ROTISSERIE: HQ-WONK—Wandering in the wilderness

Now that Vladimir Guerrero (3B, TOR) has made it to the majors, Twitter prospect watchers have been increasingly turning their attention to 18-year-old Wander Franco (SS, TAM).

There's been video of Franco laying into batting practice fastballs. There have also been the statistical snapshots that have begun to make a promotion to Double-A already feel overdue, silly as that seems. 

I've tried my best to avoid it all. You see, I simply can't risk falling in love.

As soon as I learned I had been lucky enough to land, via lottery, the No. 1 overall pick in the reserve round of BaseballHQ's Writer's ONly Keeper League, a.k.a. WONK, I realized two things: one, I would have the opportunity to select the best prospect not to have been rostered in the auction portion of the draft; and two, if all went according to plan, I would likely be trading that prospect in my quest to become WONK's inaugural champion.

Each year, as the at-bats and innings pitched pile up in a keeper league, it becomes increasingly clear which teams have a chance to win it all and which don't. Though some may disagree, this writer, at least, believes that means figuring out as soon as possible which camp you will be in: the one trading away prospects to try to grab the brass ring, or the one on the receiving end of those transactions.

To be sure, you should resist giving up on an inexplicably underachieving team prematurely, if it could legitimately resurrect its chances overnight. But the longer you sit on the fence, the more you risk harming your team's fortunes, either in the short or long term.

The reason is what's known as the first-mover advantage. "A market participant has first-mover advantage if it is the first entrant and gains a competitive advantage through control of resources," reads the (at least moderately accurate) Wikipedia page on the subject.

In a keeper league, there are two categories of "resources." For the contending teams, the key resources are the premium non-keepers who will have the greatest impact on the standings. For rebuilding teams, the important resources are the elite prospects (and low-salary major leaguers) best suited to serve as cornerstones for a return to contention.

By season's end, any number of these resources will have changed hands. But the cream of the crop—the $62 Mike Trout (OF, LAA) on one end (actual WONK salary) and Franco on the other—will likely only change hands once. Chances are, they will have ended up on the teams who were first to commit to a course of action, whether that is to rebuild or to go for it, and who became the "first entrants" into the trade market.

My team, I have decided, is firmly in the "go for it" camp. I have reached that determination with the help of our league website's "Projected Standings" feature (see photo at the top of this column). No, I don't take such projections as gospel, nor should you. It is always best to give the projections a "sanity check," to see if the projections embody unrealistic expectations for any of your players. But in this case, the projections do comport, at least to some degree, with what I hope is a dispassionate assessment of my team.

(If your stats service does not offer such a tool or you have not been keeping your Rotolab draft software updated in season, you may need to do some quick-and-dirty math to ensure you aren't viewing your team through rose-colored glasses.)

Of course, it's all well and good that I'd like to be a "first mover." In fantasy baseball, I need to convince someone to move with me. That's easier said than done, especially this early in the season, when teams are perhaps understandably reluctant to give up on the current season.

Furthermore, one thing that would probably backfire is if I started delivering heavy-handed diagnoses: "Your team is bad. You should look to 2020." Even if that assessment turns out to be accurate, such a message is only going to engender ill will if the owner is not ready to hear it.

Nor in a league of experienced expert players would assembling a dossier of Franco's selling points be a good use of my time. If a player has got the goods like Franco, such puffery should be unnecessary. Conversely, if I'm trying to put lipstick on a pig, an over-the-top sell job is likely only to get me mocked—and rightfully so.

So what should I be doing to encourage my dance partner to reveal himself? Here are a few thoughts.

Plant the seed. While it may be too soon for the full-court press, it can never hurt to provide a gentle reminder of what you have to offer. No, you may not have the opportunity to do something as "meta" as writing a column that doubles as an announcement of a player's availability to your league mates. But some lighthearted banter in a league-wide email like, "Wow. Did you see that Wander Franco hit two home runs last night? That's three in two days! Can't believe he only just turned 18!" might put the player on people's radar to a greater degree than he was already. You can perhaps make mention of the fact that you are willing to discuss trading the player, but you want to resist seeming overly eager to deal him, unless there is some urgency on your end, such as a category that will become a lost cause if you do not address it quickly.

Stress the scarcity. Rather than needlessly pumping up the player's attributes, a more persuasive technique may be to offer a gentle reminder that you only have one Wander Franco to trade, and once he's gone, he's gone. The "scarcity principle" is a proven powerful persuasive technique. As one writer explains, "You want what is in short supply. This desire increases as you anticipate the regret you might have if you miss out by not acting fast enough." The advantage to this technique is that it is, in a literal sense, 100 percent true. It is not the type of snake-oil salesmanship that could harm your chances of doing repeat business with a trade partner, an important consideration in a long-term keeper league.

Highlight the declining value of non-keepers. For the team acquiring a prospect like Franco, it makes little difference whether they acquire him in May or August. Either way, that player's contributions will come in future seasons. Instead, all the urgency to get a deal done sooner than later is on the side of the "win now" team that would benefit more from having a non-keeper for four or five months, instead of two. That's not to say that issuing ultimatums or drop-dead dates are a smart strategy. Again, heavy handedness is to be avoided. There are subtler ways to get across the point, "After a certain date, it's simply not going to be worth it to trade Franco for Non-Keeper X." If you are dealing with a savvy owner, they'll get the point.

Develop a wish list. Just because your perfect trade partner may not be ready to come to the table does not mean you cannot start to develop a list of ideal targets. An important, at-times-overlooked consideration here is whether your league has an in-season salary cap. In a league with a tight salary cap, a $20 George Springer (OF, HOU) might be a more valuable acquisition than a $50 Trout (OF, LAA), insofar as the additional $30 cap space preserves flexibility to address other team needs. (Indeed, in leagues with a tight in-season cap, "bang for the buck" is a crucial strategy, but that's a story for a different column.) But WONK has no in-season cap, so I can disregard salary and look almost exclusively at talent as I develop my list of trade targets.

Open a line of communication. If I know my team's biggest need is going to be, say, starting pitching, I can scan rosters to see which top-flight starters are on teams that may decide to rebuild and open lines of communication with those teams. But I probably won't even mention specific players in my initial approach. In my day job as a print journalist, one tried-and-true technique of "source cultivation" is to build trust by not having an "agenda" (i.e., to get quotes or procure documents) every time you speak to someone. Buy the source a cup of coffee. Ask about their families. Talk about your favorite bands. Then, if the day comes to make the "big ask," the ice is already broken. You should always want to foster good relations with all of your league mates, of course, and if you've assembled your league well, the banter flows naturally. But if in the back of my mind I know, "Somewhere down the line, I'm going to want to ask him about Max Scherzer (OF, WAS)," I may make a little extra effort to stay in touch.

Will any of this work? It's hard to say. All fantasy leagues have unique personalities, and the early returns on WONK suggest that trading activity is going to be slow to materialize. (Indeed, as of this writing, my preseason swap with Matt Cederholm of Aaron Hicks (OF, NYY) for Billy Hamiton (OF, KC) stands as WONK's only trade.)

But if and when a WONK owner realizes that that he'd like to build his team around a certain Rays shortstop phenom, he at least knows that I'll be ready to talk.

Sometimes, that's all you can do.  


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