Two’s a crowd

A few seasons ago, a good friend of mine approached me about taking co-ownership of his fantasy team. This team was in a long-standing league originally started within his fraternity in the 1990s—a fairly high stakes, highly competitive, vanilla design, snakedraft league. Having spent most of my years playing fantasy sports competing against my friends, I was eager to join forces and collaborate for once.

The alliance made a lot of sense and paid immediate dividends. We took second place in my first year sharing the cockpit, amounting to a pretty nice profit even when split two ways. The following season, we took third, which also netted us a moderate payday. Since 2009, however, we just haven’t been getting it done, and my co-owner and I have agreed that our partnership, and our overall participation in the league, has run its course.

We were hoping to go out on top this year (of course if we did win, we’d be drawn back next year), and were comfortably situated in second place right on the heels of the league leader with about six weeks left in the season. But everything sort of collapsed down the stretch and our team spiraled to a fifth place finish. Despite our early success, I’ve come to feel that co-managing is highly suboptimal. Most likely, we had success in the early years in spite of our partnership, not because of it.

On paper, our alliance made a lot of sense. My biggest weakness as an owner is that I can settle too easily in the trade market; I’m very willing to see the other side’s view and therefore probably don’t always extract as much value as I can from deals. On the other hand, my friend drives a hard bargain and is sometimes able to pull off deals I didn’t think he’d get through. I’m very conservative and cautious about young unproven players; he’s much more bullish about impact rookies. Where I expect regression, he often sees the potential for growth. I’m extremely against investing highly in starting pitching; he is against that philosophy too, but not as adamantly so. He’s up earlier than I am; I’m awake later than he is. So, theoretically this should lead to productive and healthy discussion about strategy and a well-vetted vision and direction when establishing the complexion and charting the course of our team. Sometimes it does, but sometimes when you seek the best of both worlds you can also get the worst of them too.

Agreeing on our larger strategic directions was often actually quite easy. Occasionally we’d reach the kind of impasse when one of us wants to take a pet player at a high draft spot while the other claims to be really high on some of the lower price tag options at the same position. But, overall, we were able to agree on roster construction. And many times the good and bad choices each co-GM makes evens out. This year, I talked him out of overpaying for a mid-tier SS in order to take Johnny Peralta in the wee rounds. But, I also talked him out of Michael Young at 3B in the round we eventually selected Jonathan Broxton, and then into Pedro Alvarez because we missed Young. Because of me, we drafted Anibal Sanchez and James Shields, but also John Lackey. He convinced me to reach even further than I wanted to for Gio Gonzalez, who turned us a nice profit, but also bumped Joe Nathan further up the board than I wanted. Building the initial team is something that many people worry about when considering the co-manage strategy, but that is the least challenging aspect of the season, as far as I’m concerned.

In season too, we often agreed on strategy. But strategy is useless without execution and that’s where the co-manager approach can be a killer. Below, I’m going to list some points of consideration prospective co-GMs should mull over and reach agreement upon before signing a partnership.

Degree of autonomy
One very basic element of the co-manager relationship that needs to be agreed upon is what kinds of moves each manager can make without consulting the co-manager. For example, determining which players can be dropped at the whim of one manger is important, as is determining whether each manager should be given latitude to randomly stream a pitcher he feels has an advantageous match-up. You do not want to delay minor moves that need to be made quickly and regularly. Another good thing to agree upon at all times is the identification of the single most expendable player on your roster. If I’m watching a game and see somebody’s closer writhing in pain, I’m going to run to my computer—who am I going to drop to make a speculative add?

Accepted returns in trades
One problem we would run into would be that we would agree that we need to trade X for Y—a mid-tier starting pitcher for a mid-tier OF, for example. It’s recommended to agree upon a list of players you’d each accept for a few possible trade chips on your end. As I mentioned above, my partner was good at getting the most out of trades. But to do that, he also proposed a lot of trades that I thought were unrealistic. We’re both busy professionals, so sometimes I’d ask him if he could propose some trades to improve our OF, or ask me to do the same. If I thought our needs were immediate, sometimes I’d feel that he was kind of frittering away time by proposing blue sky trades, which just allowed our need to intensify. On the flip side, perhaps I was too willing to settle.

You can see how this strength of perspective can morph into a practical weakness. I think his trade proposals aren’t productive because they aren’t getting close to getting done; therefore our need continues to grow. This dynamic then pushes me harder to want to get some fix done even if it isn’t best fix, thereby increasing my willingness to settle. The best way to avoid this is to agree upon returns for various players, prioritize offers starting with the best return deemed realistically possible, and then go down the line methodically.

Line-up setting responsibilities
One of the most painful and bush league of mistakes one can make in a co-manger situation is to assume that the other manager is going to do something, while he/she assumes you are going to do it, only to see it go undone. I’m running late for work and don’t have time to rotate the team, but I’m sure he’ll check it and insert Cliff Lee off the bench. Meanwhile, he is thinking the same thing and the next thing you known you have complete game shutout on your bench.

You can split up this responsibility by day of the week, or you can just agree that you are both responsible for checking every day, but you can’t get caught staring at each other watching the pop up drop between because neither of you called for the ball.

Overall, I think the co-manager approach began to hurt us more than help us as time progressed. Neither of us have time during our workdays to discuss these issues. We both need to be in a situation where we can make quick and decisive moves autonomously. My life dictates I have less daily time to devote to fantasy baseball—I’m not happy about it, but it’s the case—so, when those windows open themselves, I can’t afford to also have to check if my co-manager’s window happens to be open as well. It is my belief that two managers who are independently highly skilled and competent are likely better off on their own than in tandem—what is gained insight and added knowledge is overshadowed by what is lost in agility and freedom.

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Brad Johnson
10 years ago

Quite obviously, trade negotiations should depend on urgency of need. If you desperately need to deal an OF or have half a day to pull off a 2 for 1 trade so that you can activate a guy off the DL, you need to be willing to accept the best offer that floats your way – so long as you aren’t overly helping a rival.

In a pinch, my approach is usually to talk to the bottom six teams or else owners who I know to be of inferior quality. In a normal league, solving that roster hole quickly will almost always have more value than pulling off the best deal possible on a 2 week schedule.

Conversely, if your roster is sitting pretty, draw out negotiations and keep asking for just a little bit more than what your rival is willing to trade. Odds are, they are at the table with you because THEY are the ones who need a quick deal. Ask too much and when they agree to your offer 2 days later, say you changed your mind and ask too much again.

Brad Johnson
10 years ago

To the last point, let’s say you made an initial offer and then bumped that up by 10% after your rival agreed in principle. Sometimes, the other owner will storm off, if you really want that initial offer he agreed to, I find most people will come back to the table and happily accept a bad deal if you tell them what a shrewd negotiator they are.

Kevin Wilson
10 years ago

Another great article Derek. I have been considering trying this path myself, if only for experimental purposes, with another SABR-minded friend.

How would you access it from the “fun” point of view (that is, after all, what this is mostly about)?

You know the old adage about the most boring thing in the world is someone else’s fantasy team (even when you’re a fantasy nut). I wanted to try co-owning if only to have someone to discuss my team with and have them honestly care.

Kevin Wilson
10 years ago

And by “access”, I mean “assess”. I can’t even claim typo on that, wow.

Derek Ambrosino
10 years ago


It is fun, but it can also be more stressful than running your own team. I’d say it’s a good bonding activity within a friendship. In that league, there are 2 guys I’m friends with, and right after I paired up with my friend, our other buddy paired up with one of our other friends who also wasn’t a part of the fraternity group.

The weird thing about the dynamic of the co-manager relationship and that league itself is that I think both of the original owners would have left the league two years ago if they didn’t have co-owners. Instead of a way to keep a line to his old college buddies, the league became a way to strengthen his friendship with me and a bridge to consistent communication and engagement.

In that way, the co-manager approach works well when you’re both kind of outsiders to the rest of the group that is tied together some way. Then, you get the us vs. them mentality.