Defensive Trading — Brilliant or Crazy?

Trading in fantasy leagues is hard, frustrating, and annoying. I honestly hate thinking about trading, but still don’t prefer the NFBC format that doesn’t permit trades because I still want to be rewarded for building a deep roster. Trading in keeper leagues is on a whole different level. And it’s not a good level. It’s frustrating times 10. Now, the league is divided into 2021 contenders and those playing for the future, so depending on who you might want to trade, you may only have half the league as possible trading partners. You think the team in third to last place wants your $30 Joey Gallo? Of course not. And do you think the team in third place and within striking distance of first wants your $3 Nate Pearson? Heck no! So perhaps rather than trade to try increasing your own team’s point total, consider a different path toward the same goal…by trading defensively.

This is my first ever defensive trading story.

I am currently tied for first place in my AL-Only keeper league. I have a 14 stolen base lead over second place in the category. Even if second place could somehow make up that deficit, there’s no chance I could lose more than one point. So it was pretty obvious that I could trade away steals, but as with any category, it’s hard, or impossible, to identify a player who only contributes positive value in said category. It’s difficult to only trade away steals without losing in any other category. A high steals guy is likely to hit at or near the top of the order, which means he’s likely a positive in runs scored. He’s also likely to be a plus in batting average, but that’s a bit less of a given.

Luckily, I owned an almost perfect trade candidate — Myles Straw, at an undesirable keeper price. After being traded to the Indians, he’s played every day and solidified himself in the leadoff role. His 66 runs scored are merely solid, rather than spectacular, while his .267 average is also a slight positive, but won’t make a dramatic difference. He’s essentially as close as you could get to a steals only contributor. With Edward Olivares back in the Majors, I also had a capable replacement and no need to even receive a hitter in return to replace Straw’s empty roster slot.

On the pitching side, I have a 21 saves advantage, which is going to be impossible to make up over the final month. Yeah yeah, you’re going to ask me what the heck I’ve been doing to accrue such a huge lead over second place. Like I said, it’s reallllllllllllly difficult to make trades, so the answer is — I tried to trade closers, but didn’t succeed as much as I had hoped. Aroldis Chapman has been an enigma since I traded for him after the all-star break (I didn’t ask for him, but my trading partner offered to include him, so I said sure why not!). He is also at a fair, rather than undervalued, price, or perhaps overvalued given his recent struggles. So a team playing for the future would have little to no interest here aside from improving their minor league draft pick slot or the pride of finishing in a better place.

With both Straw and Chapman, I owned two players who if jettisoned, shouldn’t cost me any points. So who to offer each player to? That was the challenge. Including myself, the teams in the top four are within only eight points of each other. You better believe that I’m not going to offer either of these players to any of the three other teams gunning for that top spot. So that leaves eight potential trade partners.

The teams at the bottom of the standings have no reason to trade for these players and have already jettisoned all their good players. No player on those teams would represent an upgrade in any category I have a need for. And unless I’m offering a keeper, what’s the motivation for any of those teams to help me win anyhow?

Then it dawned on me — perhaps rather than try making my own team better, I could try making another team better that is close in the steals and saves standings to the team I’m tied for first place with. So I did some research, identified which team each player would most benefit and either help pass my competitor and lose him a point or prevent my competitor from gaining a point by remaining ahead in that category.

After identifying those two teams, I made the following offers:

Myles Straw for $1 FAAB (we start with $100 with a $1 minimum bid)
Aroldis Chapman for $1 FAAB

I didn’t ask for any players in return because my offers would be far less likely to be accepted and there were few players on the two teams that would have represented a real upgrade for me anyway. Would trading me a legitimate contributor for Straw or Chapman even improve my trading partners’ teams? So I made sure there was no excuse not to hit the accept button. I also don’t need the FAAB, so didn’t bother to risk a rejection by asking for too much.

After the two owners emailed me questioning what the heck I’m doing, I assured them it was in good spirits and not a mistake, and so they accepted.

The hope now is the new Straw owner remains a point ahead in steals and prevents my competitor from gaining that point, which he likely would have without the Straw trade. My competitor also recently traded for a closer and likely would have overtaken the team just a couple of saves ahead. With Chapman now on his new team, my hope is that no longer happens.

So rather than try improving my own team by two points, which I felt was an impossible task via trading, I defensively tried to prevent my competitor from gaining two points. While I would have preferred to cause my competitor to lose two points rather than prevent him from gaining them, it didn’t appear possible given the rosters of those just behind him in those categories.

I’m definitely not the first to attempt this strategy, as the commish of the league shared the time he did it in Tout Wars, in the same league I’m in, and I didn’t even realize it. But I’ve never been aware of such trades as they were made and certainly never tried it myself.

So, is this defensive trading strategy brilliant or crazy?

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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I mean, it makes sense, but I’m not sure the league-mates I have would accept that kind of behavior so would veto the trade.