Trading for the Final Two Months

This is an updated version of an article originally posted in 2013 and then reposted in 2015, 2017, and 2018. It’s a vitally important exercise to perform, so I think it’s worthwhile to continue to resurface it each season around this time.

Heading into the final two months of the season, the effect any individual player will have on our place in the standings has continued to diminish, which means that this time of year represents one of the final chances to dramatically improve our teams. It probably doesn’t need to be stated, but it’s important to reiterate for those still clinging to preseason values (I usually cling to them far longer than most, but even I know to give them up at this point!) — right now, you need to essentially throw player values out the window and trade for needs based on your position in the various statistical categories. Don’t worry about overpaying if you still expect the trade to net you positive points. Obviously, you want to make a trade that brings back the greatest value in return and gain you the most standings points. However, if the best return offered to you is a player our auction calculator projects to earn $7 the rest of the way for your projected $13 player, it’s still absolutely worth accepting if you determine that accepting the trade would gain you total points.

At various points during the season, I put together a little Excel spreadsheet to help me determine which categories I could gain and lose points in. The exercise helps me identify the type of players to target and which players on my own team are tradeable. It looks like this:

Column A — the scoring metric you are analyzing
Column B — the points I could reasonably gain in each category without any trades or free agent pick-ups
Column C — the points I could reasonably lose in each category, again assuming I don’t trade anyone away and my team remains the same
Column D — the points to gain, plus the absolute value of the points to lose
Total Rows — the points I could reasonably gain and lose in the hitting and pitching categories and overall by adding hitting point gains/losses to pitching

It is important to remember that we’re not attempting to be perfectly accurate by consulting rest of season projections for every fantasy team in your league. That would be far too time consuming and fail to provide much incremental value given the small sample size those forecasts are over. This exercise simply helps you visualize how clustered the scoring categories are and which categories you’re more likely to gain/lose points in over the rest of the season. Remember that when performing this exercise, do not assume any future player pickups or trade acquisitions. It’s strictly based on your current team as it stands at the moment.

Column D is an important column and could really assist you in your trade negotiations. It tells me which categories have the potential for the most total movement. The higher the number, the more urgency there is to improve in that category. A high number usually (but not always) means that there are many points to potentially gain, but that my team is also at great risk of losing points. Sometimes you’ll find yourself at the bottom of the standings in bunched up categories, in which case your high absolute point total will be almost all potential gains with limited loss risk. While the high totals are those I want to focus on shoring up, those categories with the lowest totals are my trade bait.

The ratio categories are a bit more difficult to assess. You could choose to really dive deep by looking at your total at-bats and innings pitched, then running various rest of season rates your team could conceivably post and calculate where your rates would end up given those various rest of season marks. But then you need to also remember that the teams around you could improve or decline in those same categories, so it’s not as cut and dried as just considering the movement of your own team. For that reason, just eye ball it. No need to spend hours trying to forecast the future of every team in your league.

After you set up the categorical table above, you could then set up another worksheet detailing all of your players’ projected rest of season contributions. It might look something like this:

For this table, project whether each player on your roster will contribute positive (+), neutral (blank), or negative (-) value in each category over the rest of the season as compared to replacement level at his position. This enables you to quickly visualize who is contributing in which categories and how that relates to your teams’ strengths and weaknesses. Cross-reference this table with the one above and you will instantly learn who you should be looking to trade away, or even bench. If my team is set in homers and RBI, then Joey Gallo is not providing me with any value. I either bench him or try trading him away. If I’m atop the standings or close to it in batting average and steals, I’m earning little value from Whit Merrifield.

Trading From Depth

In my various fantasy leagues, I consistently see pretty good players sitting on a team’s bench who I believe to have positive value and should be starting for a team. Whether the reason this player is sitting on the bench is because he is in the midst of a cold streak and was reserved “until he heats up” (one of the biggest mistakes a fantasy owner makes) or the owner is starting a better player at the position the reserve player qualifies for, this fantasy owner is giving up potential points.

On the surface, holding onto these players seems like a good idea. They provide a nice safety net in case of injury and peace of mind has emotional value. But you only accrue stats from your active players and guys sitting on your bench are worthless. Why go all season with a $5-$10 player just to have around in the event of an injury? What if that injury never occurs (something you obviously are hoping for!)? You have just wasted an opportunity to parlay your depth into more production from your active roster.

So what’s the solution? A 2-for-1 trade. These are my favorite, though sometimes opposing owners dislike receiving them as they consider it a quantity for quality trade. But this type could still benefit the team receiving the two lesser quality players. By executing this type of trade, you use your depth to improve your active lineup, the group that actually affects your stats. You don’t necessarily have to trade your bench player either; instead, you could opt to trade the better player you currently have active at that position, along with another hitter you decide to upgrade. Move your currently benched player into the slot of the player you traded away and no longer do you have a positive valued player wasting away doing you no good.

Trading is extremely hard and frustrating. Even if you think you made a fair offer, it’s still unlikely to be accepted. Fantasy owners generally grow attached to their players, and if they drafted them, there’s a good chance they value them more than you do (and I value players differently than most, so it’s even harder for me to make trades). Furthermore, no one wants to be the chump who trades for a hot player just to get the cold version over the final two months. Really, the best way to make a trade is to focus on the opposing team’s needs and offer them exactly what they are looking for. There are no guarantees, but your chances skyrocket when you offer Mallex Smith to the team last in steals with six easy points to grab. Of course, that’s if they don’t scoff at the home run points they may lose. You just can’t win!

So after performing a standings and player category contribution analysis, you will hopefully be able to use your newfound knowledge to either trade your team to victory, or manipulate your roster through savvy free agent pickups and benchings en route to that glorious Yoo-hoo shower.

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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Always great to see this post this time of year Mike.