By PETER Oâ€™NEIL
As a father of three children between ages 11 and six I probably spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with manners: â€œDevin, elbows off the table please.â€ â€œMcKenzie, donâ€™t talk with your mouth full.â€ â€œWill, stop firing your Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast gun in Aunt Ruthieâ€™s ear.â€
So Iâ€™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 â€œinsultingâ€ offer, or simply ignores e-mailed suggestions he doesnâ€™t find appealing. Why even consider making offers to people like that?
Iâ€™m far from perfect on this front, but after giving this matter some thought Iâ€™ve come up with some dos and donâ€™ts that I think make trade talks pleasant and build, rather than raze, bridges.
*No one likes the silent treatment. Try to respond promptly to a trade offer or e-mail query, even if itâ€™s just a â€œthanks for the offer/idea but no thanks.â€ Itâ€™s pretty frustrating going to the trouble of putting together an offer, developing a rationale, and have it sit in someoneâ€™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 thatâ€™s both rude and unethical.
I realize some people will pester others with offers and not take no for an answer. A firm â€œthanks but Iâ€™m not interestedâ€ 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. â€œThanks for this! I donâ€™t think that would work for me, Iâ€™m not really a fan of Kevin Millwood and Iâ€™m pretty attached to King Felix, but when youâ€™re ready to part with Peavy letâ€™s talk.â€
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 doesnâ€™t insult the other personâ€™s intelligence. Remember, even if they accept a low-ball deal the long-term impact could be negative, because if that person is burned theyâ€™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 everyoneâ€™s hyper-busy thatâ€™s not always realistic. It might be fairer to say: â€œSorry, Iâ€™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.â€ The other guy doesnâ€™t have to do any research at all to simply bang out on the keyboard â€œyesâ€ or â€œno.â€
*Respect confidences and privacy. Itâ€™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.
*Say anything in trade discussions you wouldnâ€™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 wonâ€™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 didnâ€™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: â€œThis isnâ€™t a tea party, you know.â€ Well, he may think a fantasy baseball league encounter is the equivalent of a longshoremensâ€™ night out at the local pub, but thatâ€™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 itâ€™s a low-ball offer. Itâ€™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, youâ€™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 â€œbuy low, sell high,â€ so you make an offer legitimately believing itâ€™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 Iâ€™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, â€œPlease be serious.â€ I had dangled the leagueâ€™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 heâ€™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 itâ€™s probably best to begin with: â€œI realize we arenâ€™t going to do this deal but I just wanted to point out that I think you are underestimating my playerâ€™s value because ofâ€¦â€
*Donâ€™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. Heâ€™d post on the forum: â€œOffers! Where are my offers? Câ€™mon guys, I need to make a move.â€ And when we actually sent him offers, by email or even by phone, he didnâ€™t even respond.
To sum up, be polite and respectful, and donâ€™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: â€œIs this something Iâ€™d say face-to-face?â€ AND, most important, remember that no one views players exactly the way you do.
(Peter OÂ¹Neil, who covers Europe from Paris for a Canadian news agency, is aâ€¨former stock market columnist for the Financial Times of Canada. He won theâ€¨2007 RotomanÂ¹s Regulars non-keeper title and is multiple winner of the Brianâ€¨BaskinÂ¹s Fantasy Baseball League based in Ottawa.)