Peter O’Neil: Etiquette!

TRADING ETIQUETTE

By PETER O’NEIL

As a father of three children between ages 11 and six I probably spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with manners: “Devin, elbows off the table please.” “McKenzie, don’t talk with your mouth full.” “Will, stop firing your Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast gun in Aunt Ruthie’s ear.”

So I’m particularly conscious these days of the social interactions surrounding trade negotiations.

Trading is at its best when you are honestly sharing ideas and information, keeping doors open, testing bottom lines, and finding the best deal that leaves both sides happy. In my experience this never happens if an owner involved in the negotiations is quick to spit venom at the first sign of a so-called “insulting” offer, or simply ignores e-mailed suggestions he doesn’t find appealing. Why even consider making offers to people like that?

I’m far from perfect on this front, but after giving this matter some thought I’ve come up with some dos and don’ts that I think make trade talks pleasant and build, rather than raze, bridges.

DO:

*No one likes the silent treatment. Try to respond promptly to a trade offer or e-mail query, even if it’s just a “thanks for the offer/idea but no thanks.” It’s pretty frustrating going to the trouble of putting together an offer, developing a rationale, and have it sit in someone’s in-basket for a week or longer. I know of someone who forgot about an offer he made in that situation, and it was finally accepted after the player he sought went on the disabled list. Now that’s both rude and unethical.

I realize some people will pester others with offers and not take no for an answer. A firm “thanks but I’m not interested” should be applied, and after that it makes total sense to ignore further contact.

*Throw in a few pleases and lots of thank-yous, the latter even if you get what you perceive to be a low-ball offer. “Thanks for this! I don’t think that would work for me, I’m not really a fan of Kevin Millwood and I’m pretty attached to King Felix, but when you’re ready to part with Peavy let’s talk.”

It might turn your stomach to laugh off a ridiculous offer but you only catch fish if some of them are nibbling.

*Conversely, try to respect your league-mates by doing your best to make sure the offer doesn’t insult the other person’s intelligence. Remember, even if they accept a low-ball deal the long-term impact could be negative, because if that person is burned they’ll be twice-shy. The other downside, of course, is they start to mistrust your offers even when they are legit.

I have some friends who say that respect means you should never make an offer without providing meticulous research to prove the deal is beneficial to the other guy. But in this era when everyone’s hyper-busy that’s not always realistic. It might be fairer to say: “Sorry, I’m busy, not sure if you want a steals guy and no time to check, but if you have a need for speed B.J. Upton is available for power.” The other guy doesn’t have to do any research at all to simply bang out on the keyboard “yes” or “no.”

*Respect confidences and privacy. It’s not ethical in my opinion to take elements of a private trade discussion public on a league forum without the permission of the other person.

DON’T:

*Say anything in trade discussions you wouldn’t say at a social event with acquaintances. For instance, calling an offer ridiculous or absurd is inflammatory, insulting and counterproductive. Maybe you think the insult is just, but if you want to trade with that person again why would you alienate them? And trust me, word will get around if you are abusive and others won’t want to deal with you either.

I received a very reasonable offer from someone this year, delivered politely, and I said no. He asked for a counter but I just didn’t have the stomach to offer one. Why? Last year he called an offer I made ridiculous and when I objected to his tone he said something along the lines of: “This isn’t a tea party, you know.” Well, he may think a fantasy baseball league encounter is the equivalent of a longshoremens’ night out at the local pub, but that’s not my style. I face enough stress, and challenging people, in my day job.

*Assume the person making what seems to be an obvious low-ball offer knows it’s a low-ball offer. It’s very hard to be objective about your own players. You follow a player through his minor league career and pick him in the March draft, he hits .340 in April with six home runs, you’re giddy as heck, feel like a genius, and suddenly notice an established player is hitting .196 in April with two rbis, and has a bothersome hammy. You listen to experts constantly chanting the mantra “buy low, sell high,” so you make an offer legitimately believing it’s fair, and then you get a response a treats it like a slap in the face. I remember touting Jeff Hamilton last year in late April and I got heckled a fair bit, but I legitimately believed I’d struck gold. I think his performance since then has proven that, when healthy, this guy is a stud. But when I flogged him in early-2007 trade talks some of my leaguemates treated me like a snake oil salesman.

Last year I broke my own rule and responded to an offer by saying something along the lines of, “Please be serious.” I had dangled the league’s best closer, looking for a starter, and was offered a rookie pitcher with a 5.00-plus era. But I think I let my disappointment over the lack of decent offers from others get the best of me, and I took out my frustrations on this poor guy. Maybe he’s in keeper leagues where this phenom is considered gold, and perhaps he actually thought the kid was about to have a huge second half. I felt badly, as the guy did take offence, and I think I unnecessarily burned a bridge.

*Harass or argue with someone who turns you down, unless they say something that you believe is fundamentally incorrect. Even then it’s probably best to begin with: “I realize we aren’t going to do this deal but I just wanted to point out that I think you are underestimating my player’s value because of…”

*Don’t always ask for offers without coming up with your own. Do some legwork yourself. I was in a league with a guy with the attention span of a three-year-old who would break most of the aforementioned rules. He’d post on the forum: “Offers! Where are my offers? C’mon guys, I need to make a move.” And when we actually sent him offers, by email or even by phone, he didn’t even respond.

To sum up, be polite and respectful, and don’t abuse the anonymity the internet age provides you. Pretend an e-mail is a phone call, and an actual exchange is a live conversation. Ask yourself: “Is this something I’d say face-to-face?” AND, most important, remember that no one views players exactly the way you do.

-30-

(Peter O¹Neil, who covers Europe from Paris for a Canadian news agency, is a
former stock market columnist for the Financial Times of Canada. He won the
2007 Rotoman¹s Regulars non-keeper title and is multiple winner of the Brian
Baskin¹s Fantasy Baseball League based in Ottawa.)

One thought on “Peter O’Neil: Etiquette!

  1. This all seems like common sense to me, but it’s amazing how many owners I’ve run across over the years who break these rules over and over and over again. The worst in my opinion is the owner who does what Peter said, which is post messages over and over again that say, “Make me an offer” on the message board. It’s incredibly lazy, and you sort of feel like, “why should I deal with this guy who doesn’t even have the imagination to make me a good offer?”

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