Thursday, May 22, 2008

Yes, it's okay to veto lopsided trades

This started out as a comment to Mike's excellent post here, but it got so long I decided to give it its own separate post. Mike pondered whether it's okay to veto a trade if it's so lopsided it destroys league balance, even if it's technically not collusion. I answer unequivocally: Hell, yes, it's okay.

I play in a highly competitive, 14-team money league (called A1A Fantasy Sports) that uses a "commissioner review" trading policy. (When a trade is proposed by one team and accepted by another, all managers in the league have a right to protest, though it's the commissioner -- which happens to be me in this case -- who ultimately decides whether to approve or reject the trade.)

I don't reject trades lightly. Since 2000, I've only rejected two trades -- one in fantasy baseball and one in football. (And the football one was borderline collusion.) We've had managers protest many, many more, but I try my best to let players manage their rosters how they see fit. (The last one I really struggled over was this one from early last year, which I ultimately approved.)

Still, I think you need to draw the line somewhere, especially in leagues with hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars on the line. Egregiously lopsided trades need to be rejected to protect the rest of the league's managers (who are playing in good faith and for serious money), as well as the integrity of the league itself.

Many leagues use league-wide veto systems, where a trade must be approved by a majority of the league, but I find that can lead to "payback votes" where managers vote no on a trade just because a participant in that trade had done the same to them earlier in the year ... or because they didn't agree with the last trade a participant made ... or any of the number of reasons that can lead to an irrational veto based on emotion rather than reason.

Because of that, I think a "commissioner review" system works best for big money leagues, as long as you find a commissioner who is level-headed and fair, and will carefully consider all arguments made by other managers of the league. This system has not always been universally loved by our managers, but it's been successful enough that, eight years in, we've never had a manager quit over a trading controversy.

To enforce our system, we have a league constitution that deals entirely with trading. (Yes, we are that geeky and take this stuff that seriously.) I know it sounds very rigid and, quite honestly, not much fun. But it's also inconsequential as long as you have a league full of managers who get the game, play smart and always work hard to better their own team. And isn't that what we all want? Here's our constitution in full, for those who are interested:


Trades are not a right, they're a privilege. When you pay your entry fee to play A1A, you buy the right to draft any players you see fit and pick up any players you choose from the free agent pool/waiver wire. You DO NOT purchase the right to make any trade you please. Trading is regulated in A1A, and the Commissioner withholds the right to reject a trade for a number of reasons. As an example, in football, if you're only carrying one quarterback on your roster and that quarterback gets hurt -- and no starting QBs are available on the waiver wire to pick up -- you may find yourself soliciting trade offers for a quarterback with the promise to take the best trade offered. The Commissioner is NOT obligated to approve that trade. It's for this reason that all managers are strongly advised to strengthen their teams through the draft and free agency early and often.

Reasons a trade can be rejected:

1. Collusion: This occurs when a manager makes a trade to purposely better another team without actually improving their own team. Collusion can range from a serious offense (such as one manager trading to improve the team of another manager in exchange for a cut of the prize money) to a seemingly harmless transaction (such as trading a bench player you don't really need to your brother just because your brother needs that player to fill a hole), but either way, it's absolutely not allowed in A1A. When a trade is agreed upon, the Commissioner withholds the right to ask each manager how the trade improves his team, as well as the right to reject the trade if a manager's answer to that question proves unsatisfactory. Collusion can result in a manager's expulsion from A1A.

2. Imbalance of players: If the Commissioner determines that a trade is unbalanced -- i.e. one manager is giving up too much and getting too little in return -- he withholds the right to reject that trade to preserve a league-wide level playing field and to protect the other 12 players in the league not involved with the trade. Whether a trade is unbalanced or not is solely up to the discretion of the Commissioner, but other managers have the right to protest (or defend) a pending trade from the time a trade is accepted up until the time the trade is approved or rejected by the Commissioner. Several factors are weighed when determining if a trade is unfair -- including current year statistics, career statistics, perceived value of a player, where a player was drafted, what hole or holes on a team a traded-for player would fill, etc. -- though, ultimately, it is a judgment call by the Commissioner. Keep in mind, however, current year statistics will carry more and more weight the further into the current season we are.

3. A sudden injury or change in player value. In A1A, a trade is not absolutely final until the Commissioner accepts it. So if one manager trades Player A to another manager for Player B and then Player A gets hurt before the Commissioner accepts the trade, that trade will be rejected since the perceived values of those two players has now changed (unless both managers make it clear that they still want to make the trade even after the injury or value-changing event occurs).

In the end. We want A1A managers to be able to trade as often as they want to improve their fantasy team, but not at the expense of preventing every manager from having a legitimate chance to win the league. Thus, the Commissioner expects trades to be fair and balanced, as well as done for the right reason - the betterment of your team.


Russ said...

i 100% disagree about "sudden injuries." this happened to me a couple weeks ago with a-rod. Arod was the first pick of the draft, and it's not like he was underperforming. as soon as i decided to part with the number one pick and someone accepts to take him, all responsibility for a player that valuable is gone for me.

the only reason to veto that trade is because it wouldn't be fair for the team getting the injured player, but it's just as unfair to make the trading team take back the injured player after deciding to give him up.

Don Ford said...

If two managers agree to trade Player A for Player B and both players are healthy at the time of the trade, then Player A gets injured during the "review" time period then the trade should still go through.

I am the commish of a 5 year running money league and we had that exact situation happen about 4 years ago with Brian Roberts. I ruled that once the trade is accepted the players are the property of the other team.

Bob Taylor said...

I think either way is fine as long as it's stated clearly upfront when a trade officially becomes final.

Ben Lea, staff blogger said...

Not to toot my own horn here (Bob, is there a way to link in the comments to an earlier post?), but again: this is why you really should try to get an independent commissioner, who isn't an owner, if you're going to review and potentially reject trades. It removes even the appearance of impropriety, in that "Caesar's wife must be beyond reproach" kind of way.

Let's take the A1A league Bob's talking about (in a *purely* hypothetical example), and let's say that Owner Bob is in second place. The team in 1st is about to make a really, really dumb trade that'll hamstring his team for 3 months. Owner Bob certainly wants this trade to go through for his own self-interest: we all would. But Commissioner Bob doesn't want the trade to happen, since it would damage the integrity of the league.

Before I offer my suggestion, a quick poll: how many of you are in one and only one league per sport? Not many, I'd bet. So, here's the solution: get an owner from one league to be the Vice-Commissioner in charge of Trade Review in another league.

In our hypothetical instance above, Commissioner Bob doesn't have to agonize over making a decision that would hurt Owner Bob. The trade for review would go to the Vice-Commissioner (who we'll call "Mike" or "Jeff" or "Ben"). And that person is in a better position to be fair-minded and even-handed.

Don Ford said...

not a bad idea

briwiley said...

this one league I would never be in. there is alot on this commisshes plate. let me ask you about this he god ? can he predict the future? has he won 15 yrs in row to be able to tell someone no because his opinion is the truth.leagues like this try t hard for everything to be guess this commish who has final say probably has never won anyway.

Bob Taylor said...


Although your grammatical skills hint at some kind of severe mental retardation, I'll do you the honor of answering your questions anyway.

No, I am not god -- not the Christian god anyway. It is however possible that I'm the reincarnation of one of the lesser Greek gods.

I cannot predict the future, but I'm fairly certain the Pirates will not win the NL Central this year.

No, I have not won 15 years in a row, although that would be quite the achievement since, as I hint in my original post, our league was founded in 2000.

And, yes, I have emerged victorious in this league on one occasion -- the glorious summer of aught-six.

In closing, let me add that I find it shocking that you feel some leagues try too hard for everything to be right. Uh, isn't that a reasonable endgame? Perhaps, you'd be better off sticking to the free Yahoo public leagues, bub.