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Charging the Mound: Trading Season

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson is a co-founder of RotoWire and the only two-time winner of Baseball Writer of the Year from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He's also in the FSWA Hall of Fame. He roots for the Reds, Bengals, Red Wings, Pacers and Northwestern University (the real NU).

-----Original Message-----
From: "Jeff Erickson"
Sent: Tuesday, May 31, 2011 1:13pm
Subject: Charging

I wanted to start this week talking about the Diamondbacks, given their recent ascent to first place in the division in the NL West. But I won't spend too much time there, because both Joe Sheehan in his newsletter and Brad Evans on Yahoo covered them this week. Instead, let's talk about a related issue that we brought up in Monday's show - the major league trading market and how we can transfer the lessons learned to our fantasy leagues.

The Diamondbacks are in first place right now, despite getting lower than expected production from Justin Upton, Kelly Johnson and to a certain extent Chris Young. They also have a somewhat shaky back end of the rotation with Zach Duke and Joe Saunders, plus the potential that Josh Collmenter crashes to earth. Their bullpen, especially J.J. Putz and David Hernandez, has been much better and they've gotten a lot of mileage from unlikely hitters Ryan Roberts and Willie Bloomquist.

If I wanted to improve this team right now, I'd look for starting pitching and an improvement over Gerardo Parra in left field. The former might present an inventory problem - just how many teams are selling pitching right now? But I have to imagine the latter is more attainable right now.

But the bigger issue is this: why aren't more teams trading now? We're two months into the season. Certain needs for each team should become readily apparent. I know that contending teams are wary of making "White Flag" deals, but what about team like the Astros and Twins, when does reality kick in? The benefits for contending teams to trade is obvious, but shouldn't sellers find this a good time to deal too?

While we're at it, help me identify players that will/should get traded. Jose Reyes and K-Rod are good bets on the Mets, but who else? If you're Kevin Towers, which teams are you calling while looking for help for the Diamondbacks?

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Wednesday, June 1, 2011 3:25am
Subject: Re: Charging

First off, happy 40th birthday. Hope you did something enjoyable, legal and spiritually transformative.

I think the Diamondbacks could win that division, especially with the Giants losing Buster Posey and Ubaldo Jimenez not pitching well for the Rockies and reportedly losing velocity on his fastball and slider. And while Roberts and Collmenter are probably playing over their heads, Upton, Kelly Johnson and Young will probably pick it up. I agree they could use a left field bat - or promote Brandon Allen and give him a shot - but the starting pitcher is probably more urgent. The Cubs are already toast, so maybe they'd make Ryan Dempster, signed through 2012 for $13 million per year, available. At this point, the Cubs might just decide to save the money if they were offered even a middling prospect. The Orioles would probably move Jeremy Guthrie for a decent prospect as well, though he's cheaper, and will be a free agent at year's end. I'm not sure those are game changers, but they'd certainly help.

But as we've talked about on the SXM show - if you're the Diamondbacks, you'd be much better served to deal sooner rather than later because you get the upgrade for a longer period of time. It's similar to fantasy in that acquiring a player today gives you four months of his services, while doing so at the trade deadline gets you only two. The only advantage to waiting - if you're the acquiring team - is you know where you stand with a little more certainty, whether you team really is a contender or not. The problem with that is even in late July, there are still two months to fall out of contention, no matter what move you make. Also, not making the move because you're not sure you're a contender can be a self-fulfilling prophecy - because you did not improve in May, you were not a contender in July. Even if Dempster or Guthrie would only add one or two wins over those months, they might go deeper into games and rest the bullpen as well. Also, I could see an argument that management making the move and committing to winning now in and of itself raises the expectations of the club. It's not really quantifiable, but having the confidence of management certainly can't hurt.

The seller, on the other hand, has no incentive to deal early. In an ideal world, the buyer's incentive would accrue to the seller because teams would pay more to have players for a longer period, but in practice, that doesn't seem to happen. It might be because some GMs are terrified of trading prospects and taking on salary for a team that ultimately fails, so they wait as long as they can, and so the seller is better served to wait until there are more bidders before dealing. In other words, if there's only one risk-taking GM willing to make serious offers in May, why sell to him when you know four others will get into the market two months later?

As for your question about the Astros and Twins, I'd say yes - both should punt on this season and think only for the future. The Twins if healthy have a good enough team - especially with Justin Morneau hitting two home runs tonight, but with Francisco Liriano, Joe Mauer and Joe Nathan on the DL, it's going to be too hard to leapfrog four teams and make up 15.5 games. I'd say their chances of making the playoffs right now have to be about one percent, which is about three times as likely as the Astros making it.

My question for you is what moves do you make if you're the Twins or Astros, and anticipating that, how would a fantasy owner capitalize on them?

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Wednesday, June 1, 2011 8:18pm
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: Re: Charging

From a fantasy perspective, I'd be looking to add Kyle Gibson and maybe Kevin Slowey from the Twins. The former more because he's going to get a chance to start for them at some point, the latter because I could easily envision another team trading for him when his value is at its lowest. They're having a ton of trouble scoring runs, so I don't see many of their hitters with much ability getting dealt - maybe Michael Cuddyer, who would interest me if he got traded (and of course, in any sort of league with depth, he's long gone). Ben Revere might back into playing time if one of the Twins' outfielders is sent away, and his stolen base potential interests me.

If I'm the Astros' GM, I'd do what it takes to move Carlos Lee. I understand that his contract makes him really hard to deal. I wanted to cite the Vernon Wells deal as inspiration that it could happen, but at least Wells had a good season last year and can play a semblance of defense, if not at his once-elite level. But he's absolutely an anchor for this team - the Astros absolutely have to realize that they're not going to win this year, or next year even. Keeping Lee around serves no purpose. Even if he's a better hitter right now than, say, Brian Bogusevic, it would still be better for them to at least see if Bogusevic is worthy of a platoon spot or something else of that ilk. You'd also get the side benefit of better defense in the outfield for the Astros' collection of young pitchers. I'd also find room for Jason Bourgeois to play - be it in the outfield or at second base, triumphant return of Jeff Keppinger notwithstanding. In fact, Bourgeois is probably the one Astro position player I'd really look to own for the second half - and he's only 11% owned right now in Yahoo leagues thanks to his oblique injury. Jordan Lyles made his MLB debut as a starter, but he might just get sent back down once Wandy Rodriguez returns.

The one advantage an early seller might have is that he's the only game in town. If he can sell the fact that nobody is else is providing that pitcher that a contender so desperately needs right now, he should at least in theory be able to exact a premium, right? All they need to do is point to the example of the Brewers trading for CC Sabathia to show how important it is for those contenders to buy now. I guess there are those owners, though, so motivated by the short-term attendance bottom-line, that they won't allow for that to happen - especially for someone like the Twins, who expected to contend and thus have good attendance in their new ballpark. The Astros should not have such constraints.

I guess the real equation is "how many legitimate sellers" vs. "how many legitimate buyers." I wonder which class of GM/owners is more risk-averse? I always thought it was the selling off side - it's not fun to give up on a season, at least at the big league level. In fantasy leagues it can be better to rebuild, though I think it's often botched by rebuilding teams, leaving them in a perpetual cycle. On second thought, I guess that also happens frequently at the major league level.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Thursday, June 2, 2011 12:31am
Subject: Re: Charging

The buyers have to be more scared than the sellers. If you're out of contention, i.e., a seller, and you have a player in a contract year, your downside is saving some salary and not getting enough for your player. But that can always happen, and if you let him walk via free agency (or in fantasy terms, let his contract expire), you get nothing except some draft picks. So long as the haul is worth more than the draft choices, you've won by making a deal. The buyer, on the other hand, is taking on salary and giving up on prospects who could become huge stars for what? For a chance to get into the playoffs, which means a chance to be a 7:1 dog to win a World Series. You might make up the money by increased attendance, but you'll give that back in the future if you don't win, and your farm system is depleted of players who people would pay to see.

Now I think sellers should be as savvy as possible about getting a good haul and not simply accept anything better than the draft picks just to save money. This also applies to fantasy - don't deal Jacoby Ellsbury if steals are bunched extremely tightly for a decent prospect just because he's in a contract year, and you don't need him. If he's a game changer in your league, make sure you get a big-time prospect in return, even if no one initially wants to pony up. Yes, it's better than letting his contract expire, but if no one in my league is smart enough to make a legit offer for him, I'd probably just let him lapse. You can't change the balance of your league for peanuts, and you'd have to decide whether you want to play with a bunch of risk-averse morons the following year. But more likely, someone will come around with something decent, and you'll make the deal. You don't have to "win" every deal, but you at least want to split the collective windfall 40/60. I won't take a 20/80 split of the collective windfall, i.e., the sum total by which both teams are better off, just because I'm better off than I would have been. Of course, if someone offers you Bryce Harper for Ellsbury in June, you take it without even inquiring whether there are other bidders.

In real life, GMs are usually too risk averse because they can be publicly reviled and wind up losing their livelihoods if a trade goes bad. But in fantasy you should be willing to part with your prospects early and often once you've decided you're a contender. The other benefit you have in fantasy is you're not playing in a 30-team league. If your roster is strong you've probably got a 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 chance at worst to win.