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Rethinking Prospect Trade Value in Dynasty Leagues

The other day one of the best dynasty managers I know and a good friend tweeted this (do read the whole string please):


Since then I’ve been thinking about it and talking to him about it, and it creates an interesting conundrum when thinking about how we think about trading in dynasty leagues. As Mags noted in the thread – the TDBC 5-year best ball leagues create an interesting example of this. These leagues have a very different looking draft board than we see in startup dynasty leagues. Part of this is certainly because in order to win the overall you need to compete every year and so players with potential future value have less and less value the further away from the majors they are, and even more so the further away from being major league contributors.

Rethinking Prospect Value in Dynasty Leagues

So, as Mags notes, since this is a hard thing to balance, and again, since ranking is an incredibly difficult task, I’m not questioning the rankers or how they rank prospects in either prospect or overall lists. A little while back Ian Kahn over at the Athletic dropped separate win now and win later dynasty ranks to explore some of the variety there and create an alternative route to consider prospect values in trades. However, and more to the point, I’m not convinced that this is actually a ranking problem, at least fully, as much as it may be a problem in how we use rankings, which I covered back in my first article for Fantrax here.
So – what are some of the big things we see in terms of over-valuing, or mis-valuing, prospects.

First, proximity, proximity, proximity. Chris Clegg has talked about this before in how we need to better value the proximity of prospects when we look at player valuations. How many prospects, time and time again, do we see flare out. How many top MLB draft picks don’t pan out in the majors, or even in the upper levels of the minors. There’s a real question, with age adjustment, until a player really does something in AA, should we really feel that confident in that player?
Now, you might say, that unless you go and trade for a prospect before they hit AA, then they will be too expensive to acquire. That’s possible – and that’s fine, but if that’s true then really it just means the team that is currently rostering that player is almost certainly over-valuing them. Moreover, the importance of proximity also highlights a common dynasty manager error of building an entire roster of young minor league players, where a number of them will not end up being major leaguers, let alone good major leaguers and you will be stuck in a perpetual rebuild, and perhaps just keep making the same mistake again and again.
This leads to trades where a whole slew of prospects are traded for major leaguers. I’ve seen trades over the last few weeks in leagues where it’s mainly (or entirely) prospects getting traded for players like Mike Trout. Yes – that Mike Trout, who has a triple slash of 328/436/693 with 12 homers already this season. Trout is 30, so yes, he’s not your 24-year-old superstar, but still is one of the best players in baseball and at this point in fantasy offers everything except he has stopped running as much so you’re not getting the 20-30 SB seasons he was offering in his mid-20s. However, the point here is not how amazing Mike Trout is, but how he, and other elite MLB players can get traded to a contender for only minor leaguers.

As was noted in the Twitter thread, part of this value difference is seen in who makes the trades. I commission over 20 dynasty leagues so I see plenty of trades come through, and you do notice that only some managers will make those trades, and, Mags is right, it’s primarily the team that keeps rebuilding, and from what I’ve noticed, many of the sharpest managers in those leagues do not make these sorts of trade, and if they are playing an elite player they are getting major league players in return. Indeed, part of the problem this issue causes is a lack of balance in a league as trades of this sort can sometimes define a league and contention for years and years.

So how do we fix it?

As noted – we need to pay closer attention to proximity in making trades and how we value prospects. Indeed, players that I get in FYPD drafts I’m happy to trade to the team who wants them for a major leaguer. Yes, the player I get may not have even close to the upside of that minor leaguer, but I will take that good production of a player who is already in the majors over the potential upside of a player in three, or four, or more years.
Now of course there are prospects who come up and are superstars. The Fernando Tatís Jr., Ronald Acuña Jr., and Juan Sotos of the world come along every once in a while. But for each of those how many top prospects don’t even become players like Jurickson Profar, a decent major leaguer, after being a top prospect. Many don’t even have prolonged major league careers in roles like Profar. So, if you have a prospect you really like and can get, that’s great. But do you have to pay the price of Trout? Trout should get you good young major leaguers, not simply minor leaguers. And, if you want some good young players, find them, do your homework, and get them as well, there is plenty of upside further down the ranks. Juan Soto by and large was not highly ranked. I remember as he was coming up I was able to trade for him in multiple leagues for a very low price – and that’s not even because I was some brilliant analyst, but because an analyst I trusted really liked his upside so I took a shot, but didn’t give up anything substantial to get him, and as you can imagine, have been thrilled with the results. You can target those players with upside without breaking the bank.
So even if you are rebuilding or retooling a team, be it because you built a contender and it fell apart over time or you took over a roster that was in need of a lot of help, get young MLB players, not merely prospects. Yes, build up your farm, but you should be trading older contributors, but not elite players, to get those prospects or improved draft picks for prospects. If you are trading elite talent you should be getting major league players back or, at worst, very very close elite prospects. But again, how many of those players don’t pan out? Last year you could’ve targeted Kelenic as that elite prospect who was close to the majors. And while Kelenic may still pan out and I think he’ll be at least a solid major leaguer, he has certainly been less than impressive and his trade value is currently lower than it’s been in probably a year or two right now (and if his manager is down on him, go and try to make that trade). But, if you had made a trade for a player like Kelenic, you should have been able to get a really good major leaguer instead in that trade, maybe not with Kelenic’s upside, but with a whole lot more floor.
This brings us to another consideration – upside versus productivity. Upside is fun. Upside is sexy. When you have a minor league roster on your fantasy team with a slew of top prospects it’s exciting and fun to look at! But it is also all potential upside, which is fine, but if they all bust you’re in trouble.
So, while ranks are never intended to be trade values, when considering trading players based off some of the rankings that Eric and Chris put out, you also need to consider upside for all players, but especially for prospects. Proximity matters, skills matter, and Eric and Chris work all of that into their rankings to place prospects in the midst of the overall dynasty ranks they put out. And I firmly believe what they put out holds all of that well. But then, as we take those into trading, we need to realize that even rankers as skilled, hard-working, and good as these two, cannot see the future (shocker I know). Again, as someone who doesn’t do rankings myself, I have immense respect for analysts who rank as well as those like Chris and Eric do, and I have no desire to rank myself. Maybe there is some way to put more information in a ranking list that takes into account upside that would be helpful and they could add that to address this, but I’m not sure, and to be clear – that is an actual question, not a rhetorical one.
But even if the rankers aren’t doing even more work to make our lives easier, we need to know and consider the proximity and the risk and upside. Instead of constantly chasing the shiny new prospect, the focus should be on building a contender and a team that can win, now or later, with a foundation of players you can trust, taking some risks on upside playing out, but not giving up players who are already established and very productive major leaguers and who should continue to be that for 3-5+ years.

S0, be sure to follow Mags and check out all the wisdom he drops over on the bird app and to think twice when making win later moves to not overvalue prospects and to correctly value the inherent risk.

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  1. Brian White says

    I’m living this example and have this trade proposed to me. Benintendi and Clase and I get Grayson Rodriguez in return. Both Benintendi and Clase are solid major leaguers, but G-Rod could be great. I’m normally a contender but it’s not looking good this year. Do I pull the trigger for Rodriguez?

  2. Dave Jordan says

    Guys “close to the majors” is what I ask for in a trade involving prospects — or their best HIGHLY RANKED, lower-level prospect who I intend to flip immediately for a better return. I’m not waiting 3 years for a guy unless it was a minor deal that didn’t hurt my plan. And by that time, I’ve traded him away, too, to win that season or the next.

    1. DynastyOneStop - Nathan says

      Nice! Typically a good approach for sure!

    2. DynastyOneStop - Nathan says

      Ya that’s a solid offer – I think you could try for a little bit more back. I really really like Grayson – Clase is pretty great. Depends on some league settings too that impact Clase’s value

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