Here are four basic tenets, or trade rules of engagement, when dealing with "stranger" owners in fantasy leagues. If you have a pre-existing relationship with one or more GMs, these rules don't necessarily apply.
Just keep building friends (or cultivating more enemies) among your list of fantasy acquaintances.
Rule No. 1
Respectfully reject the first-time offer from a stranger owner—unless it's a blowout in your favor.
This one runs very similar to my golden rule of Never accept a 1-for-1 trade involving same-position players. Unless the proposed trade is an instant and obvious upgrade for your squad, there's no glory in immediately accepting the original offer from an unfamiliar owner.
If your heart is set on a different player from Owner B's roster, either send a hard-to-turn-down counteroffer...or just play the silent waiting game, as a means of gauging Owner B's desperation for making a deal. If he/she badly wants Andrew McCutchen (.330 batting) for the outfield, or Clayton Kershaw for pitching, you'll hear about it soon...in the form of a more palatable blockbuster offer.
Rule No. 2
Avoid making sarcastic comments when formally responding to trade offers.
When dealing with friends, enemies or long-time acquaintances who understand your personality, it's OK to send snotty retorts to unsatisfactory trade offers. (Just last week, I scolded a longtime compatriot for his "horse***t" offer involving Jose Reyes and Gio Gonzalez, among others.)
But when interacting with virtual strangers for the first time, nothing good can come from criticizing their trade acumen or estimates of a player's fantasy value. And god help those who take needless personal shots, as a response to an insufficient offer.
You know those time-tested edicts about "Never going to bed angry" or "Never send an emotional email just two seconds after writing it"? Well, the same thinking applies to exhibiting proper decorum with your fellow owners.
Bottom line: Please wait a full season before publicly questioning someone's drafting talents or manhood, in general.
Rule No. 3
When putting a star pitcher or hitter on the block, advertise his availability to every league owner.
If a free-market economy is good enough for this great nation, why wouldn't that ring true in fantasy baseball, as well?
If trading Josh Hamilton, Justin Verlander, Ian Kinsler or Carlos Gonzalez is your most viable means for revitalizing a sluggish roster and competing for a previously unattainable pennant or league title, why not give every owner a chance to bid for these superstars? Why not make a sincere effort to drive up that player's price on the open market? (Scott Boras would be so proud.)
This rule applies to the reception of offers only. If you're going on the offensive to target a certain band of players from a specific team, there's no need to shop your intentions with the other owners. But if you're willing to sell to the highest bidder, willing to create a wide-open market for a player (whether real or contrived), then it's proper to include everyone in on the process.
It also helps to be accessible to each owner (email, phone or IM), just in case they have questions or prefer to haggle on a real-time basis.
Rule No. 4
Always consider an opportunity to help the first-place team in your league go for the kill.
This may seem like blasphemy, helping a first-place club or title contender acquire the one missing piece to a championship. But smart GMs always recognize the need to exploit another owner's depth surplus. The forward-thinking GM understands that three or four starter-worthy assets can, at times, serve a greater purpose than surrounding a superstar with mediocre talent.
For me, the greatest example of this occurred in late April of 2009: Surrendering Evan Longoria and Adam LaRoche in a 2-for-4 trade for Matt Cain (14-8, 2.89 ERA, 171 strikeouts), Pablo Sandoval (.330 batting), Curtis Granderson (30 HRs) and Twins catcher Joe Mauer, who didn't even start his first game that year until May 1...but still managed to post monster numbers (28 HRs, 96 RBI, 94 runs, .365 batting) and win American League MVP honors.
At the time, I looked foolish for giving up a top-five hitter (Longoria) and 25-homer talent (LaRoche) for an erratic pitcher (Cain), heavy-set hitter (Sandoval), up-and-coming outfielder (Granderson) and a major injury risk (Mauer) who was toying with the idea of moving to third base full-time, as a means of preserving his legs.
It was easily the best trade I've made in my fantasy career. Of course, I've been chasing that ghost for three years, too, trying to concoct the next landmark deal that will somehow, some way lead to the unwitting acquisition of baseball's next Most Valuable Player.
Jay Clemons can be reached on Twitter, day or night, at @ATL_JayClemons.