I've always thought that great fantasy traders must share a bit of DNA with corporate tycoons.
They're not content with making one great deal. They keep probing for the next score and the next one. That's how the best of them go from being a little bit rich or earning a single fantasy championship to becoming billionaires or dynastic fantasy winners.
I think it ceases to be about money for these guys. They just feel most alive when questing after the next brilliant scenario.
Take Rob Utley, one of my league mates and the best fantasy trader I've encountered. Rob admits to growing bored with a fantasy campaign in which he's not wheeling and dealing. He has finished seasons with only four or five players who appeared on his Opening Day roster.
I recently asked Rob if his fantasy trading flowed from a greater love of deal-making.
"In my work, I'm required to negotiate pricing proposals with vendors. I love that part of the job," he said, confirming my theory. "When I've switched jobs and have had to negotiate my contract, that's my favorite part of the process. I used to joke ... that I might write a book one day titled, 'Everything I Know, I Learned from Rotisserie Baseball.' "
My admiration for this deal-making strain is deep because I don't share it. In the business world, if I had a great idea and made $10 million on it, I'd be content to sit back and bask in the cleverness of my plan. That $10 million would never become $100 million.
My mind is fixed on trading because I just swung a big one, dealing a package centered on an $11 Hanley Ramirez for Chipper Jones, Rafael Furcal, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Adam Wainwright and Jason Isringhausen. It was a classic keeper-league deal because I exchanged a tremendous long-term asset for a pile of short-term goodies.
Rob was on the other end of that deal, and it got me thinking about why he's so good at what he does.
His trading style reminds me of a great piece about late-night salesman Ron Popeil that Malcolm Gladwell wrote for the New Yorker. Popeil didn't sell his cookware with gimmicks or carny flash. He took the time to figure out what everyday people wanted in the kitchen and designed products that would meet those needs. Because of his belief in his own inventions, he was able to peddle them in a gentle, self-assured manner that cloaked the relentlessness of his pitch.
Gladwell did such a good job of explaining Popeil's peculiar genius that I started watching his late-night infomercials, just to catch a master in process.
Anyway, back to Rob. He doesn't have a magic formula. When he's contending, he tries to fill holes. When he's not, he tries to secure the best keepers for future seasons. He tries to sell players when they're hot and buy when they're cold.
Rob is a great fantasy trader because he never seems overly focused on what he wants. He always conveys the sense that he has thought about what you need and can deliver it better than anyone. He knows what he wants, of course, but that's never part of the pitch. It's always about you.
He used to say of a fellow owner that, "the difference between his trading style and mine is that I try to trade the people who they want rather than who I want them to have."
I've never felt ripped off by him. He really does offer smart deals that help both parties. As with Popeil, it's the care of the design that allows him to convince you he has your best interests at heart.
"Ripping somebody off may yield a short-term benefit," he said. "But I like to develop the long-term trading relationships."
Rob isn't the only top-notch trader I've encountered. In fact, every good league seems to have one. And they come in different shapes.
I play with another guy, Phil Walls, who's less of a coaxer than Rob but who never tires of proposing deals. Phil, a salesman by trade, won't even join a league if the trading is tepid. He's still excited that he once traded a Bo Jackson rookie card for a Cal Ripken rookie.
"I'm always looking for the next deal," he said. "Pretty much daily in each of my leagues."
See, I find that energy and discipline tremendously impressive. I draft very well, but I can't help letting up at times.
Like Rob, Phil doesn't want to destroy relationships by ripping everyone off. But he's no diplomat.
"I try to be fair in my offers and deals, but I'm out to get as much as I can for as little as it's gonna take, and anyone who is doing any different isn't out to win," he told me.
When I asked him about a favorite deal, he kindly reminded me of a basketball trade we made this year that catapulted his team into contention and basically buried my season (it was Dirk Nowitzki and Jose Calderon for a slumping Joe Johnson and two players who got hurt.)
And these guys wonder why I don't like to trade.