Recognize When You Have Real Leverage

When trades go painfully awry – in the kind of way that causes serious leaguewide drama – it’s often because a fantasy manager has misread an opportunity to leverage a premium player.

You know the story. A rival announces they’re shopping an elite player like Christian Yelich. It’s the offseason so let’s frame this as a winter swap. That means we’re playing keeper or dynasty. You indicate you’re willing to “pay the price at any cost.” Then a trade is executed without your involvement. Perhaps it’s a bundle of blue chip, modest-ceilinged prospects like Luis Urias, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Cristian Pache, and Taylor Trammell. You know you would have offered more. It’s frustrating.

An alternate scenario: a Yelich trade is announced out of the blue. No warning. No, “hey, this is about to happen.” Blissful peace is torn asunder without warning. The Cranberries show up to sing. ~With their tanks and their bombs and their bombs and their guns. In your head, in your head, they are crying.~

If the above hypothetical looks a little familiar, it’s because I wrote three articles about the exact trade two weeks ago (The Cranberries never showed). Our league is a 25-team, keep-30 deep dynasty format. Today’s post is part four of the trilogy. Nobody asked for it, but the studio (me) thinks they really have a handle on the formula. The first three parts were such box office hits. Now who’s ready for a crystal skull!

You might recall the deal – Yelich for Urias, Hayes, Pache, and Trammell – was agreed to then later withdrawn via a trade recision clause in our constitution. Said clause locked Yelich to his former owner’s roster for 14 days before he could be traded again. Well, 14 days have passed. Guess what happened?

Yelich was traded for a package of Javier Baez, J.T. Realmuto, Kyle Crick, and FYPD picks 1.12 and 4.14. You might be thinking that’s a plausible return. It is. But the Yelich owner also handed away Zach Eflin, Manuel Margot, and picks 1.05 and 2.21. Sounding a little less plausible? He did this without announcing to the league Discord channel that a deal was on the cusp of completion. And so uproar ensued.

The trade itself isn’t so important. We don’t need to dissect motivations or critique the value of certain players or those of the alternate trade offers (some of which are public knowledge to our league). It only needed to be shared for context. And to complete the saga – this deal will not be revoked.

This is a post about negotiation. Long time readers might recall my feelings about trade leverage – it is often greatly exaggerated. Pulling a number straight from my bum, nine out of 10 instances when a fantasy player claims to have leverage over another, it’s purely smoke and mirrors.

The most famous example is the ol’ “can’t-be-kept stud-on-a-non-contender” scenario. Imagine you’re rebuilding and desperately trying to deal an unkeepable Clayton Kershaw. Would-be buyers won’t offer more than a forgettable piece. No, you don’t want Josh VanMeter and Rowdy Tellez. Unless only one team is competing for first place (get a new league), the opportunity cost of a no-deal is steep on both sides of the equation. It’s just more obvious to the non-contender. This is why real MLB trades often wait until moments before the trade deadline. Patience is required.

While I’ll largely pooh-pooh the concept of trade leverage, there are times when it’s undeniable. For instance, when you’re shopping Christian Yelich in a 25-team dynasty league. This is an opportunity to build a dais, install a large, sumptuous throne, surround it with liveried servants, and request a thorough wooing while you cool your heels. There’s no need to rush into a trade. What do you think the Indians are doing with Francisco Lindor?*

*I didn’t use Mookie Betts as the example because David Price might be complicating talks.

What could have Yelich’s owner done in our league to improve his return? Easiest is to call out a leaguewide warning via our various messaging systems. Something to the effect of “I’m strongly considering an offer for Yelich. Please submit your best offers in the next 48 hours if you want to participate.”

Remember, if you own Yelich, you have the power. You can take your time with it. While some fantasy owners get pissy when their trade offers are shopped, nobody is walking away from acquiring Yelich at a fair price. It might be poor form to shop a negotiated offer for, say, Kevin Kiermaier. It’s also at least as poor form to fail to widely shop an elite talent like Yelich. Kiermaier doesn’t affect league parity. Yelich might. Especially if he’s acquired cheaply.

With appropriate warning, if anybody was pulling their punches, they’d know it was finally time to let loose. Speaking of pulled punches, my co-owner and I fielded the best prospect-led package – a trio of Royce Lewis, Austin Riley, and Pache. This package was specifically designed by the Yelich owner. This is what he requested from us (as was the first trade). We were willing to go above and beyond it by including Urias, Hayes, Trammell, somebody else, and/or our 1.15 draft pick. All for just¬†Yelich. Had he explicitly asked for more**, he would have gotten it.

**To be fair, he did privately reach out to warn us he was “leaning” toward a Baez-led offer. My co-owner and I wrongly assumed we had days, not hours, to respond. So we left a message asking why he switched his focus from future to present value. That was the last pre-deal communique.¬†

Some fantasy players relish long negotiations. Some prefer to conclude them as quickly as possible. Both approaches can be effective for fantasy management. But you also need to be willing to step outside your comfort zone for certain circumstances. The aforementioned Yelich trade isn’t unconscionable. It’s also clearly not a “final” or “best” offer. Nobody was made to sweat. No bidding wars were solicited. Leverage was not… levered.

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Vegan Man!
Vegan Man!

I still think my Alonso, 1.06, Cueto (who he asked for), and Ademan for just Yelich was his best offer. I even prefer my Kelenic, Kirilloff, and 1.06 offer to what was accepted (if he wanted FV).