The Art of Trading
Trading is a very old practice. Offering X for Y and bartering is in our DNA, and can even be observed in animals. Those who have played fantasy sports know how beneficial a trade can be, especially when the alternative is solely relying on free agent acquisitions (though we can help with that route too). While we often write about how to have the best draft, which players to add and drop, and even who to trade for, we rarely get into how to be an effective trader.
You consider yourself a fair and rational individual, so you analyze your needs and enter the marketplace. Your goal? A good deal that results in a squad with a better chance of winning than before. Let's start with what that means.
What Constitutes a Good Deal
A good deal is one that addresses a need, ideally from a position of strength. If you have a big lead in homers, then you're dealing with diminishing returns in each future homer. Dealing a power bat to address a pitching deficiency makes for wise resource allocation. Mix in the obvious caveat of including a little common sense, and that's it. Meaning you don't trade Mike Trout for Aroldis Chapman because you're hurting in saves. If you're in need of bullpen assistance, trading a guy who is ranked ~100 for a closer ranked ~125 can still be a "win" for you (the rankings merely help get the point across, more on being too attached to ranks in a bit).
Of course, buying low and selling high is always wise, but don't be the one who offered Jeremy Hazelbaker for Carlos Gonzalez early on. You will be shamed and branded as "that person". Offering up legitimately valuable players makes you a desirable vendor, but dumping fairly obvious flash-in-the-pan types on the entire league is going to tarnish your reputation.
The idea here is that needs align to form a "win-win" for both sides (meaning you've also looked at their team's needs). On the other hand, if I have a healthy lead in homers and you offer me Giancarlo Stanton for Max Scherzer, then you've wasted my time and revealed that you didn't consider my needs. That sounds like a hilarious rom-com cliché, but it's valid. The parallels between romantic advice and being a good trader are plentiful.
Building Your Brand
- Lowballing them three times before arriving at a decent offer.
- Ragging on them for having a worse team.
- Over-leveraging a vulnerable position.
- Asserting that your knowledge of the game makes you superior.
Avoid these, and owners should at least be receptive. If you enjoy being a jerk more than trading then keep it up, but know that rebuilding an image can leave you feeling like Sisyphus.
Use Your Words
It also goes a long way to explain your offer's rationale. Feel free to be crafty so as to not give everything away, but provide some context. Rejecting a trade with zero commentary kills the talks, but a rejection with a why keeps the door open.
Remember that you are forming a trade partnership, a relationship. Communication is vital, which means listening to the other party and talking with them as opposed to talking at them. Most know the difference. If someone says they aren't interested in acquiring a certain player, position, or stat, listen! If you give them a platform, your trade partners will likely provide a road map to a deal. Also, just like with real relationships, two perfectly nice people can simply be a poor fit.
It Takes Two to Tango
Here's another bugaboo: don't put the onus of the trade entirely on the other party. It's totally acceptable to reach out and say, "Hey, are you interested in Player X?" and go from there. Suppose I responded yes, don't then say, "Alright, well what will you give me for him?" and leave it at that. Please bring something to the table other than an initial name drop before folding your arms and leaning back with expectant eyes. At least give a general sense of what you're looking for in return, unless you want the process to take longer than necessary.
This leads to being timely in your negotiations. Few things are as annoying as someone saying they're interested in a deal, only to receive intermittent texts from them over the next week. They will also invariably complain later when you complete another deal, saying that they would've given you better if you had just asked. One who doesn't reciprocate effort makes for a dead-end trader, and fantasy sports are extremely time-sensitive.
Being Nice ≠ Being a Good Person
None of this is saying that you shouldn't pounce if someone can be taken advantage of, as being polite and tactful places no restrictions on being timely and direct. If anything, it means that you'll be able to swiftly close a deal, effectively closing the window that your competition has to step in.
You're not only competing in the standings, but also in the psychological poker game behind the stats. You don't have to like your leaguemates, you can have horrible intentions, but at least make them think you're a good person. They should be aware that you're looking out for number one anyway. If you then leave them whimpering, "et tu, Brute?" then so be it, but you need to gain their trust first (plus then you can be a trader and a traitor, eh?). Also, standing amidst the ashes of burnt bridges is only worth it if you're holding a trophy.
Rankings Aren't Everything
Lastly, don't be a rankings slave. People who immediately dismiss a deal, or even a conversation, solely based on saying that "Player X is ranked Y" make for aggravating traders. Objectively, at least I've learned that you value that player very highly and are unlikely to trade them, as well as gaining a manual on how to speak your language. That said, it's still obnoxious have every single thread of conversation come back to me needing to give up someone ranked higher in order to make something happen. You can "win" a trade by giving the 100th-ranked player for the 125th best if it fits a need.
In the end, every league is different. Trades that look foolish in one league may be fair in another. Being a strong-armed jerk might actually work with some owners. Some league probably exists where there was a Hazelbaker-for-Gonzalez trade. We're utilizing broad strokes here. The bottom line is that being an approachable trade partner is an unheralded factor in being a successful fantasy owner, and we like success. If you ever need outside opinions, RotoBaller's chat room is always live, so come on by!