With the majority of fantasy trade deadlines coming up in the next week or two (I have four red-letter dates of Aug. 10), here are a set of general rules to abide by before instigating or responding to any season-changing, pennant-defining deals for August and September.
On Friday, I'll break down four specific examples of blockbuster trades.
1. Don't sugarcoat your roster weaknesses
It's important to stay aggressive throughout a pennant drive, executing modest swaps of outfielders and corner infielders in free agency, or using a pitcher's last three or four starts as the impetus for mixing and matching the final spots of a starting staff.
But the real growth comes in the form of an honest audit of your roster, while asking some hard questions:
a. Do I have enough offense to take honors in at least three categories?
b. Will I finish no worse than middle-of-the-pack in all offensive categories?
c. Will there be any lost-cause categories in late August or early September? If so, is it worth getting better today or cutting my losses?
d. On the pitching end, do I have enough closers to guarantee a fifth-or-higher finish in saves?
e. Is it worth my time to own more than two primary closers? Would that roster spot be better served with a starting pitcher?
2. Never approve a same-position deal involving starting pitchers, unless it's a blowout in your favor
Think about it: When Owner B offers you Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn (13-4, 3.42 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 123/41 K-BB) for Giants southpaw Madison Bumgarner (11-6, 3.09 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 130/29 K-BB), he/she essentially believes they're pedaling the inferior performer in four categories (strikeouts, wins, ERA, WHIP) and hopes that you'll take the bait—perhaps out of loyalty to St. Louis players or a loathing for San Francisco stars.
What else could be their motivation for proposing such a deal, with just two months to spare? Charity...or the belief that Bumgarner will finish with markedly better numbers? (I choose the latter.)
If Lynn (five-plus runs allowed in four of his last seven starts) and Bumgarner brought separate things to the fantasy table, that would be different. But unless one feels that Lynn clearly has the better prospects from this point forward, it's a waste of pre-deadline time to exchange remarkably similar assets.
3. Never surrender a top-10 hitter for a top-20 pitcher in a 1-for-1 swap...unless it's absolutely essential to your pennant chances
When comparing an elite fantasy hitter to an elite fantasy pitcher, I will ALWAYS side with the batter in trades. As of today's date (Aug. 2), Grade-A arms like Jered Weaver, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernadez and Matt Cain are staring at no less than nine starts and no more than 11 starts in the season's final two months.
Conversely, healthy star hitters like Miguel Cabrera, Andrew McCutchen, Matt Kemp, Mike Trout and Albert Pujols should have a conservative estimate of 212 chances (53 games + four daily at-bats) to impact their fantasy status, or 212 opportunities to alter the fortunes of their respective fantasy teams.
Plus, there's an upper-hand angle to all of this: If you advertise that McCutchen (.446 batting average in July) or Miggy (26 homers, 87 RBI, .323 batting) is available to every league owner, you're more likely to get a flood of offers for either superstar. But when attempting to trade pitchers Verlander or Weaver, only a handful of clubs are plausible matches (in relation to the expected return of a top-3 starter).
4. Actively seek out the owner who's one player away from making the playoffs or winning a championship—even if you're on the brink of a title
Mike Trout (10 HR, 23 RBI, 32 runs, 11 steals, .392 BA for July) might be coming off the greatest fantasy month since the designated hitter's inception in 1973, but if you can land four or five prominent players for just one Trout (and a few non-essential throw-ins), this might be something to consider.
But again, to fully maximize your return for someone of Trout's caliber, it's vital to promote his availability to every owner, with the clear intent of selling to the highest bidder. When dealing with just one GM, you have now assumed the (needless) burden of brainstorming your own mega-deal.
5. Do your homework (and eat your vegetables)
I'm always chagrined with owners who pose lazy questions on Twitter like, Who should I trade Joey Votto for? or, Which top-10 third baseman should I acquire down the stretch?
These queries are usually the calling card of a fantasy owner who hasn't taken the time to look at their league rosters/standings as a means of figuring out:
a. Which playoff hopeful needs a prominent starting pitcher or outfielder for the final eight weeks?
b. Is there a way to block a title contender from making a momentum-changing trade?
c. In head-to-head leagues, which owner desperately needs a victory next week—and cannot afford to take chances on trades that won't boost the short-term bottom line?
d. Which owner requires a serious talent infusion, courtesy of a 3-for-1 or 4-for-2 trade?
6. Admirable bench depth should always be compromised when going all-in on a blockbuster trade
In 10, 12 or 14-team leagues, your No. 3, 4 or 5 starting pitcher or No. 4 or 5 outfielder can be replaced at any point of any day. So, for the love of Pete Harnisch, please don't hesitate to use these productive, but replaceable assets as clinchers for a 3-for-1, 4-for-2 or 5-for-2 blockbuster.
Unless you're playing in a keeper league, fantasy owners who aren't currently sitting top-3 in the standings should feel obligated to take bold risks, in hopes of sparking a sustained comeback over the next two months.
Jay Clemons can be reached on Twitter, day or night, at @ATL_JayClemons.