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Tuesday 28th Mar 2017

As I noted previously, coming into Major League Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline, I had the fourth-most money remaining in National League Tout Wars. With only three players of significance moving into the league – Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Reyes and Brandon Moss – it was the worst possible place for me to be.

While the three hitters generated winning bids of between $78 and $75, I was forced to remain on the sideline with my $74. I was out of the action for that particular week, but not dead yet.

This past week brought the first wave of MLB’s scratch and dent sale, otherwise known as waiver trades. Generally, the only players to clear waivers and be dealt are older players with contracts so ugly that no one else would want them.

So it was with Cleveland and Atlanta. The Braves shed one bad deal in Chris Johnson for two in Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher. This deal would have been an absolute blockbuster in 2010, but in 2015 it is more about disposing of distressed assets between two teams out of the playoff picture.

Though I took over the FAAB hammer this week in NL Tout, it was not a comfortable lead. Gene McCaffrey was just one dollar behind with Scott Wilderman holding $60.

My decision was whether to potentially spend my entire $74 on Bourn, wait in hopes of another waiver trade later this month for a better player coming into the Senior Circuit or take a hybrid approach.

The latter would be to go for both Bourn and Swisher in a conditional pair of bids, knowing I would get at least one of them and have $12 or so remaining for other bids later.

A sticking point for me is that I do not see the two players as equals. I think there could be a gulf in performance between Atlanta’s two new outfielders. Swisher has a bad knee and had been rehabbing in the Minors. Even upon his return, there is no assurance he will be an every-day player for the Braves. On the other hand, Bourn enjoyed a brief resurgence in July, with a .300 average and five steals, almost as many as the first three months combined.

I could see leverage to pick up a couple of quick points in the standings in stolen bases with Bourn and perhaps make a bit of headway in runs scored. Opportunity to gain points with Swisher seemed less certain.

Considering that imbalance and with no confidence a better player will move from the AL to the NL later, I went ahead and rolled the dice. I made a simple $74 bid on Bourn with no contingencies. After all, they would not be necessary.

As it turned out, McCaffrey inadvertently helped me. Looking at the category standings, my guess is that he valued steals less than power. Further, knowing he could not get Bourn, he focused his efforts and money on Swisher, instead. Gene bid $61, just enough to edge out Wilderman’s highest potential bid.

The end result is that neither McCaffrey nor I had to spend our entire remaining balance because Wilderman was only willing to go $32 on each of the new Braves. He won neither. Now with $59, Wilderman is the new carrier of the FAAB hammer, waiting to see what the next week’s trades may bring.

With Wilderman unwilling to flex his financial muscle this time around, it fell to Tristan H. Cockcroft to become the enforcer. His $45 bids for Bourn and Swisher set the $46 price paid by me and McCaffrey under Vickrey rules. With $52 now remaining, second-place Tristan holds the second-most money going forward.

I am delighted the cards played out this way. Expecting to be price enforced on Bourn and be stuck with $0 FAAB for the remainder of the season, instead I still have $28. That is plenty to work with the rest of the way. In fact, only six of my league-mates have more money.

My initial assessment is that this particular dumpster dive move could pay off.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

 

In his brief time in the Major Leagues, barely three and a half seasons, Yoenis Cespedes is already wearing his fourth uniform. The most recent change was the Cuban's non-waiver deadline move from the Detroit Tigers to the New York Mets.

The outfielder was also primed to move to his second National League Tout Wars team in just two days last weekend – until the deal unraveled due to a rules violation that surprised some and angered others.

With the second-most money remaining last weekend, Lenny Melnick acquired Cespedes for $78 of his remaining $82 for the season. Tout’s free agent period ends each week on Sunday evening at midnight Eastern.

Inside of 24 hours, Melnick had participated in a major trade, sending his newest star to Phil Hertz of BaseballHQ on Monday. His take was young Pirates ace Gerrit Cole.

There was a problem, however. The Tout Wars constitution specifically states that the weekly deadline had passed. In fact, the trade and weekly FAAB deadlines are the same.

“All free agent bids and trade transactions must be communicated to the SWAT by 12:00am ET Mondays (midnight Sunday),” the rules state.

While the trade could still be executed, in effect the two players, Cespedes and Cole, would have to remain on their old teams for the next seven days.

Melnick appealed, noting that the SWAT for his league had allowed Monday trades to stand in the past.

However, there is a higher court. Four Tout leaders make up the leagues’ governing board, called the LLC. They backed the constitution and nullified the swap – for that week.

One of the LLC members, Peter Kreutzer, admitted that, “This rule may not have always been followed in the past, but these have been the rules for some time. Editorial note: I'm not sure why. It doesn't make sense to me, but that's a discussion for another time,” he concluded.

At that point, rather than wait a week for the trade to go into effect, Melnick called it off entirely. A bewildered Hertz still wanted to proceed.

Though Melnick’s decision was initially represented to me as being based on concern over potential injury during the upcoming seven days, there was more to it than that alone.

“Never know what develops during week,” Melnick replied in shorthand. “Cespedes is who was requested so deal took 3 minutes to make. Also, since I’m only interested in K and wins, another 1 or 2 pitchers may emerge. Also have an offer for another pitcher who may be (a) Cole equal at a lesser price.”

After further discussion between Hertz and Melnick, the two decided to let the Cespedes-Cole deal stand, after all - unless there is an injury before Sunday, that is.

Interestingly, another trade - between Patrick Davitt and Cory Schwartz in the Tout Mixed Auction league - was pushed back last Monday for similar reasons.

Due to the attention on this rule, Kreutzer says he will work to change it during the offseason. He believes the weekly trade deadline should be either noon or the first game on Monday.

After thinking about this some more, I am not so sure, however. In re-reading the Tout rules further, I think I understand why the deadlines are as they are – at least in this specific case.

All players acquired for FAAB are required to spend a week on the active roster of the acquiring team. An immediate trade, such as with Cespedes, would nullify this.

That does not mean that almost all other trades could not occur on Monday, though.

As always, my thought in sharing details from my league is for you to look at your leagues’ rules to potentially avoid such problems by making changes ahead of conflict.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter

 

This is the type of year when any of us, no matter how experienced we are, can benefit from useful tips on trading. No matter what we say, dispensing advice is easier than actually being able to execute it successfully. Challenges in pulling off deals are not fundamentally different in industry leagues than in local leagues. Diverse people with diverse approaches essentially guarantee that.

My story this week is about low-ball offers.

We’ve all seen them. Some live and die by them. Others consider them the fantasy equivalent of the plague.

As in most cases, I land somewhere in between the two extremes. I don’t make low-ball offers (at least on purpose), as I respect my peers too much for that. On the other end, I prefer not to burn bridges after receiving such inquiries, even if they are initially insulting.

Trying to improve my starting pitching in National League Tout Wars recently, I looked for potential trade partners who might value one of my stronger categories, on-base percentage, in return.

I contacted one of my peers, who has a good staff and is among the leaders in the pitching categories, asking about his two top starters. Surprisingly, he came back with an offer for his best pitcher, one of the hottest currently in the game. That was the good news.

The bad news was that his offer was essentially a four-for-one – my team’s best power source, a strong OBP contributor, a very good starting pitcher almost ready to come off the disabled list, plus free agent allocation dollars (FAAB).

The price seemed so rich that my initial reaction was to send an angry response. Instead, I sat on it for a day and eventually replied with a two-fold answer. First, I thanked him for responding. So many offers that disappear into the ether lead me to appreciate any replies received. Second, I said that we were so far off on a trade that I did not want to counter because I did not want to insult him.

Walking away was made easier since in the meantime, I had quickly found another trade partner in ESPN’s Tristan H. Cockcroft. Unwilling to deal his top two starters, Cockcroft made his third, Jason Hammel, available. I offered one of the top shortstops statistically this season in Brandon Crawford in return.

Almost no one accepts a first offer, and Cockcroft was no exception. He countered by expanding the deal to a 2-for-2. The inclusion was a swap of pitchers tilted in his direction.

I replied by making that observation along with an assertion that the initial deal as proposed is fair to both teams, in terms of value and risk. He agreed and the deal was done.

The next day, league leader Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus, commented on Twitter about the trade. That led to a public dialogue between the three of us, which included our views of low-ball offers.

Here is a subset of the exchanges.

Cockcroft (@SultanofStat): Indeed, @B_Walton made a good opening offer. Big fan of that move. Sometimes the first pitch is the best pitch.

Gianella (@MikeGianella): I'm a big fan of starting with a fair offer. Life is too short.

Cockcroft: Builds good rapport with the trade partner for future dealings, too. If needs are cut and dry, no need to haggle.

Walton: Agreed. Had one incredibly one-sided offer from a peer. Didn't know how to counter without being equally insulting.

Cockcroft: I hear you. That's the pitfall of the opening lowball offer. Makes climbing out of said pit more challenging.

Gianella: if someone starts with a really poor offer, chances are good I won't respond.

That latter point is the only one with which I disagree. I respond to every e-mail, though as noted above, I let the ugly ones age longer than the others. My take is that I will play in leagues with these same owners over and over and I want to remain as positive as possible with all of them.

As it turns out, my lowball offerer came back and said that he would not be insulted by any proposal. That is not my style, but still serves as a good reminder that not everyone looks at these types of trade negotiations the same way.

We were still too far apart on my initial inquiry, but I decided to try again with a different angle. I went back to this same peer with a new proposal for a couple of much lesser deals, which he is apparently at least considering. Another downside of dealing with this particular individual is that he must read his e-mails about every third day – but communications methods will be the subject of another column down the road.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

With the trade season upon us, those of us in non-mixed leagues wait with anticipation for deals that move stars into the American and National Leagues from the other circuits. These top players added into our available pools could be the difference maker for contending fantasy clubs trying to reach the top - or offering hope for non-contenders trying to become relevant.

This past Sunday, the on-and-off trade of Johnny Cueto from Cincinnati to Kansas City was finally consummated. Two of the players heading the other way are young pitchers John Lamb and Brandon Finnegan.

Several of us in National League Tout Wars are in need of pitching and hoped to acquire the new Reds hurlers during our weekly transaction period Sunday night at midnight. Tout rules allow the addition of players currently in the minor leagues for a $1 minimum bid.

Phil Hertz of BaseballHQ made a bid for Lamb and I took a shot at Finnegan, as both players were listed on the league website among available minor leaguers.

While both winning bids were successfully processed by the league software, they were nullified on Monday because of conflicts with the Tout constitution.

“There is no restriction on the types of players who may be bid on: Majors, minors, foreign leagues are all okay, with the exception of players on another Tout Wars active or reserve roster, or players on the 40-man roster in the opposite league (for the AL-Only and NL-Only Tout Wars leagues)…”

Both Lamb and Finnegan were 40-man roster players with both organizations. Though they moved from the AL to the NL on Sunday, the stats provider does not run its updates until overnight. As a result, it is generally accepted that Sunday MLB transactions are excluded from Tout transactions that evening.

Yet the prior point was not rendered fully explicit in the constitution. And there was a further complication. At some point, the league software had been explicitly modified to ensure that all minor leaguers in either league appeared on the site as eligible. No one could recall when and why this change was made.

In effect, even after the MLB trade, in Tout Wars, the players remained in their old leagues through the Sunday midnight transaction deadline. Lamb and Finnegan should not have been listed as available.

So when all was said and done, the league leaders ruled that Lamb and Finnegan (as well as Cueto in the American League) will not be available for acquisition in Tout until the following Sunday.

The message for you and your leagues is to not only understand the rules, but when in doubt, err on the side of action versus inaction. In this case, even though Hertz and I did not end up acquiring Lamb and Finnegan, we did not know that for sure at the time.

Further, our action helped drive a needed clarification to the league constitution and change to the player eligibility lists. Simply put, Sunday transactions will be ineligible for Sunday night inclusion in the bidding process.

Take a look at your leagues to determine if this subject could lead to similar confusion and if so, look to close the gaps before they turn into points of contention.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Now and then in this column, I actually touch on its intended purpose – to discuss interesting rules variations. Whether or not you use them in your leagues, you may come across some ideas to consider for the future.

One very topical area right now is free agent allocation budget (or FAAB) reclaim. As deployed in Tout Wars, the basics are as follows, taken from the league’s online constitution.

“If a player who was bought in the auction is placed on a major league disabled list, 7-day, 15-day or 60-day, his Tout Wars team may release him and ask his SWAT to add the player’s auction salary back to this year’s FAAB.”

(If you clicked on the above link to check out the Tout constitution, don’t mind all the red ink there. It isn’t all my blood spilled, though some of it probably is. The red text denotes changes made for the 2015 season. Even with a long-running group like Tout, the rules are continually kept fresh. So it should be in your leagues, too.)

Here is why the subject is pertinent now, especially in non-mixed leagues. Player reclaim values just dropped in half. Says the constitution…

“If the redemption occurs prior to Thursday 5 pm EDT of the All Star Break, the team may reclaim 100 percent of the player’s salary. If the transaction occurs after Thursday, 5 pm EDT of the All Star break, the team may reclaim 50 percent of the player’s salary.”

The timing works out well. Even though owners have to wait a week before re-using their FAAB, there is still time to build one’s cash reserves before the flurry of interleague trading creates some heated bidding wars. Per the league rules:

“FAAB units acquired in this manner cannot be used for bidding purposes until the following week’s transaction period.”

One of the National League owners, BaseballHQ’s Phil Hertz, bought a very solid team at auction, but one that has since been badly bitten by the injury bug. Still, he was just 16 points out of a share of the lead at the All-Star break.

“I came out of the NL Tout draft lacking starting pitchers,” Hertz said. “As a result, I literally wasted half my budget before the season began acquiring starters (Trevor Cahill and David Buchanan) who were out of the rotation by May. Then I got hit with more serious injuries than I can remember before.”

San Diego’s Wil Myers went onto the disabled list in mid-June for the second time. The outfielder elected surgery to remove bone spurs in his wrist. An eight-week diagnosis meant a second-half August return at best. There would be no guarantee as recovery from wrist problems can be slow.

As a result, Hertz decided to reclaim his $16 paid for Myers.

Here is where it gets interesting. Back to the Tout constitution:

“If a DLed player is released in this manner, he will be placed back in the free agent pool and will be available for FAAB acquisition.”

With Father’s Day festivities taking my time, I missed a nice opportunity, but both Tristan H. Cockcroft and Peter Kreutzer noticed Myers on the waiver wire. The two were willing to take a week of zero stats in order to stash the outfielder on the DL starting the following period – until he comes back. Cockcroft made the more aggressive bid, $8, but only had to pay $2 to win. This move could pay off down the road, and even if not, the risk is minuscule.

Once Hertz noticed this, he decided to insert an extra step into the process when he lost another top contributor, Josh Harrison. Knowing he was assured of an $18 reclaim and suspecting another bidding war ahead when Harrison became a free agent, Hertz offered Harrison for sale himself first. Collectively, the league has considerable cash remaining, and sure enough, USA TODAY’s Steve Gardner landed Harrison for $20 FAAB sent to Hertz.

Down with a thumb ligament, Harrison is going to be out until at least late-August, giving Gardner a month of the infielder’s services at best. Still, compared to other alternatives, Gardner likes his move.

“The reason I was willing to do it is two-fold,” he explained. “First, I don’t have as much FAAB as several other owners in our league, so I’m far enough down in the pecking order that my chances of landing an impact player are slim. The second reason is that I don’t see a major influx of talent coming over from the AL at this year’s trade deadline anyway. There are maybe three AL teams you could consider ‘sellers’ at the deadline this year, compared to as many as eight in the NL.

“Getting Harrison for $20 (of my $65 remaining) is a good deal for me because I know he’ll play regularly when he comes off the disabled list, hopefully in another month. Plus, he qualifies at second base, third base and outfield,” Gardner said.

In other words, this has the early appearance of a win-win for both owners.

They say bad luck comes in threes. That seems the case for Hertz’ 2015 NL Tout squad. His third major bad-luck player, David Wright, originally cost $25. The rest of the league is apparently too wary of the third baseman’s back problems, officially spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column – to pay at least $26 to Hertz. As a result, Wright was cashed out.

Surprisingly, Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus made the only bid on the new free agent Wright this week and secured his services for a paltry $1.

In all three cases, Hertz decided to let others take the risk.

“In each of the three cuts, I was reacting not only to the length of time missed, but also to whether the injuries would impact the player when (if?) he returned,” Hertz said. “Information available indicated that performance would be significantly impacted when they were activated.”

In your leagues, if you haven’t considered FAAB reclaim, please do. However, before you jump in the water, also think through how and when they should be allowed.

 

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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