Saturday, June 6, 2009

I doth protest?

It's been a long time since I've played Monopoly, but I do enjoy that game. When I played it as a kid, I liked the different playing pieces (the top hat was my favorite), the various cards, and of course the colorful money. Once the game finally started, you could get down to the business of trying to totally dominate your opponents and ultimately monopolize the board.

And what would a game of Monopoly be without the haggling and dealmaking? I think some of my fondest memories of Monopoly are the different trades I made, tried to make, or observed other people make. And naturally, there would be arguments. Perhaps you would try in vain to get someone to accept your offer--or worse, you'd try to talk someone else out of making a deal that you thought would put another player "over the top."

But in Monopoly, at the end of the day each player is the master of his or her own domain. You might be mad that a certain deal is going through, but you can't stop it. (At least those were the house rules I always used.)

Fantasy baseball, on the other hand, is quite different when it comes to trades. Two adults can consent to a deal they both find amiable, but then the rest of the league can submit their protests and vote it down. Apparently, people think this is a good check to have in case two players try to collude or if one player ain't too smart and might ruin the fun for everyone else.

The "Monopoly way" of doing trades always made more sense to me. I mean, yeah, the point is to try and rip off the other guy in Monopoly--or at the very least improve your standing relative to the other players better than the other guy. The only exception to this that I could see (aside from collusion) would be if you cut a deal just to stay alive in the game. But even in that scenario, you're giving yourself an infinitely better chance of winning. (The difference between certain defeat or living to play another turn.)

What I find weird about the "fantasy baseball way" of doing trades is that the system is a tug of war between common-sense competitiveness and an unwritten code of conduct. And really, the unwritten code of conduct seems to always win out.

For example, the perennial UPL powerhouse O.N. Thugs recently saw their 2B go down with an injury. So he scrambled to make a deal for a 2B (trading away James Loney for Orlando Hudson). Strictly from a competitive standpoint, I see a move that my opponent wants to make, and I have it within my means to try and block it. Shouldn't I attempt to do so? If so, then it makes sense for me to cast my vote against the trade--and work to convince other owners to do the same until we kill the deal.

But I probably won't bother to try.

Why? I'm not really sure. My best guess is that it's the unwritten code.

Let's go back to Monopoly. Imagine a 5-player game, and it's fairly early on. Only two of the five players have monopolies, so they're considered the leaders. These two leaders then enter into a deal that will leave both of them with two monopolies (double what they had before). If, hypothetically speaking, the other three players have the option of voting against the deal, shouldn't they vote it down? I would say so. Yet in fantasy baseball, trades that help a strong team are allowed through all the time.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying all trades should be blocked or that anytime a good team tries to make a trade it should be blocked. What I'm saying is that it's weird how the checks and balances of a fantasy baseball trade only go one way. In theory, once two players make a trade, the rest of the league takes a look at it and each owner decides for himself whether the trade is "fair." If it's deemed fair, the trade goes through. If not, it gets nixed. But technically, even if an owner thinks a trade is reasonable, he could protest it for purely strategic reasons. (Yet this almost never happens.)

As for me, early in my first year of fantasy baseball I decided I'd try to stay out of the protest business. I wouldn't mess with anyone else's trades as long as they didn't mess with mine. I think part of my calculus here is that it's fun to make trades, so I didn't want to risk starting a trade-blockade war. But I'm not sure the idea of letting any "reasonable" trade go through helps me from a competitive standpoint. In fact, there are certain players in the league who I should probably protest any trade they make (unless of course I secretly think the trade will hurt their team).

And what makes for a "reasonable" or "fair" trade anyway? I suppose in a non-keeper league certain things can be measured, such as how a player had done in the past and, if relevant, how that player has done so far that year. So in that case, you're trying to estimate how the players involved in the trade will do over the next 2 to 6 months.

But what about a keeper league? Doesn't the fact that you can keep players for the next year (and possibly for 5, 10, or 15 years) drastically change the equation? Isn't it possible you could propose a trade that the majority of owners will see as "obviously unfair to you," only to discover 5 years later that it was unfair to the other guy? (Except for the fact the trade was voted down and never happened. Lucky for the other guy...)

Back when a keeper league was first proposed in the UPL, I made a few comments about how the nature of trades might change. (During that discussion, one thing I neglected to explicitly say was that the restriction on the number of players traded in a season would replace the current system of letting owners or the commish vote on whether or not a trade was "fair." Also, I'm not necessarily advocating a change to that system. I only bring it up for discussion purposes.)

This season we've already had one interesting case where a trade was autovetoed. Back on April 14, Westy's Sluggers wanted to trade way:
Lance Berkman
Matt Holliday

to Phatsnapper for:
Joe Mauer
Elijah Dukes
Jon Lester

A lot of people didn't like the trade, and ultimately the commish vetoed it. (Phatsnapper went into a rage on message board when the deal was autovetoed. But in fairness, Westy's Sluggers didn't seem to mind that the trade was nixed.)

What's interesting is that at the time of the trade, Joe Mauer was on the DL, but he's since come off the DL and gone on the hottest hitting tear of his career. Granted, we all know that Mauer will cool off, but it is possible that this spike in power won't taper off completely. For the next few years, he might hit more homers than he has in the past. He's only 26, and it's possible that he'll continue to develop as a hitter. (And who knows, maybe he is fed up with hearing everyone say that Matt Wieters is "Joe Mauer with Power.") My main point here is that I never would have guessed Mauer would come off the DL and hit like this right away. In that regard, my original assessment of this trade has been proven wrong.

But then again, I wouldn't be surprised if next week Mauer draws another "Go straight to the DL" card. In the meantime, I've got to figure out if it's worth trying to block this Orlando Hudson deal...


Chairman said...

One of the things that I've noticed about the UPL is that we normally don't worry much about trades. And that's the main reason that I decided that I needed to start using an auto-veto, after that 2004 season where we had one owner (who wasn't invited back) try to dump his players. First, he tried to trade Pujols and some other stars to me for my scrubs (which I rejected). Then he tried to dump them to other owners, which I had to nix. Then he just decided to drop the players. At that time, the commish tools were very limited, so my only recourse was to keep putting the players that were dumped. Plus, the worst part of it was that I took heat for not allowing a crap trade (Pujols and other stars for scrubs)to the other team. After that, I decided that I was going to reserve a hammer for smashing crap trades, and not going to apologize for it.

As for protesting, you're free to protest for any reason that you like. And in fact, I do recall C-Lauff protesting trades with the justification of "because I can." Now, I don't think that you would have gotten much traction on the Hudson-Loney trade, given the relative laissez-faire attitude of the ownership in the UPL, which was indicated by the utter silence on the matter on the message boards.

Greg said...

Now, I don't think that you would have gotten much traction on the Hudson-Loney trade, given the relative laissez-faire attitude of the ownership in the UPL, which was indicated by the utter silence on the matter on the message boards.

I know. I wasn't seriously considering a protest, mainly for that very reason.

However, with this new keeper format, I think we'll have more spirited trade discussions this year compared to previous years.

Chairman said...

Interesting note on the trade: Obviously, Mauer has been awesome, but he's cooling off, little by little. And Berkman has been on a tear. I'd bet a dollar that Berkman finishes with a better OPS and more HR and Mauer.

Oh. And Elijah Dukes hasn't been able to stay on the Washington Nationals' roster, and is in AAA.

Greg said...

Speaking of trades, did you notice how in Yahoo's box score for the Nats-Braves game today they listed Nate McLouth and Nyjer Morgan as the top performers? I thought that was funny. (Unless you're a Pirate fan.)

As far as the trade you referenced, I agree with your update. But... that's only part of the story. Over the past month Matt Holiday has a .366 SLG with one homer, whereas Jon Lester has been a Top 5 fantasy pitcher. It will be interesting to see if Lester is just on a hot streak, or if he's turned a corner in his career and can consistently be a top 30 pitcher (top 70 o-rank).

I've noticed things have been a bit quiet with trades in the UPL lately... but that's probably about to change with the trade deadline fast approaching.