FANALYTICS: Thumbs down

I've been playing this game way too long and it often gets mind-numbing to read about the same issues year after year.

Sure, I understand that there are always new players to the game who have yet to experience the awe and wonder of rudimentary decision-making. But some issues have been causing conflict for decades and yet the best we can do is write about them and offer feeble Band-Aids.

Admittedly, it does give the topic-challenged writers among us something to drone on about—like here!—and sometimes the Band-Aids do work. But, boy would I love for someone to just get rid of these things once and for all.

I would like to permanently remove one highly-offensive fantasy sports term from the industry lexicon... forever. It's time to just put it to bed. Now.

Let's dump the trade veto.

I have had various opinions about this over the years but the more I've thought about it, the more I've come to realize that vetoes are not only unnecessary, they are harmful to the game.

We might as well start at the source. The underlying impetus for vetoes are lopsided trades. (Yes, that's like saying the underlying impetus for divorce is marriage.)

Yes, there are lopsided trades, or at least trades that have the appearance of being lopsided. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Nobody ever said that a good trade needs to be a balanced trade.

Owners make trades for a variety of reasons. In redraft leagues, particularly in Rotisserie, all that matters are the categories and the standings. Here, unbalanced deals have an important role. If my team is strong in the core offensive categories, I might well deal Jose Bautista for Cody Allen. Those saves might buy me multiple points while the HR/RBIs could be going to a team that can pass my close competitors in those categories.

In keeper leagues, alleged "dump deals" (let's get rid of that term too!) are an integral part of the game. In order for teams to go through their talent cycles, there needs to be a mechanism to move current talent for future talent. Nobody will blink if the Rays deal David Price to a contender for a handful of prospects. We should be allowed to do likewise.

It's the perception of grave imbalance that often causes discord among owners in a league. More likely, it causes discord among the owners who didn't get to make the deal themselves. That's often really the crux of it; it's a matter of timing. The guys who make the dump deal never complain. It's just the guys who miss out.

But the bottom line is that all trades are subjective. Nobody knows how players are going to perform in the future so to place a value judgment on the balance of a deal is pointless. Cody Allen might save 25 games from this point forward while Jose Bautista goes into a prolonged slump. We won't know if a trade is truly unbalanced until the end of the season; in keeper leagues, it could be several seasons down the road.

We just don't know.

But a trade veto is not a solution.

At its root, a veto places the responsibility of judgment on one or more people who:

  • Must be completely objective.
  • Must be completely impartial.
  • Must be able to discern and accept the underlying values and motives of the trade partners.
  • Must be able to predict the future.

Can any one or more people really be objective enough, omniscient enough and prescient enough to appropriately evaluate the intent and eventual result of any trade? Can you trust anyone to possess those qualities?

Certainly not an owner within the league. Despite claims to the contrary, it's tough for someone with any vested interest to be objective and impartial. There are always underlying biases, sometimes blatant, sometimes subtle.

"I'm going to veto this trade between Joe and Jim because..."

  • I can't see how this helps Joe.
  • Joe always finishes at the bottom of the standings and I feel bad for him.
  • Besides, it will help me soften Joe up to make a future deal to help my team.
  • Plus, of course, I really hate Jim.
  • I can't stand the thought of Jim owning that player.
  • I just know that when he gets that player, he's going to try to deal him to me.
  • And it's my favorite player. I don't want to have to deal with that.
  • Of course, it will also help knock Ralph out of first place. That's a good thing.
  • And I haven't used my veto powers all year. This one seems like a good candidate.
  • I’m in a crappy mood.

An external arbiter might be more objective and impartial, but there could still be biases if he knows any members of the league. A complete outsider would be better, but he would likely have a tough time understanding the values and motives of the trade partners. He'd be unfamiliar with the chemistry within the league. He he still might have his own biases about certain players.

And everyone would still be drawing conclusions about what is going to happen in the future.

In essence, the process would suffer simply from us all being human.

Trading is a subjective process. Attempting to govern it using subjective judgment typically causes as many hard feelings as it's intended to prevent.

So let us be consenting adults. Let us be human. 

However...

While everything I wrote above is true, the fact still remains that owners do make bad deals that can have a huge impact on the standings. These deals can cause rifts among owners. And if there is significant money involved, these rifts can become fatal to the league.

And, there is collusion.

Todd Zola once wrote, "The commissioner should not govern; the rules should govern." This is an important point.

Any management of trading activity has to be handled within the rules. The way I see it, a trade veto is akin to changing your league rules in the middle of the season. It's reactive. It's just not done.

So, how do you manage trading activity within the rules while still maintaining a free market?

Some Band-Aids are effective, like in-season salary caps. Some Band-Aids that more significantly impede the free market—like limiting trade activity to teams close in the standings—are less desirable.

Although it paints behavior with a broad brush, sometimes you have to ask the question, "was the infraction the result of stupidity or malice?"

For owners who consistently make bad trades out of "stupidity," those who always get taken by the sharks of the league, it might require some education in the off-season. (Back in the day, we used to conduct what we'd call a "Guppy Intervention.") While this sounds patronizing, it will ultimately help the long-term viability of the league. Owners who consistently finish at the bottom of the standings due to bad in-season management are more likely to drop out completely.

One of your regular activities during the off-season should be to evaluate the health of the league and this could be part of the process.

As for those who muck things up out of "malice," you have to decide how aggressive you want to be in controlling the situation. At the far end, bad owners can be booted. Once the season is over and the results of the perceived unbalanced trade better evaluated (i.e. run a version of the standings as if the trade had not taken place), you might determine what criteria would constitute such a penalty. And write it into the rules.

A more palatable alternative might be to place limits on the size of trades. If you change the rules so that trades must have the same number of players on each side, and perhaps limiting them to 2-for-2 deals, that can serve the purpose of tamping down wild imbalances while still maintaining the free market.

But the governing should come from within the rules, not from veto power.
 

 


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.