By Eriq Gardner
Everyone has a different philosophy on trading.
There’s usually no right or wrong, but competitors will usually lean towards a certain trading style.
Some owners will get itchy and make trades based upon their position in the standings or their perception of what other competitors are doing. Other owners always want to “win” a deal and will focus foremost on getting the upper hand on value, regardless of need. Some tend to focus heavily on player upside, while others do their best to avoid risk. There’s no limit to the types of psychological dispositions that compel a deal, and it’s always best to try to figure out where your potential trading partner is coming from when opening up a negotiation.
With that said, trades can be classified into five types. With the help of Bloomberg Sports’ brand new Trade Analyzer, here they are:
The Challenge Trade:
The Challenge Trade isn’t about need, per se. Instead, it’s about differing perceptions of value: I like your Tim Lincecum. You like my Roy Halladay. We swap because we both think we’re making out better by completing the swap.
This is easy enough, but very rarely do things match up so elegantly. There’s a good reason, after all, why my player ended up on my own team whereas your player ended up on your team.
Only exigent circumstances would shift valuations significantly.
For example, let’s say you owned Josh Beckett and were disturbed by his 7.64 ERA. You might wish to get rid of him. I, on the other hand, am a pretty patient owner, who won’t let five weeks of stats significantly shake my notion of the struggling Red Sox ace. I might have a pitcher who is currently performing much better — say, Jonathan Sanchez — but may wish to take the odds that a pitcher with a longer track record of success like Beckett will outperform a recent upstart like Sanchez. We make the deal.
Challenge trades are good for opinionated folk. They serve the purpose of settling a bet on who can most accurately forecast player value, But they are nearly impossible to pursue unless you compete in a trade-happy league.
The Utilitarian Trade
The Utilitarian Trade is all about need. In these types of trades, competitors can see eye-to-eye on player value, and still make an exchange based on differing team shortcomings. I trade you my Roy Halladay because you need pitching. You trade me your Alex Rodriguez because I need hitting.
Swaps like this should occur more often, but don’t. There’s a few reasons why this is the case.
First, competitors can be hesitant about admitting a team deficiency or reluctant to make bold moves to redress a situation. Many of us are optimists by competitive nature.
Second, teams don’t always do a great job analyzing the ways they can move forward in the standings. When most people think of a Utilitarian Trade, they think about the big blockbuster above or maybe an obvious one such as speed-for-power. The fact that there’s theoretically an endless supply of trades where trading partners can both pursue smaller gains in the standings usually gets missed.
Third and perhaps most importantly, trade negotiations break down over disagreements about player value. Teams attempting to negotiate a Utilitarian Trade will do so because they see a mutual benefit to the exchange. The deal may be about need, but negotiations can still fall apart based on distractions like, “Who is coming out better?”
These trades are best for teams who can do hard analysis and let ego stand aside.
The Hedge Trade
The Hedge Trade is about anticipating the future and managing both risk and upside. No player’s value is truly stable and teams have different tolerance levels for holding onto assets that may boom or bust.
Injured players, prospects, and ballplayers who are on the verge of a promotion or demotion are always good candidates for trade.
Let’s say I owned injured Baltimore 2B Brian Roberts. He recently told the media that he might be back in three weeks or he might be back in three months. That’s quite a difference. If I’m a conservative fellow, I might accept 75 cents on the dollar. If you’re a gamblin’ man, you might jump at the chance at getting a superstar at a discount. I give you Brian Roberts and you give me Ben Zobrist. Voila.
Similarly, nobody is quite certain when a prospect like Desmond Jennings will be called up and make an impact at the majors. An owner who is excited at Jennings’ potential might make a strong offer.
Or let’s say the owner of Brian Fuentes is a bit worried that the Angels pitcher might be on the verge of losing his closer gig. He might wish to take as much as he can get right now, before the bad news breaks. Maybe he matches well with the team owner who is last in the standings in the saves category, desperate to take a shot at bolstering his bullpen.
These trades are good for teams who are either forward-looking or very short-sighted. There are benefits to be on either side, depending on a team’s position in the standings.
The Depth Trade
In some ways, the Depth Trade looks a lot like the Utilitarian Trade in that one of the two teams is making the deal out of a big need. But in this iteration, the other trading partner has a surplus of talent and can package two or more players together to consolidate the value. In other words, he’s in a position of luxury.
For instance, I give you Torii Hunter and Joey Votto for Albert Pujols. Stated another way, I give you Hunter so that I may upgrade from Votto to Pujols. If Hunter represents a big upgrade for your outfield, the gains you make can outweigh the negatives of downgrading from Pujols to Votto. The deal figures to be a net benefit to both of us.
Obviously, most teams would like to be in the luxury position, which explains why deals
like these aren’t the easiest to pull off. As the Bloomberg Sports tool notes, “As a rule of thumb, in an unbalanced trade you should aim to acquire the best player in the deal.”
That’s a good objective, of course, but the reality is that some teams do stand to benefit from being on the other side and making their team more well rounded. The question is: Can these teams swallow their pride by giving up the best player involved in the transaction?
It’s also important to note that an unbalanced trade like Torii Hunter and Joey Votto for Albert Pujols isn’t really a 2-for-1 trade. After all, the team receiving Hunter and Votto will need to drop another player to clear roster room. The team receiving Pujols will free up a roster spot to pick up another player off of the waiver wire. These factors should also be considered.
The Rebuilding Trade
Finally, we have the Rebuilding Trade, reviled by some and loved by others.
These trades mostly occur in keeper leagues. On one side of the deal is a team who has fallen out of competition and will give up their best stars for future talent. On the other side of the trade is a team who is in the midst of battling for a championship and will give up their best prospects for strong players who can help propel them the final mile.
These types of deals will typically be guided by a league’s incentive and rules structure. Some leagues have a system in place that rewards aggressive long-term roster building. Other leagues are more primed to consider the integrity of current competition foremost and insist upon guidelines to prevent so-called dump deals.
Timing is the biggest consideration in these types of trades. Teams must decide when it’s appropriate to give up on a season and how to attain the best return in a trade. In a future post, we’ll explore negotiating strategies in further depth.