Most fantasy baseball leagues invoke trade deadlines of mid-August.
So, with roughly five weeks left to dicker and deal, here are 10 simple rules to follow when entering the realm of high-stakes trade talks.
1. Execute an honest assessment of your roster
This rule goes deeper than taking a quick gander at each player's stats from three different angles (15 days, 30 days, seasonal). It also calls for owners breaking down the standings, while defining their status within specific categories.
Do you have two healthy closers, ensuring that you'll finish no worse than middle-of-the-pack in saves?
Is your categorical lead in steals more than 10 or 15 thefts? If so, it's time to shed two or three elite speedsters, via trade, in hopes of landing a prime contributor in RBI, batting average, runs or homers.
How many categories are lost causes right now? When applicable, it might be time to cut bait in certain areas.
For example, if you own Adam Dunn (25 HR, 60 RBI, .213 BA) but don't have the potential to move up two, three or five slots in homers/RBI over the next month, there's no point in owning Dunn. Trade him to a contending team that's desperate for power.
2. Before trading a superstar, make sure that every owner gets in on the bidding
Here's one of my favorite pet peeves of the fantasy realm. If your team requires a substantial makeover before one last playoff push, and trading Joey Votto (14 HR, 47 RBI, 50 R, .350 BA) is the best avenue for filling vital holes on a roster, why limit Votto's marketability to just one or two teams?
If the concept of a free-market economy works in America, why wouldn't that hold true in Fantasyland as well?
To pull this off, simply send every owner the same two-paragraph message of Votto's availability, along with extremely vague references to what you're seeking in return. Then set a firm deadline for all trade submissions.
It's the most effective way to attract serious, time-sensitive offers. Don't let tire-kickers control this process.
3. Don't approve same-position deals (3B for 3B, OF for OF) unless it's a blowout
Here's the best way to approach this one: Why would Owner B offer you his/her Tier 2 outfielder for your Tier 2 outfielder if he/she thought his/her player would finish the season with better numbers?
Unless two same-position assets of comparable value bring completely different things to the table, there is no reason to break this rule.
If you crave positional versatility and more steals, perhaps it's worth owning 2B/OF Ben Zobrist instead of Josh Willingham; but generally, when considering players with similar skill sets, it all comes back to the question in the above paragraph.
The same holds true for healthy starting pitchers: Why would Owner B offer you the better arm in a one-for-one swap? Is it a random act of kindness, or does he/she believe your pitcher will post better numbers from this point forward?
The obvious wild card with this rule lies with Stephen Strasburg (9-3, 2.81 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 122/27 K/BB). Last week, I had him ranked as the No. 2 starting pitcher for July, August and September—but the Nationals have also promised to shut him down sometime around the 160-inning mark (per ESPN.com), regardless of how the club is faring in the playoff chase.
Bottom line: If Strasburg becomes a healthy scratch for a two-to-three-week period, his value on your fantasy roster goes down substantially. Trading him at a below-market rate in July might be the best course of action.
4. Admirable bench depth can be compromised in July and August
This one applies to owners offering uneven blockbusters.
In 12-team leagues, don't be afraid to sacrifice quality veteran assets (Nelson Cruz, Jay Bruce, Max Scherzer, James McDonald, Huston Street, Matt Harrison, B.J. Upton, Ryan Vogelsong, Ryan Dempster, Corey Hart, Dan Uggla, J.J. Hardy, Aaron Hill, etc.) as the final pieces in a two-for-one, three-for-one or four-for-two mega-deal, in the name of landing a superstar like Andrew McCutchen, Ryan Braun or David Wright.
You can always find decent players on the waiver wire. There will always be specialized options to fill certain positional holes.
In fact, by trading for a five-category superstar, owners should subsequently feel obligated to fill the vacant spots with single- or double-category contributors.
5. Sell, sell, sell another owner on the idea of the next big thing
In a year where phenoms Mike Trout (10 HR, 36 RBI, 52 R, 23 S, .343 BA) and Bryce Harper (8 HR, 23 RBI, 41 R, 8 S, .280 BA) have taken the baseball world by storm, this is the perfect time to use the unlimited potential of Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo (23 homers, .343 batting in Triple-A ball before getting promoted) as a viable trade chip in the next 10 days.
Just keep reminding non-Trout or non-Harper owners about the wonderful benefits of possessing supreme young talents like Rizzo.
Drive home the point of how they would be crazy to pass on a ground-floor opportunity via trade.
6. Don't allow catchers, shortstops or relievers to be centerpieces of a blockbuster trade
Back in March and April, I pleaded with owners not to reach for catchers, shortstops or relievers in the early rounds of the draft. The lone exception was Troy Tulowitzki, a sad fact that brings even more truth to the above rule.
The same rule applies in July: Most fantasy pennants are not claimed with two or more catchers on a single roster. Very few fantasy titles will be captured with Zack Cozart or Ian Desmond in the utility spots. And as long as you've had two healthy closers since April or May, you will never finish last in saves.
The key to improvement at these positions: Low-key trades and timely waiver-wire acquisitions. Let the 15-day and 30-day progress reports dictate your waiver-wire needs.
In the last 10 years, I cannot recall too many instances where a league champion also won the saves title. If that's the case, we're usually talking about leagues full of absentee or indifferent owners.
The categories of wins, ERA, WHIP and strikeouts are more vital to championship contention.
7. Don't be afraid to cut an obnoxious owner out of the trade loop
This one is quite simple: Upon receiving three lopsided offers from a stranger owner in a relatively short period of time (none in your favor), secretly bar him/her from all future deals.
Being disrespected by another GM is a big no-no in fantasy. A white-collar crime worthy of incommunicable banishment.
Or something like that.
8. Don't play a passive role in trade discussions
It's always fun to see an unexpected trade proposal pop up in your email inbox—especially during a dull and listless workday. But when it comes to executing pre-deadline deals, it's better to be the one initiating the talks.
Don't let Owner B toss out random names, hoping that you will bite out of desperation.
In a cordial and professional manner, stealthily take control of the discussions—whether it involves setting deadlines for responses, counteroffers or windows of exclusivity with certain owners.
In other words, commit to landing the players you want—not the ones Owners B, C or D would like you to have. And if none of these players can be realistically purchased, feel empowered to walk away from the table, free and clear.
9. Always side with the batter on fair one-for-one deals
This hard-and-fast rule has no exceptions in my book. None. (Are you hearing me, Peter Smick?)
As great as Justin Verlander is in the fantasy realm, his once-every-five-days fantasy value cannot compare to that of an upper-crust hitter like Josh Hamilton, Robinson Cano or Miguel Cabrera.
Remember Verlander's so-so start against the Rays on June 29 (four runs allowed in six innings)? As a consequence, Verlander essentially went nine days (June 25-July 3) without contributing in the pitching realm (strikeouts aside).
When Cano has a bad game or two, it only consumes one or two days of the fantasy calendar.
Moving down the ladder, I love the fact that A.J. Burnett won eight straight decisions from May 19 to June 28, while surrendering just 12 runs over 49 innings (2.20 ERA). But when paired up against a similarly talented player like Alex Rios, I'm taking the latter (June stats: 6 HR, 16 RBI, 22 R, 8 S, .346 BA) and never looking back!
Which brings us to the last rule...
10. Don't spend more than one hour researching or mulling over a specific trade offer
Your time is valuable. Don't waste it lamenting a deal that will likely never happen or improve your chances of a fantasy title.
Jay Clemons can be reached on Twitter, day or night, at @ATL_JayClemons.