Inflation Hedges
If you did dump and dumped well, chances are that you have a dynamite freeze list. If you do have a problem, it's that even with all of your great freezes, you have about $180-190 to spend in an inflation-heavy auction. If you don't take any action to mitigate this, the joy of dumping into a perfect team will be shattered by the realities of draft inflation. Suddenly, that $15 Giancarlo Stanton and that $10 Bryce Harper don't look as good as they once did.
One way to combat this is by trading for a player or two at par prices. You don't want to trade the likes of Giancarlo or Bryce for these par players. Instead, think about the freezes you have that are cheap and $3-5 undervalued. Flipping a $6 David DeJesus for a $38 David Wright might seem counterintuitive, but Wright's inflation value in some leagues will be in the neighborhood of $38, and keeping Wright instead of DeJesus will take $32 out of the equation for you an Auction Day. With 30% inflation, that $32 is only buying you $24-25 worth of stats. Unless DeJesus is a $7 bargain, you might have a better deal on your hands than you thought.
All of these scenarios should be viewed as exceptions, not norms. If every trade you make siphons value away from your freezes, you are setting yourself up for an unsuccessful auction and a losing season. However, there are times where winning the value portion of a trade isn't necessary depending on your circumstances.