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Cutting Off Your Opponent’s Supply Lines

This is a guest article by Derek Carty of The Hardball Times Fantasy Focus.

There’s been some talk over the past month or so about trading and how you should always look at the bigger picture when contemplating whether or not to make a trade.  Lenny Melnick did an entire podcast about trading, and Patrick DiCaprio at the Fantasy Baseball Generals came up with a set of guidelines to use for trading.

I absolutely agree that when making a trade, the ultimate goal of winning the league should be your #1 priority.  Some of the great strategists of all time have had no problem losing a battle if it helped them improve their prospects of winning the war.

Lenny and Patrick both said that when evaluating a trade, the traditional sense of “value” should be ignored.  For example, trading Adam Dunn for Michael Bourn shouldn’t be immediately discarded as a terrible trade if the player acquiring Bourn has a huge lead in homers and RBI and needs steals.

I’m of the opinion that you should always seek out a better trade, but if the best base stealer you can get for Dunn is Bourn (and you can’t get a better player who fills another need), then I would definitely agree that this is a good trade.  This isn’t exactly what I’d like to talk about today, but the concept is the same: making moves that, in a vacuum, might not be considered good trades but will help you move closer to your ultimate goal of winning the league.

In the context of military operations, this is known as “grand strategy.”  Grand strategy involves looking at more than just the immediate battle and focusing on the best ways to win the entire war.

A great example of this came during the Vietnam War.  A truce was called for the Vietnamese holiday of Tet, but the Vietcong launched a surprise attack on several key strategic locations.  They hit locations that were strongholds for the United States media and strong symbols for the American public, including palaces, airbases, and the United States Embassy.  While the U.S. ultimately pushed the enemy back and suffered far fewer losses than the Vietcong did, the media coverage of the carnage of the Tet Offensive caused the U.S. public to form strong anti-war sentiments.  This, combined with the upcoming presidential election, led to the removal of American forces in Vietnam despite never losing a battle.

Part of grand strategy is knowing your opponent, a topic I’ve talked about in the past at THT.  It is very important to constantly be talking to the owners in your league and gathering information.

By keeping your ear to the ground, you will often hear about trade negotiations going on between teams in your leagues.  If you hear about a trade involving one of your closest competitors, it can be beneficial to begin talking with the other team in the deal about the player involved (assuming you also think highly of this player).

Making a trade for the player your close competitor is trying to get has several benefits.  First and most importantly, it prevents him from making the trade himself and acquiring the player.  This is akin to cutting off an opposing army’s supply lines.  Really, it’s akin to redirecting the opposing army’s supply lines to fuel your own army.

Even if the trade is only a lateral move… really, even if you take a small loss, that small loss could actually benefit you more than your opponent receiving a huge gain.  Allowing his team to improve is the same as hurting your own.

As an example, let’s say that your top competitor is discussing a trade of his Gavin Floyd for another owner’s Johnny Cueto.  Even if you jumped in and offered Tim Lincecum for Cueto, there would still be many benefits to making the move.  By not stepping in, your competitor would be receiving a player with a 3.98 LIPS ERA (and upside) for a player with a 4.47 LIPS ERA, a significant upgrade.  Even though Lincecum’s 3.78 LIPS ERA is better than Cueto’s, this drop-off would still be better than allowing your opponent to receive an even larger upgrade.

Another advantage is that you are receiving a player that your competitor wants.  By acquiring him yourself, the possibility exists that you’ll be able to flip him to your competitor and actually end up receiving an upgrade while downgrading your opponent’s team.  If he’s trading for Cueto to begin with, he obviously knows that he is better than his ERA indicates and might be willing to give quite a bit more for him if necessary.

Of course, you need to consider that you often have more than one close competitor, so weigh your league’s specific situation and decide from there if the original trade is worth it.  Taking too big of a hit to your team might be the wrong move, even if you gain an advantage over one owner.

This won’t always be the appropriate move, but this is the type of thinking we need to get in the habit of using in order to be successful fantasy owners.

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