Tout Table: League ethics, communication between teams

Here’s this week’s question, leading to our most answered question of the season:

Let’s talk a little ethics. How much contact should a competing owner have with a non-competing owner in terms of the latter’s roster management? Is everything game? Does certain prodding cross the line? What role should the league commissioner have in this?

Mike Gianella (Baseball Prospectus, @MikeGianella): In terms of trades, it’s fair to make suggestions that will help your team, even if those suggestions also hurt a competitor. For example, if you’re out of it in saves but you can help the team in 8th “steal” a point from a competitor, I believe it’s ethical to suggest a trade that benefits you/hurts a competitor. Beyond this, the only sort of “help” you should offer is if a new owner asks for advice or help regarding rules on FAAB, waivers, trades, etc. It’s not kosher to volunteer help if you’re not asked. Even if your motives are “pure”, everyone acts in their own self-interest even when they don’t intend to do so. I don’t believe a commissioner should get involved unless there’s out and out collusion between two teams. Reminding someone when the FAAB deadline or trade deadline is isn’t collusion. Suggesting a move or moves that would push your team to victory – even if it isn’t a trade – can be collusion if you’re not offering this kind of “help” to everyone in the league.

Doug Dennis (BaseballHQ, @dougdennis41): In a league of sharks like Tout or LABR, I think everything within the rules is fair game–except as Mike points out, collusion, which should not happen in a shark league anyway.  In my home league, I think I would answer this differently, because we have sharks and minnows and you want to keep everyone happy (somehow) so the league doesn’t go supernova.  We instituted a rule in my home league that I really like.  After August 1, you may only trade with teams adjacent to you in the standings. This is very restrictive, but it solves most of the problems anticipated by this particular question.

Craig Mish (SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio, @CraigMish): I notice immediately after the All Star Break in so many leagues the bottom feeders tend to drop off. Even though the outcome may be determined by a non participant I am leery of having too much say into what a team chooses to do, or in this case not do. Some of the websites provide a look into the date that the owner of the team has access and if I find that someone hasn’t logged in over the past month or so, that’s a pretty good indication that I don’t want that owner back in the league next season. I think that penalties imposed for inactivity are fine, but very hard to enforce if they are not in an expert league or high stakes league. The best course of action is to eliminate players who aren’t active in leagues in the future, by identifying them in the present. That has solved all the problems in leagues that I have commissioned.

Tim Heaney (Rotowire, @Tim_Heaney): One of my favorite facets of Tout Wars: These leagues force those at the bottom of the standings to hit a certain threshold of rotisserie points — or a head-to-head level — to avoid losing FAAB next season. The key here is providing incentive to pay attention even if you’re going to finish out of the running. This opens avenues for just about every team to trade with each other, which allows for legitimate season-long opportunities. For the readers: If it’s a keeper/dynasty league, you’re probably going to have many competitors and non-competitors talking trade late into the season, even if the title and cash finishes are just down to a handful of teams. If there’s some way for the bottom feeders to benefit in the future, this is just fine. For leagues where nothing is on the line for those in the bottom half or more of the standings, it’s a slippery slope. Commissioners should make sure every club — even the laggards near the basement — pays attention, but any bottom-to-top swap or the general “hey, put your starting pitchers in so you can defeat my competitor” becomes suspicious. In such cases, those competing for the title or a cash finish should handle things among themselves. If you want to avoid dead spots in a normal redraft league, talk with your buddies about ways to keep everyone involved next year. I like the idea to reward someone who finishes with the best record/point total after the All-Star break: Give ‘em a higher draft pick or extra FAAB the following season.

Todd Zola (Mastersball, @toddzola): I’m good with teams dealing with anyone in the standings. I’m not a fan of a competing owner asking another to replace an injured player (even without making an actual suggestion with respect to the activated player). That said, there’s nothing wrong with the commish sending a league-wide e-mail imploring everyone to manage their team to the bitter end.

Brian Walton (CreativeSports2, @B_Walton): I am not exactly sure of what prodding examples are being suggested, but just because someone makes a suggestion, doesn’t mean I have to take action. I’ve never been the initiator of a “prod” so I cannot comment on that. If an owner becomes inactive, the commissioner needs to put that owner on notice that he will not be asked back next year if he doesn’t manage his team. Tout has penalties, reducing FAAB for the next season, intended to force owners to fight until the end. It also inhibits any temptation for imbalanced trades without having to create more artificial restrictions, which I also like. If your leagues don’t have such a rule, you might consider it.

Mike Podhorzer (Fangraphs, @MikePodhorzer): We’re all adults here and as long as there is no legitimate collusion involved, then let the first place team whisper into the last place team’s ear about making some move that would ultimately benefit the first place team. Hopefully the last place team is ethical enough not to take action if it doesn’t also improve his own team. If we’re just talking about remaining active, as in keeping healthy players in your lineup and benching or DLing your injured/minor league guys, then the commish should assume the responsibility of ensuring all rosters are legal and filled with all Major League players.

Brent Hershey (Baseball HQ, @BrentHQ): I think this is especially the case in experts leagues like Tout, but tend to think it also applies to other “home” leagues as well: That we’re all grownups here, and ideally owners are committed to playing out the entire season. So I think it does step over the line if a competing owner is giving advice to a non-competing owner—especially if the competing owner initiates. Sort of like in most trade-rule “veto” discussions, I feel the difference of opinion on matters like this—player evaluation or team administration—is going to exist, and by trusting each other’s judgement on decisions made fosters a healthier league environment overall.

Rudy Gamble (Razzball, @RudyGamble): While I do not recall ever doing it, a friendly needle to replace an inactive player seems okay. Recommending whom to pickup would cross the ethical line for me.

Jeff Mans (Fantasy Guru Elite, @Jeff_Mans): I think that assuming you know what other owners are going through is a very dangerous slope. It is one thing to say an owner is blatantly not paying attention or doesn’t care but unless you know for certain that they are just ignoring the league I wouldn’t make it a concern of mine. In an industry league such as TOUT Wars we all have bigger fish to fry than to monitor each others feelings about any particular league, player or game. For one of us to say that owner X should spend more time on a league when we have no idea on what that person does on a day to day basis is ridiculous. If any fantasy league wants to be about the industry, I think it is important to support it and those involved rather than try to pick apart somebody’s interest or activity. I can draw from experience on this as last season I was ripped apart for not making roster moves down the stretch. Few knew that the reason for this was a serious health issue that took me out of commission for nearly a month. Was it my fault that I didn’t perform a waiver move? Sure…but is that something that should draw the ire of fellow competitors? Absolutely not. I would suggest everybody enjoy the league, enjoy the experience and if you put in more effort and beat up on others that fall off for whatever reason late in the season…enjoy the win.

Michael Rathburn (Rotowire, @FantasyRath): I’m the agreement with the others who said that we are all “big boys and girls” here and people should be minding their own rosters vs. giving advice to others.

Phil Hertz (BaseballHQ, @prhz50): So long as there’s no collusion, pretty much everything is fair game. I’m copacetic about suggesting a team make a move. Indeed, in some of my leagues, failure to make logical moves can lead to fines and even the loss of a franchise .

Ray Flowers (Fantasy Guru Elite, @BaseballGuys): If you’re in a league, and deals are still allowed, then deals that are “fair” should be allowed to stand, regardless of position in the standings. If leagues are worried about the elites picking off the bottom feeders, then leagues can proactively do things like stopping trades after the actual trade deadline or August 15th or whatever date is chosen. No matter what spot I’m in I’m always trying to improve in every league I’m in. I hope that everyone in the league feels the same way. If someone is willing to put extra time in, to find that right deal/match, I think they should be able to be rewarded for that.

Patrick Davitt (BaseballHQ, @patrickdavitt): I think it depends on the league’s culture. I was leading an AL-only home league way back in 2006. Bobby Abreu came over to NYY from PHI at the deadline, and I had the FAAB hammer. Getting Abreu, who was a four-cat player, (.277-8-65-20 when he was dealt) would have cemented my win. The second-place guy suggested to an also-ran a sequence of moves he could make to get the FAAB hammer and, therefore, Abreu. The also-ran did the moves and got Abreu, who only went .330-7-42-10 in 250 or so AB, pushing the also-ran past me in a couple of cats. I lost the league by half a point. The second-place guy called to ask if I thought he had crossed the line, and I said no. I asked around the rest of the league, and nobody had a problem with it. I later played in a different league where a similar situation occurred (not involving me). The commish polled the league and 9 out of 12 said it was unacceptable to “coach” another owner in what to do/how to do it. As you’d guess from the first anecdote, I have no problem with doing anything that isn’t against the rules. But I would not do anything like that in the second league, because it clearly went against the grain of that league’s owners.

Todd Zola: I don’t know PD, I’d be livid over that chain of events. I don’t think there needs to be formal league rule prohibiting another league member from essentially managing another team, so the act doesn’t qualify as being not against the rules, at least for me.

Jeff Boggis (Fantasy Football Empire, @JeffBoggis): Everthing is game. You can only advance in the league standings by either your players or someone else passing your competitors in the stats categories. Like trading, if a fellow league manager can help you this season, you will be more likely to return the favor in future seasons. I always sort on all statistical categories to see where I can advance or other league managers can pass my competitors. I will then check the rosters of the other teams to ensure that they are still being active, regardless of where they are in our league standings. I also look at the “last login date” to see the last time that our league managers have logged into our website. We’ve worked this hard over the past 4 1/2 months, so all league managers owe it to the league to actively manage their teams for the remaining 1 1/2 months of the season.

Grey Albright (RazzBall, @razzball): I don’t tell people in my league how to manage their teams, instead I stew for months while someone keeps inactive players in their active roster, then I text Rudy something like, “Can you believe so-and-so hasn’t changed their lineup in two months?” Then I’ll write something on Razzball like, “I’m in a league with a so-called expert who hasn’t changed their lineup in a few months.” Then I’ll complain about it on the Razzball podcast for a few weeks. Then I’ll go see my doctor about some stomach pain, and he’ll say, “Grey, have you been stressing yourself out over someone in one of your leagues not adjusting their lineup?” And I’ll say, “No.” But I won’t tell someone in my leagues how to manage their teams.

Fred Zinkie (Rotoworld, Baseball HQ, @FredZinkieMLB): I think Grey hit the nail on the head in his first sentence. To me, it crosses the line to tell other owners “how” to manage their teams. But it doesn’t cross the line to remind them to manage their teams at all. I don’t remember doing this, but if it helps my team in the standings, I would be willing to contact a non-participating owner and request that they maintain their active lineup from this point forward. But I’m not going to the next step and asking them to stream starters or insert power hitters etc.

Glenn Colton (Fantasy Alarm, @glenncolton1): When one agrees to play in a roto baseball league, one is compacting with their league mates to play hard and fair throughout the season. As long as the down and out owner is being urged to make moves to gain more roto points (as opposed to dropping a steals guy to lose roto points), I have no problem with the lobbying. Of course, I hope that all players in my leagues have the pride to keep playing. ps – this type of question highlights why the tout rule of next year faab penalty is so good. It provides strong motivation to play hard throughout.

Howard Bender (Fantasy Alarm, @RotobuzzGuy): If we’re looking at a dead team that has players who are on the DL or in the minors in their active lineup, then there’s nothing wrong with another owner reaching out via email with the commissioner CC’d. It is then up to the commissioner to follow through and ask the dead team’s owner to just set an active lineup. Personnel shouldn’t matter. If the team doesn’t have a replacement player then so be it. The DL’d or demoted player stays in their active lineup. But in no way should another owner ask a bottom-feeder to make a roster change because it would benefit their team. That’s the definition of collusion. Any requests such as that should be reported immediately and the requesting team should be given the boot.

Gene McCaffrey (Wise Guy Baseball, @WiseGuyGene): I agree with PD – everything that the rules don’t forbid is fair game. And I would quit the league where other owners are allowed to veto my not-illegal moves or even worse my conversation. How is that not just another form of collusion?

Tristan H. Cockcroft (ESPN Fantasy, @SultanofStat): If it’s policing dead roster spots (DL, deactivated players), I think it’s the commissioner’s duty alone. In one of my oldest leagues, the rules penalize for these, paid at season’s end and applied to the next year’s prize pool, with the commissioner first issuing a one-scoring-period warning to correct them before a team is subject to penalties. If it’s negotiating a trade that ultimately helps the other team improve in the standings potentially for your own benefit, that’s fair game. If it’s anything else, no way, no how.

D.J. Short (Rotoworld, @djshort): As for getting in touch about a non-competing team’s roster management, I agree with many people here and stay away from that most of the time. However, there have been plenty of times where I mention something to the league commissioner, which could lead to a league-wide email or at least function as a reminder/documentation that the owner in question isn’t invited back the following season. I usually stay away from trading — or at least initiating — with non-competing teams just because the optics can be weird, but we’re all adults and have to assume that people are on the up and up. Obviously it’s not an issue in a keeper or dynasty format where other factors are often at play.

Andy Behrens (Yahoo! Fantasy Sports, @andybehrens): If you play in any casual hometown leagues, then you already understand that prodding inactive teams to make moves in August and September is fairly routine. Under normal circumstances, I won’t go further than encouraging a manager to remove DL’d or demoted players from a starting lineup, but I don’t actually think it’s unethical to encourage waiver adds (as long as it’s merely a suggestion, not a roster takeover). Unless an action is outlawed by the league’s rules, it seems to me that it’s in play.

Jeff Zimmerman (Fangraphs and Fantrax, @jeffwzimmerman): Going through the various, opinions, I’m of the remind but don’t help camps. Also, I find it might be better for any owner to put out a league-wide message. The only times I find owners get mad about this help is if hurts their team.

Clay Link (Rotowire, @claywlink): I don’t think anyone should be meddling with other owners in regards their active lineups, telling them who to start/sit or harping on them to remove injured players. If it’s a regular problem, I think it’s on the commissioner to implement some sort of rule. One rule that I like that I have carried to a league: a three-strike rule against having multiple injured/minors players in your lineup. If an owner can’t take the time to set a good-faith lineup, they should be bounced to protect the integrity of the league. When it comes to trading, I personally haven’t had many experiences with sketchy trades between bottom feeders and contenders, but I think ideally there should be a league veto system to protect against any collusion or trades that alone could very well decide the league.

Stephania Bell (ESPN Fantasy Sports, @Stephania_ESPN): As long as there is no collusion taking place, I am of the belief that most adults are capable of making their own decisions with integrity. There will always be gray areas when it comes to ethics (and that goes for anything, not just fantasy leagues). That said, consistency is key. If something is frowned upon or disallowed early in the season, as collectively agreed upon by the league via its rules, then it should remain the same throughout. And the opposite is also true. Interactions/transactions that are fair to start the season should be considered just as fair late in the season.


Let’s have some fun with this week’s discussion. How would your league handle the scenario Patrick Davit described?