MASTER NOTES: Anatomy of a Trade

On BaseballHQ Radio this week, I talked with Howard Bender of SiriusXM about a trade I made this week in Tout Wars-AL. I thought it made sense to ask Howard about it because he was the guy on the other side of the deal.

When I’m preparing to offer a trade, I do a lot of planning. Mostly this helps, but sometimes it backfires. More on that a little later. Here’s the process, which I hope you find helpful as you prepare your own trade proposals.

Some of this might seem redundant or obvious to you, and I apologize for that, but believe me when I say lots of owners leave out some steps they should be taking. So if we get to something that you already know (or, more importantly, that you already do), just think of it as a reminder.

Okay. Step One was to scout the projected standings for opportunities. Our league uses the OnRoto stat site, which includes BaseballHQ projected standings. In the past, I used the HQ projections in an Excel sheet to project. The point is that you have to have some idea where the league is going, and not to worry too much about where it is.

When I started thinking about finding a deal, I projected to be fourth overall in Tout with 83 points. I was 3.5 behind the third-place guy and 12 out of the lead.

I was 12-12 points in the pitching decimals, thanks to Trevor Bauer and Jose Berrios and some good streamed contributions from the Mikes, Fiers and Leake, and Daniel Norris.

I had a pretty solid 12 in SB, thanks to a roster that features Jonathan Villar, the otherwise disappointing (but heating up) Jose Ramirez, and May free-agent pickup Oscar Mercado. I jotted down the possibility of dealing Villar, an addition-by-subtraction for my OBP, where I was projected a tight fourth. I also thought I might place Villar on a team that could pass one of the top-three in the category,

I was in the lower third of Wins and Ks, but with some pretty big projected gaps under my clump of guys, somewhat protecting my downside. I thought I might be able to deal two or three of my lesser starters for some help in the three cats where I had a lot of potential to gain: HR, RBI and Runs. I also had a chance at three or four points in saves.

Step Two was to use the projections to identify a trade partner—specifically, someone who would benefit from adding wins and/or strikeouts, again, ideally, who could also pass my competition in the overall race. The most important thing about formulating a trade offer is to be able to explain to your potential trading partner what is in it for him. You need to know what’s in it for you, too, of course, but nobody makes a deal because it’s good for the other guy.

Here’s where things got unusual or innovative. In reviewing the projected standings, I noticed that Howard’s projected K total was really low, so I went to see why. I gave his roster some scrutiny, and then it jumped out at me—he only had 560 innings, and he only had two active starters. OnRoto doesn’t project innings, so I did it manually using projections from the HQ site, and Howard projected to be at least 100 innings light.

Now, like a lot of leagues, Tout plays with a minimum innings requirement. A team not getting 950 innings automatically gets a “one” in both ERA and WHIP (I’ve played in leagues where you get zero). If Howard didn’t add some innings, and soon, he was going to lose eight of the 10 points he was projected to get in the decimals.

That loss would have ramifications for next year’s draft, because even though it’s not a keeper, owners lose 10 FAAB dollars in the next year’s league for every point they are under 60. Howard was going to be under 60, but losing eight points in the decimals would mean another $80 of FAAB penalty in 2020.

I looked some more at the projections, and realized that Howard was also “locked” in HR/RBI/Runs—he was on an island in each category, with very little chance of gaining or losing ground. And he was locked in saves, not as tightly as in the batting stats.

I thought I had the makings of an offer.

Step Three was writing up the offer. This takes thought. I had to figure what I knew about Howard from talking to him, listening to him on Sirius, and watching him play in the league.

The danger is in how detailed an explanation to offer. Some guys don’t like to be “told how to run their teams,” so a super-detailed offer isn’t the way to go. But I knew from my interactions with Howard that he was pretty businesslike, and that with a busy life going on, I suspected he didn’t want to have a coy “I have an idea” e-mail to start a long e-mail exchange. So I opted for a direct approach, explaining in detail what the idea was and how it helped him:

... (O)n the pitching side, you are almost sure to come up more than 100 IP short of the 950-inning minimum to get your 9-10 combined points in ERA and WHIP, leaving you instead with one point in each category, a 7-8 point loss that's going to (cost you $10 per point)...

(Y)ou need three starters, and you need them pretty quickly. I would give you Fiers, Leake and Norris, whose combined innings would push you over the 950 IP. You would get back your 7-8 lost ratio points, plus (a) second wins point, with a puncher's chance at (a third) wins point as well. You would also have a 50:50 chance at (a) K point. I would get back Kennedy, Buttrey and Cimber, helping me in Saves (if Kennedy keeps the job and isn't dealt somewhere to be a setup guy) and getting me back up to nine pitchers. I would lose a Wins point and a Ks point and maybe two in each.

On the hitting side, I would get Matt Olson and Aaron Judge, giving back Rowdy Tellez and Brian Goodwin. CI for CI, OF for OF, so the rosters balance. I can get two points each in RBI and Runs. Your chances of making or losing any points in HR/RBI/R look pretty slim.

I would also ask for $10 of FAAB, just so I can bid on prospects.

To sum up: I gain 2 each in RBI and R, and 4 in Saves if Kennedy holds on, making 8, but I lose 1-2 each in Ks and Wins, so my net is 4-6. You gain those 7-8 points in un-forfeited ERA and WHIP, plus 2-3 total in Ks and Wins, net 9-11.

A while later, I heard back from Howard: “I'm totally game for it. Just send it through the site and I will happily accept.” I did, and the deal was consummated.

The morals of this story:

  • Prepare carefully, by looking ahead as best you can. (A corollary is when you receive an offer, don’t let your partner use the current standings to explain your gains.)
  • Understand or make your best guess as to how to start the process: Some guys like the whole thing laid out and explained in detail. I’m an explanation guy, so “you might gain some points in HR” just irks me, especially if the ask is for a pitcher who will cost me twice as many points in those categories. But other owners prefer a more ambiguous opener like, “I have an idea about a trade, speed for saves,” with the details hashed out in a back-and-forth of offers and counter-offers and, usually, arguments.
  • Always present the offer in terms of what’s in it for the other guy: points and standings places gained, primarily. I believe it can help to also explain where your points are coming from in the trade.
  • Don’t create issues that will have to be subsequently managed, like roster imbalances or not clicking the right site buttons to execute the deal.

As a result of this deal, I have improved my projected points total enough to get into the overall race, which is about all I could have hoped.

Put your trade ideas and stories in the comments, post them in the HQ Forums thread, or e-mail them to Good luck!

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.