The Keeper Trade Conundrum

Dobber Sports


By J.P. of Japer's Rink It's that time of the year again – the race for your fantasy league's title is whittling itself down to a few contenders and, if you're in a one-year league, the pretenders are working on their fantasy baseball draft prep. If you're in a keeper league, though, the pretenders are looking to the future. Either way, there is a growing fear among the teams at the top that one (or more) of the teams at the bottom will make a trade that will fundamentally shift the balance of power at the top in a way that's not in the best interest of the league. You know the trade I'm talking about – the one that results in name-calling, threats to quit the league and crying like a girl watching Titanic. There are basically three reasons a bottom-feeder team will make such
a trade: they'll do it out of indifference – they don't care any more,
so sure, they'll make a trade; they'll do it out of malice or
collusion – why not help out my buddy at the top?; or they'll do it
out of a desire to make their team better for next year. This last
one only applies to keeper leagues, obviously, but is the most
difficult to deal with because the bottom-feeding (and if you're that
team and want to feel better about yourself, feel free to substitute
the term "future contending team") owner really is acting in his own
best interest.

Let me use an example. I'm in an ultra-competitive 12-team keeper
league – the Phantasy Hockey League (PHL) – where we have NHL-size
rosters and are allowed to keep up to five players each year. Right
now there are a few teams at the top with a chance to win the League
and a number at the bottom just hanging around to post links to barely
legal chicks on the League message board. Now, assume that one of
those teams, cognizant of its chances to win the League, wants a stud
keeper (say, Dany Heatley) from one of the top teams. This
bottom-feeder decides that he has five attractive players that are
good, but not "keeper quality" – Nick Lidstrom, Peter Forsberg, Keith
Tkachuk, Alex Tanguay and Martin Straka – so he offers these five for
Heatley. If the trade is accepted, he wins because he gets his stud
keeper for next year, this year be damned (but he'll stay active for
the Keeley Hazel links, of course). The Heatley owner also likely
wins because though he's lost a great keeper, he's added enough talent
in the short-term to win the League. Both owners win, the League

So it comes down to this – should your league prevent such a trade?
And if so, how? Assuming that the answer to the first of these
questions is "yes," here are some ideas on the second question.

To begin with, you absolutely must have trade voting (I'd be surprised
if any serious leagues don't use some sort of trade voting system).
In the PHL, if there are six votes against a trade, it's vetoed. But
what are valid reasons for voting against a trade? There's no
collusion here, and each team is legitimately trying to make itself
better. Should the Heatley owner be punished for having such a sought
after commodity? Should the other owner be punished for trying to
make his team better for the future? How do you determine what's
"fair"? One idea we've toyed with to remove the subjectivity is to
require that trades have a relatively equal amount (a certain
percentage or dollar value) of
NHL salaries going each way, but that's imperfect too.

We've done a couple of other things to try to limit these trades as
well. For example, we give out prize money for the team that rises
the most in the standings after January 1. This keeps some
lower-echelon teams interested in improving throughout the second half
(which is important because nothing is worse than a dormant owner's
indifference determining