In my regular poker-playing days, one of the guys regularly called a game called “Pass the Trash.” Instead of tossing one’s discards into the pile, they went to the player on the left. A winning strategy dictated striking a balance between seeking what you needed and dishing off that which you thought would not measurably help your competition.
In my view, we also have a variant of this approach in fantasy baseball.
This is the time of year when I see a number of what I call pass the trash trades popping up. MLB teams have played at least half their games. The standings are starting to indicate separation in fantasy leagues and some owners are making bold moves. Yet others seem to be making trades simply for the sake of it.
The alternative is to determine in which scoring categories one needs improvement to win and where points are of lesser value. Then, shake things up considerably by potentially impacting multiple categories.
I will use my National League Tout Wars team as an example. I came out of the draft with a strong offense, but a very weak starting staff and too many middle relievers. I often go heavy on hitting on draft day as I find offense to be more consistent and therefore, easier to trade if needed later on. Still, in hindsight, I wished I had drafted a more balanced team.
It wasn’t all lost, however. The pleasant surprise known as San Francisco’s Melk Man, Melky Cabrera, created an ideal trade opportunity for me at perhaps the peak of his value. About a month ago, I pinned half of my annual FAAB allocation, $50, to Melky’s uniform and sent him off in trade.
My return was a true ace, Zack Greinke, plus injured Lance Berkman. Since joining my roster, Greinke’s Brewers have done nothing as a team, but for me, the free agent-to-be has been superb - 37 strikeouts in 43 innings, a 2.51 ERA and a WHIP under one. If the right-hander is dealt at the deadline, he should move from Milwaukee to a better team, creating more win opportunities.
My trade partner preferred Melky and the money right then to Greinke now and the risky Berkman later. We will see how that pans out, but Lance is making rumblings of a post All-Star break return to St. Louis’ lineup.
I knew Greinke alone wasn’t going to be enough to pull my Tout team up from the depths of the pitching standings. With Berkman and Ryan Howard on the way back, I had enough surplus for another offense-for-pitching deal. The uncertainty surrounding Chris Carpenter, now resolved in favor of season-ending surgery, helped increase the need.
Often in industry leagues, finding willing trade partners is a challenge. Fortunately, this past week, several Tout owners sent broadcast messages to the league, offering pitching for hitting. In other words, they seemed prime trade targets.
Looking at their rosters led to me consider names like Kyle Lohse, Ryan Vogelsong, Chad Billingsley, Edwin Jackson and the like – middle-tier guys who were pitching ok and had a chance to do better. I also checked on arms like Matt Garza and Jordan Zimmermann from owners that weren’t necessarily looking to deal.
One player on my roster that seemed to interest a number of others is Pedro Alvarez. We’ve all seen the impressive bursts of power, coupled with the mediocre batting average from the Pirates’ third baseman. For help in at least three other categories, I am willing to take the BA hit. So are the others, which is probably why they wanted him.
To be honest, I was having trouble getting excited about the variations of deals being discussed. It isn’t that they probably weren’t fair. It just felt like I was playing my own game of Pass the Trash instead of making a bold move to win.
The timing of a family wedding last weekend was great in that it allowed me to step away from the trade talks for a few days and consider my options.
One of the owners with whom I had been speaking also owned the Dodgers’ All-Star pitcher Clayton Kershaw and made it clear he was potentially available. Now, that would be a difference-maker. I had passed by the name the first time, thinking I was unwilling to pay the price.
Kershaw’s owner was interested in the man who had been battling Cabrera (among others) for the National League batting lead for much of season, David Wright. On draft day, I had been delighted when bidding on the Mets’ third sacker stopped at $22. He has been one of my most productive assets ever since.
After returning from the wedding festivities break, I checked back with Kershaw’s owner. He had yet to be able to come up with any trade deals as the result of his league-wide broadcast.
I knew I had to give to get, so I reluctantly put Wright on the table. With Alvarez to cover third and two more corner players on their way back (Berkman is outfield eligible, too), I could still field a legal roster.
My partner did not want a 1-for-1 deal, nor was he satisfied with the marginal players I suggested as a second. I made a key move when I asked him to review my roster and tell me who he would accept along with Wright.
As my good fortune would have it, Torres had logged stolen seven bases in the preceding seven games. To be honest, I was amazed Torres had reached base that often.
It didn’t matter what I thought. The big week had caught my partner’s eye. He was apparently willing to believe Torres’ sub-Mendoza line batting average would improve and that his now-season total of nine swipes would escalate – along with avoiding Wright’s ever-present injury risk.
It didn’t take me more than a few seconds to agree to send both Mets - Wright and Torres - in return for Kershaw. I took the offer immediately and without any further negotiation.
As I write this, Kershaw has yet to pitch while on my roster. Still, the deal must have inspired the rest of my players as I have moved up seven places in the standings this week. With roughly half the season remaining, anything could happen, but making a big trade – one that has the potential to be a difference-maker – is precisely what I wanted to accomplish.
Consider this approach in your leagues as well. We’ve all made “pass the trash” trades in the past, but instead, set your sights high.
Engineering big trades are more work. They take more time and can end in frustration on occasion. Ultimately, though, it could mean the difference between winning and finishing in the middle of the pack.
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 14-year history. Though he is the only one to remember or care, he also finished second in each of the two subsequent seasons. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com and in-season at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.