Dump Trading Madness

In 2003 as a wee 21-year-old, I founded a standard 12-team mixed redraft league with a live auction. Ever since, I had toyed with the idea of starting a sister keeper format, but always decided against it. I have rarely played in keeper leagues, joining one many years ago and lasting just one year due to quirky rules I wasn’t a fan of, but am now playing a second year in my current keeper league, an AL-Only format. The last two weeks have just reinforced my opinion that a strong keeper league is extremely difficult to establish and run. The problem has always been handling “dump” trades, the term used for the trading of prospects or quality keepers for better high-priced or unkeepable players, with a bottom tier team serving in the dumper role, while a team fighting for a money spot acting as dumpee.

The challenge here is how leagues could allow all owners to act in their best interests and trade however they see fit, while also ensuring that “dump season” doesn’t become a race by the top teams to steal all the high-priced players from the bottom teams while giving up little current value.

The first dump trade occurred on May 17, around a quarter of the way into the season. Too soon to dump or perfectly acceptable? That’s not for me to debate here, but feel free to do so in the comments.

Dumper Receives:
4 mediocre Major Leaguers
Wander Franco (the prize)

Dumpee Receives:
4 better Major Leaguers, in aggregate

This trade opened up the floodgates, and all hell broke loose thereafter. I won’t list each player, but summarize the parts involved.

Trade 2: Prospect for good starting pitcher
Trade 3: Top prospect for pair of elites and two more solid pieces
Trade 4: 2 Prospects for pair of excellent Major Leaguers
Trade 5: Prospects for collection of average Major Leaguers

As I sat from my perch in first place, where I have remained nearly all season, my head was spinning. I had made several trade offers myself, but in typical fantasy league fashion, nothing was responded to. I made more offers. Silence. At this point, I knew I had to act quick or the bottom tier teams will have traded away all the top tier talent I would have any interest in acquiring, and the teams nipping at my butt will have acquired that talent and threaten my top spot.

I started texting and using Facebook Messenger, which was really the key to start discussing specifics and progress trade talks.

Trade 6: Prospect for two solid to excellent Major Leaguers

Finally, I joined the insanity and was able to complete a trade…

Trade 7: Billy McKinney (5, can be freely kept in our farm system) + Martin Perez (1) + 2020 2nd round minor league pick for expensive David Price + J.D. Martinez

A day later, just yesterday, one more trade was accepted.

Trade 8: Prospect for elite starting pitcher

This is all simply crazy. What’s happening here is probably the same thing happening in many other keeper leagues around the world. A team who believes he has absolutely no chance to finish in the money this year has absolutely no incentive to hold onto expensive players he knows he won’t keep next year.

Mookie Betts for the 76th ranked prospect? Sure, why not. Betts, at his high salary, won’t be kept, so his only value to my team comes from his ability to net me prospects or Major Leaguers at good prices.

This wasn’t actually muttered, typed, or thought, but it’s an example of what likely crosses a dumper’s mind. There’s absolutely no benefit to keeping a high priced player you know you aren’t going to keep, unless you think there’s psychological value to finishing 8th, rather than 11th. So you certainly can’t blame the dumper for executing what is best for his team in the future. You might argue the owner should have received more in return for the top talent traded away, but that’s fodder for another article.

After all this, it is important to share that in my particular AL-Only keeper league, we do institute a $325 in-season salary cap for our active lineup. That definitely helps calm things down, and after my trade, my best lineup will only be a couple of bucks below that ceiling, which means I’m essentially done as the dumpee. Of course, another argument could be made that it’s silly equating salary to value a third of the way into the season, because high-priced busts, like Jose Ramirez, are essentially unmoveable at the moment.

While the in-season salary cap is something I’m guessing the majority of keeper leagues have, and it has certainly curbed what would be an even more insane dumping period, I don’t think it’s enough. I shouldn’t have to shake with fear every time I get an email that a trade has been accepted and worry that another leaguemate just traded a prospect who likely won’t be in the Majors until 2021 for Mike Trout.

So keeper league commissioners and owners, is the craziness of dump season totally okay? If not, what is the best solution that doesn’t limit how owners manage their teams, but ensures that it doesn’t simply become a race to collect as many high-priced players as possible?

Additional rules for this league that might be relevant in determining a solution:
-No reserve roster
-Keep up to 8 minor leaguers heading into the season that don’t count against salary cap

Just popped into my head: As I typed the above additional rules, I just realized that perhaps a good solution would be to reduce the number of minor leaguers we could keep. Fewer minor leaguers mean fewer potential trade pieces to acquire high priced talent. Unfortunately, it still won’t prevent the individual trades that have occurred, but there would likely be fewer dump trades overall.

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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4 years ago

I’ve played in a number of dynasty leagues for 10 years and I never have an issue with this style of trade. It’s the closest thing to real MLB trades. My problem with it is when owners don’t advertise or respond to offers, which is a larger fantasy trade issue (as Mike mentioned).