Dynasty, in Practice: A Trading Triptych

A trio of trade questions that serve as a launching point for a discussion of trading philosophies.

Judging by my email inbox and my twitter feed, I can confidently state two things. First, dynasty owners love trading. Second, dynasty owners wish they were better at trading. In the last two weeks, I’ve received three trade questions that served as great launching off points for a broader discussion on when and how to trade.

I’m going to take those trade questions and tweak them a bit to hide any personally identifiable information while still preserving what made them such great teachable moments. Hopefully you can recognize a bit of yourself in the questions, and find a bit of value in the responses.

Question #1- Trading A Superstar

Owner: I own Le’Veon Bell in a 12-team, standard-scoring dynasty league. I’ve decided to sell him. Is Devonta Freeman, Chris Ivory, and Randall Cobb too much to ask for?

Adam: Whether Freeman, Ivory, and Cobb is too much is ultimately a question for the Freeman, Ivory, and Cobb owner to answer. By my dynasty value charts, though, Bell has a value of 906.3, Freeman has a value of 676.1, Cobb has a value of 357.9, and Ivory has a value of 278.7. By my values, that would be an overpay of 45%; I would be prepared for the other owner to decline and counter, (or possibly to decline and cut off all discussion entirely.)

Owner: I saw your value charts. The problem is that anything that seems fair by your charts just doesn’t feel like enough for me. I happen to be a huge Le’Veon Bell fan. I’m really hesitant about letting him go. That’s why I’m asking for so much.

Adam: Keep in mind that my value charts should only serve as a starting point. Owners are free, (and, in fact, encouraged), to adjust the charts to better reflect their own beliefs and their league’s specific market values.

If I might say… I have Bell rated as the most valuable dynasty asset in standard scoring leagues by a large margin. If you are a huge fan of his, why do you feel compelled to sell him? Even if someone offers you a large overpayment, it’s never a bad thing to just hold on to the most valuable player in fantasy. The goal of building a roster is to land a cornerstone talent like Bell. You shouldn’t necessarily feel compelled to trade him now that you have him.

But if you do want to trade him, you must recognize that liking a player has value, too. Fantasy is supposed to be fun. Winning is fun, but so is owning players you enjoy watching and rooting for. If Le’Veon Bell is one of your favorite players and you are hesitant to let him go, take his chart value and add a couple hundred points. Try your best to quantify your fandom. Maybe instead of 906.3, you want to value Le’Veon Bell at 1106.3. And if no one is willing to overpay enough to meet that new inflated price, then so be it; you hold Bell.

Many in dynasty have put too much emphasis on buying low and selling high. You don’t have to sell just because the value is high. In fact, you want players whose value is high. You should instead be selling players whose value is too high. I’d rather phrase it as “buy players who are undervalued and sell players who are overvalued, regardless of their price”.

Question #2- Cutting Through Complexity

Owner: In my PPR dynasty league, I offered a fellow owner Michael Floyd for LeGarrette Blount. I had a short-term need at running back, she is deep at the position and has some long-term issues at receiver. It seemed like an easy win/win.

The owner countered back offering LeGarrette Blount, Charcandrick West, Antonio Gates, Gary Barnidge, a 2016 fourth and fifth, a 2017 fifth, and a 2018 third. In exchange, I give her Michael Floyd, Greg Olsen, my 2017 2nd. Also, we would flip first-round picks in 2016, (mine projects to be somewhere in the middle, hers projects to be late).

I’m not opposed to making a larger deal, but I don’t even know how to make heads or tails of this. Am I winning? Am I losing? I’ve tried to go back to my simple Floyd-for-Blount deal, but she declined, saying it was all of this or nothing.

Adam: Beware owners who are trying to put players on their side of a trade that you never asked about or expressed any interest in. It usually means they view those players as toxic and are trying to swindle someone into buying them at market value, (or even a little bit above), before the bottom falls out.

Perhaps this owner was entirely on the level, but her behavior certainly seems fishy, especially the move to unilaterally ratchet up the complexity and the resistance to all calls to de-escalate. Also fishy? Looking at the trade, I see three assets appearing on your side that all had higher value than the initial parameters.

Blount for Floyd is a low-stakes trade, the type of general end-of-roster shaping that goes on all the time in dynasty. Yet he used that as a wedge to open the door to a much larger trade.

With that said, there is profit to be made in complexity, provided you are able to cut through it. Part of the reason I started doing dynasty value charts this year was to help cut through complexity and simplify trades like this.

But before we had value charts, dynasty owners had little tricks to help clear up confusing trades and see to the heart. Mostly, they relied on simple rules of thumb, or heuristics. One such heuristic was the idea that, in any given trade, the owner who received the most valuable piece likely won the deal.

In the new trade, it’s clear that the “most valuable piece” is either going to be Greg Olsen or your own 2016 first. And you're winding up with neither of them, which is a bad sign. The next-most-valuable piece is probably your 2nd rounder, too. (Some would argue that it’s Michael Floyd or LeGarrette Blount, and I think both of those players also have a strong case.)

Another trick for simplifying trades is to break them down into a series of smaller comparisons. You already established that you viewed Floyd for Blount as a fair swap. So let’s take them out of consideration. Now let’s group the tight ends. Olsen should outscore Gates and Barnidge in the short term, and his long-term outlook is rosier than theirs, too. There’s some value to redundancy, but you’re probably better off with Olsen alone than with two other old and uncertain TEs combined.

That leaves Charcandrick West, a 3rd, a 4th, and two 5ths for a 2nd and the pick swap in the 1st. This looks like a classic “overwhelm with numbers and hope the other guy doesn’t notice that they’re worthless” move. Players available in the 4th and 5th rounds do not differ substantially in quality from the guys you’ll be able to get off waivers after the draft is over. Feel free to ignore them entirely. That leaves a 3rd rounder, (in 2018, no less!), and a lottery ticket in West for a 2nd and a downgrade in the 1st round. Once again, not a favorable deal for you.

Your trade partner took a reasonable offer and tacked on two more sub-deals, both of which were great for her and bad for you. I’m willing to bet she was hoping you’d be too overwhelmed by the number of assets on the table to evaluate objectively. But by keeping in mind a few tricks to simplify big trades, you can see through the chicanery.

Again, I hesitate to read too much into other people’s motivations— your partner might have just gotten excited and tried for a bigger deal that she genuinely felt was fair. But from where I sit, it looks like she was trying to pull one over on you. I’d respectfully decline and make a note to be extra wary in any future dealings with that owner.

Question #3- Overcoming Hesitation

Owner: A leaguemate has offered me Amari Cooper for my Demaryius Thomas. By your charts, I should take the deal, but I’m a strong contender this year and I’m worried about weakening my receivers in the short term with a title on the line. Should I take the deal?

Adam: This question, and various others like it, is far and away the most common one I receive— a question where the asker already knows my answer, but wants to hear it anyway.

Many people believe that writing about fantasy football and giving such facile advice to others when they ask means I must have things pretty figured out, that I must not have any problem making key deals with everything on the line.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. The reason I’m able to answer other people’s queries is because I have emotional distance. Since I’m not entangled in the day-to-day realities, I’m less biased and better able to make hard recommendations.

With my own team, though? Forget about it. I’m a mess. I frequently ask trusted friends for advice or recommendations. I have friends, some of whom are experienced veterans also in the industry, asking me for advice with their teams, too

There’s a funny thing about these questions, though. When I’m asking my friends, I usually know where they stand on a player already. And I ask someone who I think is going to tell me what I already think I should do. And I make no secret of my own positions, so when they ask me what I think, they usually already know. Just like you already suspect what I’m going to say, even mentioning that you’ve seen my answer on my value charts.

Fantasy football is hard. Dynasty is scary, with the potential for bad choices to haunt you for years. Sometimes we know what we should do, and we just need a friendly nudge to get started.

Yes, I would trade Demaryius Thomas for Amari Cooper. I would not sacrifice such potentially huge long-term gains in order to chase the potential for a few extra short-term wins. And I don’t even view the short-term dropoff between them to be that prohibitive.

Moreover, I would say give yourself permission to make mistakes sometimes. The ideal percentage of dynasty trades to win is not 100%. If you’re winning 100% of your trades, that tells me you’re not trading enough. You’re only taking sure things and leaving a lot of opportunities for profit on the table.

An owner who makes 100 trades and wins 70% of them has improved his or her team more than an owner who makes 10 trades and wins 100% of them. The former owner has 40 more wins than losses. The latter has only 10 more.

Occasionally making terrible trades isn’t a failure in dynasty. It’s a sign that you’re being aggressive and taking risks. Again, I don’t think Thomas for Cooper will turn into a terrible trade— I think it will be a great one for you long-term— but if I’m wrong, that’s okay, too. It’s okay to screw up.

I wrote last year about the worst trade I ever made. It was the kind of deal that should have set my franchise back for years. Only it didn’t. Franchises tend to be more resiliant than we think.

Dynasty is really, really hard. That’s why we love it so much. We’re all going to get things wrong. But we can’t let our fear of being wrong hold us back from the chance to be great.

We must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. We will face our fear. We will permit it to pass over us and through us. And when it has gone past we will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only we will remain.

And if you ever again find yourself knowing what you should do but needing a little push, let me know. I can be quite pushy when asked.

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