Buying without Confidence

When I am buying in a fantasy league, I like to go into trade negotiations pushing for what I want. I am looking for a big power bat and you have an expensive Giancarlo Stanton? I am not going to bother dancing around it – I want Stanton, I need to know what it will take, and I want to push hard to buy those HR. But this year, I lack the confidence that what I want to buy really makes sense. The season is too young to be sure my team lacks power, for example, instead of just suffering early season variance, but the trade deadline (and end of the season) are too close to wait to learn more. And you never know who might get sick, who might opt out, whose team might get shut down, let alone whether the season will end as planned. Last week I talked about the way I am evaluating teams that are struggling – this week, I am looking at how I navigated this messy situation to add a player (I think) I needed.

Here is the deal (I am the Winged Beavers):

/Record scratch Now, you are probably wondering how I got here…

To start, in late July, the Overlord offered me $60 Bryce Harper for a package of $6 Nick Senzel, $5 Jesus Luzardo, and $3 Dylan Carlson. It was an easy rejection, but it did open conversations. I poked him back to see if my $2 Trevor Larnach or $1 Colin Pache would be interesting, and he was nonplussed.

Nothing much happened for a week, and then the Overlord returned to offer me something more appealing, but not easy to swallow: $60 Harper, $36 Clayton Kershaw, $9 Marcus Semien, and $6 C.J. Cron for $24 Corey Seager, $6 Senzel, $3 Carlson, and $2 Spencer Howard. This deal came out the same night Seager and Senzel got hurt – basically, he was saying, “You are in first and just lost two starters – let’s make a big deal to replace them and upgrade?”

I was torn. Value wise, the deal isn’t terrible. Semien is off to a rough start but I believe he’ll hit. I am a big Cron fan. And Kershaw and Harper are Kershaw and Harper. But, I am still really hesitant to trade Carlson in a season that might not end. Howard was about the get the call. Should I have done this? Maybe, but what stopped me was concern that I would give up Carlson and Howard for a season that gets called off OR I would give up all that future value and have the downgrade at SS hurt as much as the upgrade at Util/OF helps.

The reality is, this year, I am not comfortable going big in trades like this. And I told the other manager that. He took one more shot at a big deal with Carlson (an offer came back without Seager or Semien, and with $9 Zack Wheeler and $2 Tyler Mahle in place of Howard). And it seemed we had hit an impasse. I basically pulled Carlson off the table and he essentially said there would not be a deal without Carlson.

This is where you, as a fantasy manager, need to determine how hard you want to go after the 2020 title. I am in first in this league, but need some more pitching and can always use another bat. I am probably going to be out of first by the time this article publishes, and I want to get back. So, do I cave and decide to make a go of it? Or stick to keeping Carlson out of talks?

In this case, with 3 weeks still left until the trade deadline, I decided I was not going to cave. Right now, the Cardinals are shut down, the Phillies and Marlins are way behind on games, the pandemic is still raging, and we are averaging a team a week suffering an outbreak. Maybe in late August things look better, my team still needs help and I feel more confident that I can make a big trade to set my team up for a title. But right now, I don’t think we’ll be there, and so I held the line.

Then the other manager did something I didn’t expect – he asked about my $6 Mike Soroka. To be more accurate, he came back with a Carlson-less offer: $36 Kershaw and $22 Adam Eaton for $6 Senzel, $3 Nolan Jones and $6 Soroka. This wasn’t a deal I was ready to do (I didn’t need Eaton and I (insert Heart Eyes emoji) Jones, but Soroka was interesting.

This is a team I took over in the off-season and I effectively got “stuck” with Soroka. He’s not a bad guy to be stuck with, but I am lower on him than most – he isn’t a guy I would have drafted at the price he would have cost and I likely would have traded him over the off-season if I hadn’t taken over so late in the game. And now he is hurt.

One of the mistakes fantasy players make too often is looking at an offer and not the parts – I wasn’t interested in this. To me, Jones and Senzel for Kershaw and a bat I wasn’t excited about was too much, let alone adding a “third piece” in Soroka. But we hadn’t talked Soroka, and while I was only sitting on $6 Soroka because he wasn’t using a roster spot and I didn’t need the cap space, others are really high on him.

This, by the way, is the best circumstance to make a deal. Soroka is good, but we aren’t aligned on how good. He has no value to me this year, and I have concerns about his return next year, but even so, his future value is obviously higher than his present value. I need pitching today; my trade partner needs it tomorrow.

The something else happened – I made a joke about taking Kershaw off his hands. Kershaw was in the midst of an ugly effort against the Giants in which Austin Slater took him deep twice. Sometimes jokes contain a nugget of truth though. I have more than $70 in cap space meaning I could, in fact, absorb Kershaw’s salary without a loan. And suddenly, we had two things I didn’t value that highly (Soroka and $30ish in cap space) that my counterpart did.

From there, we just circled around details – he still wanted a prospect and I didn’t want to give up Larnach. I wanted an OF (and could take on that OF salary too) to fill in for Senzel, and he thought I could take on $22 Eaton.

Eventually, we settled on the deal above – he was happy to move on from Domingo Santana (whose Statcast xwOBA is still a solid .388 despite ugly exit velocity data) to close it out.

For me, the big take-away is that, this year in particular, you have to be really sensitive to how other managers view the season. I am currently shopping a $41 Francisco Lindor and my asks are basically the asks I would make in a normal season. Those are starting points and we’ll see how people reply, but it is worth remembering that some of the potential buyers might be as hesitant to buy in 2020 as I am. They might night, so I might as well ask (just like the Overlord did with me). But be ready to pivot.

The other thing is to remember to pay attention to each detail – a joke about absorbing salary and a seemingly thrown-in Soroka ended up being what made this deal work. Don’t ignore those things just because they seem secondary. And always engage. Counter offers. Discuss why you rejected it. Call out names you are interested in. You never know what might be the final piece that makes a deal work.

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