Trade Strategy - Part 3: Seal the Deal
In this third installment in my trade strategy series, I’ll help you master the art of negotiation and avoid common pitfalls that kill thriving trade talks in an instant. We’ll also cover a key technique for pushing a wavering trade partner over the edge so that you can finally land that blockbuster trade you’ve been working on.
Negotiations don’t have to be complicated, heated, mind games. A fantasy football trade isn’t closing a multi-million-dollar business deal. It’s more like swapping pizza-flavored Lunchables for a chocolate pudding Snack Pack in elementary school.
My best trades don’t come from squeezing my trade partner for as much value as possible. The best deals are usually counters that people send to me that I like even more than my original offer. You don’t have to pressure people into a deal. You enter into a conversation with them and see where the chips may fall — unless you have Pringles, in which case you should be asking for a lot more in return.
People who are willing to have long trade negotiations are my favorite trade partners. Sometimes we’ll push our teams together, rank all the players, and compare lists. Other times we’ll send a couple of options back and forth until we hone in on a fit. It plays out like a Choose Your Own Adventure book with the you-died-for-some-random-reason endings removed.
Unlike some managers, I’m an open book when it comes to player value. I’ll send them my rest-of-the-season rankings or pare that down to an ordered list of the key players on our teams. This isn’t a game of poker. I don’t have to “win” the trade for it to be worthwhile, and I can bail out without losing anything if we don’t agree.
If my trade partner thinks he’s getting the better end of the deal, that’s fine. The most important thing is that both of our teams are getting a leg up on the other eight or more teams in the league. I don’t care if his leg up is slightly better than mine.
There’s also nothing wrong with trading with the league leaders or even an opponent you’re about to face. The likelihood of “your players” being the key reason for a head-to-head loss is slim. Trades aren’t about one week. They need to improve your team for the long haul.
Avoid the Negative
I’m willing to openly discuss trade value, but I tread lightly as I poke near the shortcomings of my trade partner’s team. Some people take it personally and back out. You may say, “It looks like your running backs are underperforming a bit.” Based on their reaction, you might as well have said, “Your face is getting fatter.”
Try not to say negative things about their team. If you feel that you must, stay away from opinions and just offer facts. Say things like, “The coach said that so-and-so wide receiver will be out four to six weeks,” instead of, “It looks like you could use some help at wide receiver.”
Most people aren’t this touchy, and if you know who you’re dealing with, then maybe you don’t have to walk on eggshells so much. However, in the case where you don’t know your trade partner, play it safe, stick to the facts, and wait for them to reveal the weaknesses of their team. Their perceptions may surprise you.
Add More Players
The more players that are involved in a trade, the more nervous some managers get. Don’t be one of those managers. It’s loss aversion playing tricks on you.
Separate yourself from the fact that some of the players are currently on your team, and just focus on the future value of the players involved. This will allay any concerns you might have about the number of players in the deal.
It can be tough to find a perfect value match in a one-for-one swap. Make it a two-for-two to bring the value closer together. Keep tweaking the overall value of the deal by adding more pairs of players. The more players you add, the easier it will be to find a value balance. Don’t shy away from four-for-four or even five-for-five deals.
Every deal doesn’t have to be this big, but sometimes it’s easier than trying to convince each other that two players have exactly the same value.
Dodge Injured Players
I don’t like including injured players in a trade. If you offer an injured player, you’re perceived as trying to “pull a fast one” on your trade partner. It’ll get you into trouble in a hurry regardless of your intent, and your trade partner won’t be shy about advertising it to the rest of the league.
If you pursue an injured player, be sure to knock down the player’s value beyond the advertised timetable for their return. This can be a tough sell for the person who has high hopes for their player’s recovery. It usually makes trading for injured players more trouble than it’s worth.
A player’s value is already subjective, but if you layer on the uncertainty of an injury, it clouds the negotiation even more. To mitigate this issue, I’ll explicitly say things like, “I’m valuing him as if he’ll play in the Week 7 game, but I won’t feel comfortable starting him until Week 8.” Isolating a player’s health from his healthy value will help you and your trade partner better identify the specific value differences that require negotiation.
Be a Salesman
Some people need to be sold on players. This used to be my default approach, but it can come across like a sleazy used car salesman. You basically talk up the positives of your own players and conveniently omit the negatives. This method usually backfires unless you save it for the right moment.
There’s a pivotal time at the end of most trade negotiations when you’ve landed on a deal that you both like, but the other manager can’t bring themselves to pull the trigger. That’s when you tip them over the edge with positive facts about the players they’re about to receive. It’s the closest thing you can give them to a guarantee that the move they’re about to make is a smart one, and it usually pushes them over the edge.
It’s tempting to come in guns blazing, talking up your players as much as possible, but try to save that tactic as the last round in your chamber. If you wait until your trade partner is already imagining the players on his team, it’s easier to sell him on them.
Close the Blockbuster Deal
The pinnacle of big trades is being able to trade away depth late in the season for a stud that will carry you through the playoffs. Too many traders make this their only kind of offer and do it way too early in the season. It ends up hurting their trade reputation.
These types of trades are hard to pull off because you’re getting the best player in the deal and asking your trade partner to free up roster spots for the mid-level players they’re receiving. You typically need to flood their starting lineup with value and catch them at the right moment of desperation to make it work.
How do you intercept someone at that perfect moment? It’s something you build up to over time. Combine a solid trade reputation with strong listening skills, and you’ll know the moment to strike.
Around Week 4 or 5, empathize with the rough start to their season, but don’t offer anything. If things are still going bad around Weeks 6 or 7, offer to help them shake things up with a trade while they still have a shot at turning things around. When they get to the point where they have to win all but one of their remaining games to have a shot at the championship, that’s when you go all-in for a blockbuster trade.
That person usually knows they need to make a big move. The question is whether or not they’re enough of a fighter to try something dramatic to turn things around. Most people give up too early, but if you align yourself with a never-say-die personality, you’ll land the big one.
Essentially, you’re preying on the weak, but in this case, there’s nothing wrong with that. The other person is frustrated with their team, but they’re still making a move that gives them a chance to succeed. It just so happens that the more needs they have, the better chance you’ll find a trade fit. The key is to catch them before they give up hope.
You made it. You observed, planned, engaged, listened, and negotiated well. You closed the big deal and immediately put your new players into your starting lineup. The championship is in your sights.
Don’t get cocky. You’re not done yet.
In the final installment of my fantasy football trade strategy series, we’ll cover what happens after your trade is complete. How you use your newly acquired players is just as important as trading for them. Even more importantly, the way you react to the “success” of a trade can have a big impact on your ability to land future deals.