Lookout Landing has a complicated relationship with fake trades. On the one hand, every offseason we conduct multiple exercises in pseudo-GMing, suggesting an entire suite of deals in an Offseason Plan and making hypothetical swaps with other SBN writers in the Royals Review Winter Meetings sim. On the other hand, there's a site rule against so-called "rosterbation", and we have a long history of making fun of other teams' fans' wishful thinking. Admittedly there's some inconsistency there: the line between a "good" fake trade and a "bad" one is blurry at best, and there are some people who believe the entire armchair-GM'ing exercise is pointless in the first place.
Those people aren't wrong. Only in very rare cases do the suggestions we make for major league teams have any impact on their actual decision-making process. On the other hand, it's not like regular old-fashioned baseball fandom is the most productive hobby in the world, and there certainly aren't any Mariners games to fill our time in mid-December. We're sports fans. Offseasons are boring. The impulse to break the boredom by playing armchair GM is perfectly understandable.
Still, if you're going to propose fake trades, you should at least do a good job of it. "Good" fake trade discussions inspire discussion and learning about player valuation and roster construction. "Bad" ones don't. In the interest of elevating the quality of the inevitable fake trade proposals we're going to see all offseason long, here are five simple steps to making trade proposals that everyone else can respect.
Step 1: Don't
OK, right, haha, but seriously you probably shouldn't. Just on general principle, before putting a lot of thought into something you're putting on the internet, you should put a little thought into deciding whether or not it's actually worth it. Ask a few key questions: "Is going through the effort of writing this post beneficial to me?" "Are readers likely to appreciate the work I've put in here?" "Is it worth spending all this time and research effort on a fairly meaningless hypothetical?"
The answers to those questions will depend on who you are, how much free time you have, and how well you're capable of articulating your points, but for most individual people the answer to at least one of them will be "no". (Which means "don't do it".) For high-profile writers and websites it's a different story; those groups receive tangible rewards for starting discussion and generating readership. Internet commenters receive no such rewards, though, so if you're going to post a fake trade you should probably begin by thinking about whether or not it's worth everyone's time. Especially yours.
Step 2: Research
OK, so you've thought about it, and you've decided that you really want to propose a fake trade on the internet. Now it's time to make sure you do it well - and that means hitting the books. MLBTradeRumors is a good first stop; try searching for the name of the player you're suggesting that your team should acquire. If there's a post saying that his team won't trade him (cough Giancarlo Stanton cough), don't bother writing up the proposal. Sometimes executives lie, but most times you're just the New York media drooling over Felix Hernandez. Bonus points to your trade proposal if there are rumors (or, better yet, comments from a team official) about the likelihood of a player getting traded. Right now, that means Evan Gattis and Yoenis Cespedes are prime fake trade targets. Matt Holliday, somewhat less so.
Next, check out the previous year's record and roster for the teams you're suggesting should be involved in a trade. Consider their roster needs and their position on the win curve. Make sure you're not suggesting that the Mariners send Mike Zunino to the Giants so that he can ride the pine while Buster Posey poses bustily. Also make sure that you don't suggest the Astros poach a superstar from the Angels. Contending teams generally don't ship out their superstars, and teams loaded at one position or another generally don't deal significant talent to load up even further. Basically, consider what all the teams involved in any fake trade proposal have - and what they want to have. (This is the biggest reason why "balancing" trades by including players like Blake Beavan and Stefen Romero is dumb. Every team already has a Blake Beavan and a Stefen Romero. No one wants anyone else's.)
Finally - and this should probably go without saying - try to make sure you have a good grasp on player valuation. Do some research into past trades. What's the upper bound of what an ace with two years left on his contract can bring back in trade? What's the lower bound? If you don't already know about WAR, look it up on Fangraphs and maybe read their Trade Value series. Consider the importance of contracts: Andre Ethier's a solid player, but all the money he's owed hampers his trade value. In general, just make sure you think hard about whether or not the trade you're proposing is fair and whether or not it makes sense for both teams involved.
Step 3: Overpay
Here's the real secret to getting taken seriously: make sure that, in any fake trade proposal you make, you think your preferred team is the loser. Pay $1.10 on the dollar, as it were.
I know that that sounds like a weak kludge to avoid flame wars with other fans, but it's actually more than that. All sports fans - everywhere - have a tendency to overrate their own favorite team's players. It's practically human nature: we form emotional attachments to them as we watch them play, we have more experience and familiarity with their skillsets than with other players, we dream on the unrealized potential of their tools... after the 2012 and 2013 seasons, overwhelming sentiment on Halos Heaven was that Mike Trout would be better the next year. For years, Mariners fans thought that Franklin Gutierrez might stay on the field and be an All-Star once again. Both of those things were pretty foolish to think, but homerism makes fools of us all.
See, when you pay $1.10 on the dollar in a fake trade proposal, you're not really paying $1.10 on the dollar. You're just correcting for your own internal biases. Yes, it's meant to stop fans of other teams from flaming you, but it's also meant to stop you from suggesting Patrick Kivlehan for Ben Zobrist. So do it.
Step 4: Cross-check
This one's a bit of an optional step, because it's considerably trickier to achieve than the rest on this list, but it'll usually teach you a lot to do it. Before posting a fake trade proposal to your baseball fansite of choice, think about running it by fans of other teams. Don't be aggressive about dropping into a random thread with a trade proposal, but if you did your research - step 2 - and picked a player around whom rumors circulate, there'll probably be an appropriate thread on one of the other team's sites to ask around in. If you can't find other fans, ask experts in live chats on sites like Fangraphs and MLBTR. You might have to deal with angry homers, but you might also learn a lot about player valuation.
Step 5: Proofread
Last but not least! Posting a fake trade rumor often gets criticized as unprofessional or trivial. Nip those arguments in the bud by making sure that you've spelled and grammared everything properly. Provide an explanation along with your trade proposal for why you think it makes good sense. Finally, before you hit post, give it one last run through these five steps. Is the ensuing discussion going to be worth everyone's time? Is the proposal grounded in the needs of both teams and/or legitimate trade rumors? Have you accounted for your own personal biases in evaluation? Do experts and/or other teams' fans think your idea is somewhat legitimate? Does your post look professional and well reasoned? Have you avoided saying anything stupid?
If the answer to all of those questions is yes, hit "post". Congratulations! You've made a fake trade proposal on the internet, and probably no one's going to laugh at you.
Now if you'll excuse me, it's time to get cracking on that Offseason Plan...