Surplus vs. Roster – Building and Evaluating Trades

The ottoneu Slack community continues to be a great place to discuss strategy, get feedback, and more. One of the more active channels is Trade Review, where you can talk about ongoing trade discussions and get feedback from the crowd, and on that channel, there tend to be two camps in this off-season window – those who only care about player values and those who care about roster construction.

The value-only camp looks almost exclusively at surplus value in a trade. Surplus value is the production a player provides above his salary. The theory here is that every team has the same budget, so the team that gets the most production per dollar spent will win the league. By this thinking, a player with $20 in value and a $5 salary has a $15 surplus and is a more valuable asset than a $40 player with a $35 salary and only $5 in surplus. The argument is that you can take the $5 player, spend $31 in the auction on a player worth exactly that $31, and end up with $36 spent and $51 in value, or you can take the $35 player, sign a $1 player worth $1, and have $36 spent and $41 in value.

The roster-construction camp argues that surplus isn’t everything – yes, you have your set budget ($400 in ottoneu) to work with, but you also have the same roster constraints. The team that wins won’t be the team with the most surplus value, but the team that gets the most production from their active roster slots. In ottoneu, if your 22 starting spots accrue 725 points each, you won’t win with 15,950 points, no matter how much surplus you have or how good your bench is.

The Surpluser vs. Rosterer debate is strongest when there is a deal in which one team is giving up surplus (or even taking on a player whose salary is greater his value) because of a roster fit. Here’s a hypothetical example:

Team A has a deep OF, maybe eight players, all worth about $15, none paid more than $5. Team B has a $45 SS who is paid the full $45. The Rosterers would say trading one of those OF for the SS is a great move for A. They would be moving decent production from their bench and adding elite production to their lineup. Sure, they have a less valuable roster, but they have a more productive roster. The Surplusers would say to ask for more than the SS in return or to hold – why spend the extra $40 AND give up a useful piece, when you can spend that $40 on a $40 SS at the auction. But, the Rosterers would reply, what if that $40 SS won’t be available in the auction? Or will get paid $50 or more?

Honestly, it is a difficult debate and, as with most things in life, I will preach a combination of information and moderation.

As for information, you should know the general values of the players in the deal and how those values compare to their salaries. If the deal discussed has you taking on a set of players who cost far more than they are worth – or giving up players worth far less – you should know that and you should probably reconsider before accepting.

In addition, though, you need to know your league and the expected free agent market. In one of my leagues, most of the owners have made their cuts and Adrian Gonzalez is about the only roster-worthy 1B currently in the FA pool. A couple others will likely join the party by the 1/31 cut deadline, but in that league, I would take a bigger risk to acquire a 1B than I would in others.

As for the moderation, you don’t want to go overboard in either direction. No matter what the Surplusers tell you, you probably shouldn’t make a bunch of deals for 3B paid $10 and worth $20 and end up with 10 3B and an unplayable roster everywhere else. On the other hand, if you keep overpaying to fill “needs” via trade, you’ll run out of assets to trade and money to spend before you build a competitive roster.

When you are trading (or making keep/cut decisions), you need to:

  1. Know how you value players
  2. Know how those values compare to salaries
  3. Understand your league dynamics (are there no 1B available? does this league overpay RP?)
  4. Seek to maximize the value AND production of your roster by adding surplus while also maximizing your usable value

Easier said than done, but it is the path to building a winning team.

We hoped you liked reading Surplus vs. Roster – Building and Evaluating Trades by Chad Young!

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Chad Young is a product manager at Amazon by day and a baseball writer (RotoGraphs, Let's Go Tribe), sports fan and digital enthusiast at all times. Follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.

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brian_msbc
Member
brian_msbc

I think of a $30 player as a $30 asset. Your $30 is also an asset. So, in order to correctly value a trade, you have to factor in both assets. If a $30 player is $25, then you are getting a $30 asset AND $5 in cash assets ($30-$25). So his true value is $35. Likewise, a $20 player at $5 would be a $20 asset plus $15 in savings so he would also be a $35 total value.

brian_msbc
Member
brian_msbc

A $30 player at $30 is just a $30 asset at $30, which is a $30 value.

brian_msbc
Member
brian_msbc

So a $30 player at $25 for a $20 player at $5 would be an even trade. To add names to it, in a 5×5 league ill sau Jake Arrieta is a $30 player, and maybe Johnny Cueto is a $20 player. So someone looking to shed cap might off a $25 Arrieta for a $5 Cueto, and that would be a fair trade. Agree?

brian_msbc
Member
brian_msbc

I should call it $35 in trade value. $30 in assets and $5 in surplus value = $35 trade value. From a mathematical standpoint, it makes sense what you are saying… But talent isn’t infinitely available. At somepoint you have to spend money to get the top talent, and it’s not always available in the auction. There is value to owning a top player at the position before the auction. I can’t just hand over my $375 in cash and get my $375 in players back. The players have to be available. In my 5×5, I’m fairly confident the ONLY decent 3B that will be on the market is Adrian Beltre, if you don’t get him, it’s a huge drop off.