Trade Strategy – Part 1: Prepare

Want to master the art of landing a blockbuster trade? You'll need to prepare. Find out how in Part 1 of Austin Lee's trade strategy series.

| 3 years ago

Trade Strategy – Part 1: Prepare

Fantasy Football Trades are Like Trading Baseball Cards

My 4-year-old son often snatches toys away from my 2-year-old daughter. She cries, and he puts on his best “I didn’t do anything” face. I’ve been trying to teach him how to trade with her. He’s supposed to offer her something she likes, and then she’ll give him the toy he wants. We’re still working out the kinks.

He usually picks up the nearest toys he can find, shoves them into her hands, and swipes the toy he wants from her. She still cries, and he says, “But, Daddy, I traded with her.” Clearly, my son doesn’t grasp how a trade works.

Unfortunately, many fantasy football managers trade like my 4-year-old. They grab whatever players they don’t care about from their roster, plop them into a deal for another manager’s stud, and are confused when this yields a negative reaction.

Too many managers offer this kind of trade to healthy teams that don’t need depth. If you’re going after the best player in the deal, you need to wow your trade partner. Don’t be surprised when they scoff at a two-for-one of your RB2 and WR3 for their RB1.

It’s possible to make the magical depth-for-stud deal, but it’s one of the most difficult trades to land. Before I share my tactics for closing that blockbuster deal, let’s examine some important methods for preparing a solid trade offer.

Find the Right Fit

Instead of simply imagining other managers’ players on your team and throwing darts at them, you’ll increase your trade acceptance rate by finding another team with a quality trade fit.

Ultimately you’re looking for at least one of these two scenarios:

  1. Your team and another team are unbalanced at different positions and swapping players from your positional strengths will balance both teams.
  2. You value at least one of the other team’s players more than his current owner and vice versa.

These may seem obvious, but most managers don’t consider these scenarios before tossing offers to the wind. Identifying Scenario 1 is pretty easy and usually leads to straightforward trade negotiations.

Unfortunately, most trades are tied to Scenario 2, which is more complicated to uncover. Some managers won’t even discuss player value for fear that “tipping their hand” will put them at a disadvantage at the bargaining table. Fortunately, even reserved managers will drop hints about what they need.

The key to discovering important value differences is listening. Instead of focusing solely on your players and needs, ask them how you can help them improve their team.

If you try to drag a good deal out of someone, they’ll retreat. If you get someone talking about something they’re passionate about, they’ll reveal a great deal and happily make you the beneficiary.

Walk in the Other Person’s Shoes

Every trade should either improve your starting lineup, add depth without impacting your starting lineup, or both. Most people are cognizant of these goals for their own team, but many managers don’t bother to examine how their offer will impact the other team.

Walk in your trade partner’s shoes before making an offer. If your offer moves points from their starting lineup to their bench, then don’t bother.

You might be thinking, “But I’ve pulled off trades like that in the past, so why should I stop offering them?” Sure, I’ve pulled them off too, but trying to kickstart trade negotiations with that kind of offer has a low success rate — but more importantly — it hurts your reputation.

Obviously, you would love for all of your trade offers to be accepted, but that’s unrealistic. Instead, with every offer you make, focus on building trust.

The other managers need to believe that you have their best interests in mind. You want to be at the top of every person’s call list when they want to initiate trade talks. That’s how you succeed long term. Make your trade reputation your top priority, and the trade acceptances will start flowing.

Build Your Reputation

Some of my earliest trade negotiations involved collecting baseball cards as a kid. It taught me how to target people’s undervalued cards, get rid of my overvalued cards, and master the art of building a strong trade relationship.

Some of my friends were terrible traders, and they were constantly angry with each other because of it. It was usually due to trade regret, mean negotiations, or poorly defined terms involving more than just swapping cards. It was ugly.

My buddy, Chuck, had a bunch of Ken Griffey Jr. cards, but he desperately wanted a Frank Thomas rookie card. My other friend, Patrick, had a Thomas rookie card and loved Griffey Jr. They had the perfect fit, right? Wrong.

They refused to trade with each other. Their previous trade included Chuck loaning his “Legend of Zelda” video game to Patrick for a week. Weeks had past, and Patrick still hadn’t returned the game.

Fortunately, I had the same Frank Thomas card that Chuck desired, but I didn’t want to trade it. I’ve always been a huge Auburn fan. Aside from Bo Jackson, Thomas was my favorite player. That’s when my negotiator wheels started turning.

I told Patrick over the phone that I had two Griffey Jr. cards that I wanted to trade for his Thomas card. He was interested but knew I already had a Thomas rookie card. I convinced him that my Auburn-fandom-inspired Frank Thomas love knew no bounds and that I wanted two of them. He agreed to the deal.

Later that night, Chuck desperately traded me the two Griffey Jr. cards I needed and three Bo Jackson cards I was missing from my collection. I didn’t have to pressure him. I just had to listen to what he wanted and what he was willing to give up. He divulged that information because in that moment he trusted me more than Patrick.

Bo Jackson card from the 1987 Classic Board Game

Bo Jackson card from the 1987 Classic Board Game.

The next day, I flipped the Griffey Jr. cards to Patrick, who replaced the Frank Thomas rookie card I traded to Chuck the night before. I expanded my precious Bo Jackson collection for brokering the deal, and landed one of my favorite Jackson cards from the original Classic board game.

Ever since that day, I’ve placed a high value on my trade reputation. Whether it’s trading baseball cards or fantasy football players, it’s important for people to trust that you genuinely want to find a deal that both sides are excited about.

Steve Jobs used to describe a company brand as a bank account. If you do something positive with the brand, you’re making a deposit into that brand’s “bank account.” Doing something negative equates a withdrawal. Most brands go bankrupt.

Think of your fantasy football trading reputation in the same way. I’m not saying that you should make trades that make your team worse. Just think bigger picture than one deal.

Don’t be a Stranger

If you’re in an online league with strangers, all of these concepts still apply — but in subtler ways. What you offer and how you make those offers will carry more weight. You’ll have to observe tendencies and look for clues more carefully than in a league where you talk with people in person.

People give out information about how they value players in a variety of ways. Pay attention to how they drafted, the types of moves they’re making, how much FAAB they spend, and who they start or sit.

Learn something from every trade offer, even the terrible ones. Every offer tells you whom they value on your team, what position they’d like to improve, and the position they’re willing to trade away. When the offer isn’t good enough, it’s still possible that they place a lower value on their own players than you do. Use that knowledge to counter, or file it away for a few weeks until you have a better fit.

One of my favorite barometers for a trade fit is seeing a player on someone’s bench that I think should be in their starting lineup. I’ll shoot them a simple offer or drop them an email asking if they’d be willing to trade that player.

The best time to do this is after Week 3. That’s when people start to doubt their underperforming studs. If you feel good about those players making a turnaround, that’s when you’re most likely to value another manager’s player more than they do. Make a move.


With a strong trade reputation, empathetic listening skills, and a keen sense of observation, you’re well on your way to closing more big trades than ever before.

In Part 2 of this fantasy football trade strategy series, I’ll walk you through some practical steps for initiating trade discussions. Without them, your first impression may be your last.

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