How To Talk Trade 2.0

I once took an excellent training course on effective communication.  At the beginning of the course, our teacher started with a game:

In my hand is an envelop with a $10 bill inside.  I want one of you in this room to take the deal I’m offering you.  I’m going to ask you a simple trivia question and, if you get it right, you get the ten dollars.  But if you get it wrong, you owe me two dollars.  However, if you don’t know the answer, you can ask one person in the room for help.  Who wants to volunteer?

After a few moments of people looking at each other wondering what the catch might be, I volunteered.  “How many states make up the United States?”, he asked.

Good news: I got the question right.  More good news: I got the ten dollars.

Bad news: I was not very popular afterwards as 29 other people were kicking themselves (and me) for not jumping up sooner to take a (small) chance on winning ten dollars.

“What four things did Trey need to believe in order to accept my offer?”, he asked next.  It didn’t take the room long:

  1. There is actually $10 in the envelope.
  2. I have a reasonable chance at getting the trivia question correct.
  3. Two dollars is an acceptable risk to take for the chance to win ten.
  4. I have access to 29 other people in the room to choose from to assist me if I get stuck.

Our teacher used this game to make a critical point: human action is preceded by belief.

How does this important insight apply to fantasy baseball negotiation? Consider this example:

Earlier this week I made this trade, acquiring Bryce Harper for a package of players that have become attractive sleepers this off-season.  I inquired on Harper’s availability about a month ago and didn’t get very far.  Earlier this week, it was announced to the league that Harper might be more available.  I inquired again and, evidently more motivated to move him, Brian responded rather brilliantly with this response:

Ok, maybe this will help:

Guys on your team I love: Pham, Gohara, Taillon, Kluber, JoRam, Bellinger

Guys on your team I like: J. Turner, Giles, C. Green, Verlander, M. Gonzalez

Guys on your team I’d keep: Yelich, Avila, J. Wilson, C. Morton, J. Gray

This structure helped me tremendously.  Let’s walk through my belief process:

  1. Harper is actually available – ✅
  2. I possess players this owner is actually very interested in – ✅
  3. Some combination of the players he loves and likes are an acceptable risk for me to exchange for Harper at $60 – ✅
  4. If I don’t make this deal, there should still be value available in trade or at auction – ✅

And there you have it – a trade (action) was made all because the belief was solidified by the structure of the message well in advance.  Once I believed it could happen, actually making the decision became much easier (for both of us).

Lesson One: The real application here is that communication is everything when it comes to trading players within your league.  If you want to make more trades, you have to communicate more often, but also more effectively.  Brian’s clear structure was essential in helping me check off the decision points on a high profile Harper trade, and his ability to communicate specifically about his interests allowed me to quickly connect my players to his needs for a player I was also trying to convince myself to buy.  Brian’s structure helped me believe we could actually get there this time.

If you’re having trouble making trades, first ask yourself, what belief am I trying to tap into? Sometimes it’s easier to start with the belief you want the other party to understand rather than the action (acceptance) you want them to take.  For example, I wanted Brian to visualize that his team would be even more competitive with Justin Verlander ($17), Tommy Pham ($4), Luis Gohara ($3), Chad Green ($3), and the $43 in salary savings than with Bryce Harper ($60) and Garrett Richards ($10).  More specifically, I wanted him to see that he would have to carry fewer starting pitchers to reach the 1,500 Ottoneu innings cap because Verlander is projected to throw an extra 60 innings.  Once he believed this to be true, he took action and accepted.

How can you streamline your communication to better understand (and shape) your co-owner’s beliefs? Here are some suggestions.

Whether he knows it or not, Brian also communicated something else effectively in this negotiation after I initially balked about the difficulty of fitting Harper’s massive salary into my $400 budget.  He looked at my roster and said, “I know it might make your budget tight, but wouldn’t it be fun to own both Trout and Harper in the same season?”

Lesson Two: Communication is most effective when it successfully appeals to both sides of the brain: our logical, rational, process-oriented, left side of the brain, and our emotional, big-picture, meaning-making right side of the brain. Unfortunately, our data-driven society often overemphasizes left-brain information, which often doesn’t do the trick (making ideas stick).  This would be the equivalent of showing you several charts and graphs about how many stray dogs are in the country instead of showing you a few slow-play videos of forlorn puppies that need a good home.  Now enter fantasy baseball, where an economics platform like Ottoneu is so sabermetrically driven that we often just throw out raw numbers and assume everyone in the room gets the full story.

Data is important, but without context (story), it doesn’t really grab us like it should.  Instead, both sides of the brain need to be engaged, and it’s hard to do that without communicating something that appeals to our emotions.  In this case, Brian was exactly right: no matter how rosy my team projections (data) looked on paper with Harper on my roster, the core selling point was the excitement of knowing how fun (emotion) it would be to watch both Trout and Harper mash in my lineup every day next season.  In the end, my heart-strings were tugged by the thought of making two generational talents my own for the first (and most likely last) time in my fantasy career.

Fear and anxiety can be powerfully effective emotions, too.  As one owner said to me recently about his hesitation to trade away Carlos Correa, “whenever I think about moving Correa, I see myself starting the season with Andrelton Simmons and maybe the corpse of Rougned Odor as two of my three middle infielders.” Don’t underestimate the power of humor, either.

When it comes to trade negotiation, communication is everything.  The takeaway here is that when negotiating a trade, don’t forget to speak to both sides of the brain by linking data and story together to form the belief that is needed to get your leaguemates to move to action.


We hoped you liked reading How To Talk Trade 2.0 by Trey Baughn!

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Trey is a 20 year fantasy veteran and a five time Ottoneu champion, including the 2015 winner of the Ottoneu Champions League. He currently administers the Ottoneu community, a network of ~1,000 fantasy baseball and football fans. More resources here:

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I’m not always a fan of soft skills articles, but this was really great and helpful. Thanks!

Brad Johnson

*checks his article history*

hmm, this feels directed at somebody… 🙂