Ah, May. The time when trees are in full bloom, birds return to sing a new spring song, and you look at your fantasy baseball team and think, Holy Crikey I’m stuck in eighth place and my top three picks all suck and my bullpen is a mess and boy oh boy do I need saves.
Well, guess what? Right now, there’s a creepy man outside your window, watching you weeping softly, and he’s thinking the very same thing. And you know what he’s about to do?
Offer you Torii Hunter and Chad Qualls for Grady Sizemore. And you know what’s worse?
You’re going to consider it.
I mean, what could be better? Hunter isn’t Sizemore, sure, but he’s still good — and you get the added bonus of a closer! It’s like getting a free player! It’s a two-for-one! And it makes perfect sense, right?
No. No, it does not make sense. Step away from the two-fer. Step away slowly.
Today we’re going to talk about something the Baron likes to call “talent dilution.” It goes like this. Let’s imagine every player on your team could be rated on a scale of 1 to 5. Superstars drafted in the first three rounds, like Sizemore, are 5s. Decent, mid-round players like Hunter are 3s. Midlevel closers (you know, the guys who went in rounds 12 through 15) are 2s. And all replacement level free-agent pick-ups are 1s.
Using this rough scale, you might say: Hunter + Qualls = Sizemore, because 3 + 2 = 5. Ergo, this trade is fair.
But think of this: The person getting Sizemore – i.e. the creepy guy outside your window RIGHT NOW – is going to upgrade from a 3 to a 5, then replace Qualls with, at worst, a replacement-level pitcher, e.g. a 1 (Arredondo in a non-holds league), or maybe even a 2 (say Tavarez is available, who might get saves). So while you wind up with five points worth of talent, he winds up with six or seven. In other words, he wins.
And that’s assuming you have a shallow FA pool with only shizztastic players available. Often, though, in a 12-team mixed league, there are perfectly good 2s and 3s – guys like Adam LaRoche and Travis Snider and Kaz Matsui and Hideki Matsui – just sitting there waiting to be plucked. Which makes the two-fer trade all the more attractive – to the guy getting one player and giving up two. Because you’re never just getting back one player – you’re getting one player plus a replacement to fill the subsequent hole.
Still, you might say: So what, Baron? What do I care if the other guy picks up a good FA? I’m busy identifying a weakness on my team and addressing it by trading a valuable chip! What’s wrong with that?
Well, as a result, you go from having one star player to two middling players. Then, later in the season, as other needs crop up, you look to make another trade – except now instead of Sizemore to offer, you have Hunter. If he’s a 3, what can he bring back? A 3, if you’re lucky. Or a 2 plus a 1. You know what he can’t bring back? A five. Like Sizemore.
And even if you don’t need to make another trade, you’re stuck with a team full of middling guys — it’s almost like you sat out the first five rounds of the draft so you could stockpile extra picks in rounds 7 through 20. Who are you, Bill Belichick?
For this reason, two-for-ones are almost always a bad idea to accept early in the season, and they ain’t great late in the season either. (Of course, you know your particular league better than I do. For example, in some leagues, the jostling for saves is so intense that you have to make two-fers to survive.)
For this same reason, though, two-fer-ones are great trades for you to make early in the season if you are giving up two to get one – even if you’re not sold on the replacement player you’ll be using. Because you are stockpiling value now, which will help you later, instead of divesting value now, which will hurt you later.
P.S. The other, much more efficient way to totally screw your team into the ground is by dropping slumping stars early so you can pick up hot FAs. Of course, no one thinks they are doing this at the time. But look back at how many questions like “I am so sick of Beckett killing me – should I drop him for Kyle Davies?” pop up in the messages.
It is natural to get frustrated when your stars – you wasted such high picks on them! You had such high hopes! – struggle while no-name guys shine. You want the shiny things! And who knows — maybe Kyle Davies is this year’s Cliff Lee!
But for every Quentin – who will blossom over the season into a valuable 5 – there will be ten Bonifacios, who burn brightly but flare out. Which is how you wake up in June with a team full of no-names like David (or Daniel) Murphy who had two good weeks back in April, while all the guys you dropped because they were slumping got snatched up by smarter owners than you.
Moral of the story: Don’t be that guy. Be the smarter one.