Trade Strategy - Part 2: Engage
A lot of preparation goes into making high-quality trade proposals. Be sure to read Part 1 in this fantasy football trade strategy series prior to sending your first offer. You can damage your trade reputation with an innocent offer if you don’t have the proper approach.
In Part 2 we’ll focus on practical ways to begin trade negotiations and make a good first impression. Before diving in, it’s important to understand what you’re up against with every offer you make.
Combat Psychological Warfare
Every trade offer triggers a psychological battle that immediately skews the values of all of the players involved. People inherently value their own players more than others. They drafted, picked up, or traded for “their guys” because they liked them more than other people did. This bias sets both you and your trade partner apart before you even begin negotiating.
To make matters worse, the fear of losing something in a trade is typically greater than the excitement over gaining something. It’s part of how we’re wired, and psychologists refer to this as loss aversion.
Tobias J. Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim analyze this subconscious psychological influence in their book, Scorecasting. They present mountains of statistics proving that even the best professional athletes from a variety of sports succumb to loss aversion.
One set of data shows that professional golfers putt more conservatively and less successfully for birdie than they do for par. Why? The perception is that missing a par putt is losing a stroke, but missing a birdie isn’t as detrimental. If you isolate that one shot, it’s an opportunity to gain or lose a stroke regardless of how you got there, yet loss aversion affects their success rate.
Similarly, it shouldn’t matter whether a fantasy football player came from your team or someone else’s team. You need to be able to isolate the future value of that player without being biased by his past ownership. Unfortunately, that’s easier said that done, and the toughest time to convince someone that they’re biased is during a trade negotiation.
The best you can do is make sure that you don’t fall victim to these biases and manage your expectations in terms of how your trade partner will inflate the value of his players. Be objective and expect your trade partner not to be.
I typically complete more trades than anyone else in my league, but only about one in 30 of my trade offers are accepted. That may sound like a terrible hit rate, but it’s par for the course once you take into account the inherent biases. Trading isn’t easy, and you’ll have to face a lot of rejection along the way.
Assign Realistic Value
One of the quickest ways to make a bad first impression is by assigning unrealistic value to the players in your initial offer. With the biases that are working against you from the get-go, you don’t want to completely torpedo your chances by offering something that you know isn’t close to equal value.
When gauging the value of a quarterback, remember not to account for the full fantasy points you believe he will produce. At best, he’s only worth the amount he’ll outperform the best quarterback on the waiver wire. In most cases, even that number is too high. It’s really about how many more points he’ll add to someone’s starting lineup.
In a nutshell, Joe Bryant’s Value Based Drafting (VBD) concepts can be used to gauge more than just draft value. Quarterbacks hardly have any trade value in a 10-team league where you start one quarterback. In those leagues, there are five other quarterbacks on the waiver wire who could put up top-10 numbers in a favorable matchup.
While some people may not be familiar with VBD, that doesn’t mean you can pull a fast one on them. Unless they’re complete noobs, they inherently know that kickers, defenses, and second tight ends don’t have value in most leagues.
The meat of most trades involves at least one running back or wide receiver. Keep this in mind when crafting your offers and be sure to offer players that are at least one tier above the players on the waiver wire. Otherwise, your opponent will pick up the available players and reject your trade.
Customize Your Offers
After assigning the appropriate value to players and finding a team with a good fit, how do you start negotiations? You obviously contact them, but how exactly do you go about doing that? It depends on the situation and the person you’re trading with.
The more you know about people’s personalities and trading tendencies, the more you can customize your approach. In turn, this will raise the chances of you completing a deal. This is where your listening and observation skills come in handy again.
For example, some people are slaves to the Yahoo! Trade Evaluator. They’re more likely to accept if it says that they’ll come out ahead. Others let their NFL fandom impact player value. They might overvalue Redskins and undervalue Cowboys. Learn as much as you can and store it away. It helps trade talks go smoothly and will give you a leg up over other suitors.
If I’m trading with a stranger or someone who rarely responds to trades, I’ll send a solid offer with little-to-no comments. It may not wow them, but they at least have to stop and think about it. It may end up being the best offer I can make, but I don’t spend a lot of time crafting my initial offer to squeeze in every last bit of value I can send them. You at least want them to think your offer is in the ballpark. Sometimes they just take it.
People can be touchy when it comes to trades. I could offer them my RB2 for their WR2 because their RB2 just got injured. I might as well have said, “I hate your new haircut, so I bought you this hat.”
When I know I’m dealing with someone like that, I’ll shoot off a simple email that says something like, “Do you have any interest in trading for so-and-so?” or “Would you be willing to part with what’s-his-face in a trade?” As you might imagine, these negotiations have a low success rate. I only pursue them if I see a strong fit.
My favorite trade partners will entertain any offer, have at least a brief conversation about every deal, and not take anything personally. That’s the type of trade partner I try to be because people know that they don’t have to put much effort into starting a conversation. That moves me up their call list when they’re hunting for trades.
Some of my best fantasy football moves involve trade vulturing. It’s not as nefarious as it sounds, but it’s a tricky tactic to use without damaging your reputation. The key is to focus again on listening instead of being insidious.
Basically, you try to keep a pulse on deals that other managers are negotiating. If someone is taking the time to talk with you about a deal with another manager, then clearly it isn’t good enough to accept. That’s when you pounce, but do it gently.
Don’t slam the mediocre deal that the other person has offered to them. Ask them what’s lacking in the deal. Affirm their concerns. Gauge what would meet their needs by using hypothetical examples of different player combinations. If it sounds like you may have a fit, you can turn the hypotheticals into players you actually have on your team. That’s when you swoop in to vulture the trade.
The key is not to force it. I only make an offer after about half of these conversations. However, I store the information away, and a few weeks later I could have the right combination of players to make us good trade partners.
I hope that these practical and varied approaches for initiating trade discussions prove useful to you. Most negotiations don’t last beyond the initial offer, so it’s important to take your first impression seriously.
Once you’re fortunate enough to enter into a deeper conversation with someone about a trade, you’ll want to be ready with the tips in my next article. In Part 3 we’ll use the art of negotiation to land a blockbuster trade.