Commentary

Commish's court

How to handle trades for injured players and legal fantasy lineups

Updated: October 20, 2011, 3:42 PM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com

All rise and come to order! The Commish's Court is again in session!

We don't always agree with the moves our fellow owners make from week to week. We'll see trades agreed to that we wouldn't have made ourselves, or waiver-wire pickups (and their corresponding cuts) that, to us, defy explanation.

Who among us hasn't looked at certain starting-lineup decisions and scratched our heads wondering how someone could possibly bench someone like Chris Johnson for DeMarco Murray? Are these owners even trying to win?

And yet, that's what's so great about fantasy football. Different people make different decisions, and unless you want to play by yourself, drafting 10 teams and setting all the lineups each week -- a seriously sad solitaire -- then you learn to not only accept those differences, but to appreciate them.

Yet, every once in a while, incidents crop up that cause you to scratch your head and wonder if perhaps some ethical line has been crossed. Certainly, if a move is allowed under your league's rules, then you are always free to do it. But the question isn't "Can you?" but rather "Should you?"

In other words, do the ends really justify the means or is the ultimate cost simply not worth the benefits of the move in the first place?

Our first quandary comes from Justin and was sent in via Twitter: "I proposed a deal on Thursday but forgot to cancel it before Sunday. One of the players got hurt, then the trade was accepted. Fair or foul?"

Timing is everything when it comes to the ethics of fantasy football trades. In the end, it all comes down to: "What did the other owner know, and when did he or she know it?" But unless you're willing to launch a Watergate-sized investigation that could ultimately tear the league apart, why not make life far easier on yourself?

[+] EnlargeJason Campbell
AP Photo/Ben MargotWhat should a fantasy owner do if a trade involving Jason Campbell was still on the table when he suffered his injury last week?

Why not make it a rule that all trades have to be made -- and, therefore, all rosters for the week locked -- before the first game of each week? You'd still have the ability to tweak your lineups, but you wouldn't have to worry about whether or not another owner simply felt the urge to finally pull the trigger on a pending deal, or if that urge was given a little push because he saw Jason Campbell hobble off the field and couldn't believe his good fortune in having a free chance to unload his now-damaged goods onto some poor sap.

Now what to do in the absence of such a rule? Certainly, if a trade is accepted well before an injury, it's buyer beware and those are the breaks. But even if the timing is less clear, as the league's commissioner, I'd have to let the deal go through. Now, I'd still talk to the guy who pounced on the deal to let him know that Justin thinks it might be a bit shady and give him a chance to clear his conscience or perhaps to even out the trade in light of the injury. But in the end, the deal was on the table, and it is completely within his rights to accept the deal at any time.

However, just because he CAN accept a deal, SHOULD he? Given that Justin will likely never trade with him again, and that he may well get a bad reputation in the league as a result of this deal, this may well be the last transaction he ever makes within this group of owners.

In fact, even if he truly did accept the deal without prior knowledge that one of the guys he was sending away had been hurt, it might be in his best interest to work with Justin on a new deal that makes both sides happy. Better to lose a little bit now than to lose out a lot more, in the form of becoming a league pariah, from here on out.

Our next question comes from Tim in St. Louis. He writes, "Regarding legal lineups, is it OK to play without a kicker if you have five top guys on a bye and two solid guys on your bench you don't want to drop? I'm favored by 27, can pick up a Monday night kicker late if needed, but don't want to unless I have to. Thanks."

Bye weeks are typically a stretch of the season when red flags get raised, and the issue of whether or not an owner has to have an active player in each required spot in order to have a legal lineup needs to be spelled out in every league constitution.

Even without a specific written rule on the subject, most fantasy football players have no problem with figuring out that if you're supposed to start, say, two running backs and two wide receivers, then when the bye weeks come around, you can't decide to start a combination of Matt Forte, Beanie Wells, Shonn Greene and Jackie Battle simply because Wes Welker and Hakeem Nicks are both off.

Starting four running backs and zero wide receivers is clearly not a legal lineup. The numbers have to match the requirements of what a legal lineup actually is -- in this case, two and two. Few people have a problem understanding this concept.

[+] EnlargeStephen Gostkowski
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesStephen Gostkowski is on bye this week, so if you're low on bench space, it's OK to drop him if you need a replacement.

But why then do so many people feel it is fine to start zero kickers when one is required for a legal lineup?

In Tim's situation, if my kicker was on a bye, I'd simply cut him -- regardless of who he is -- and sign any available kicker from the waiver wire to at least have a chance of some points from the position. Kickers, to me, are a dime a dozen.

But let's take this one step further: suppose I have Tom Brady as the only quarterback on my roster and he's off this week. There's no way I'm cutting him, so if my bench space is limited, and I have plenty of other players also on a bye this week who I absolutely don't want to cut, then why can't I cut my "dime a dozen" kicker outright to pick up someone like Carson Palmer or John Beck, even if it's for just one week?

I would argue that such a move should never be allowed. If you're supposed to start a kicker each week in order to have a legal lineup, then you need to start a kicker.

Period.

And you certainly need to have a kicker on your roster at all times, too. I can't imagine playing in a league where I get shut out of a chance to get Tim Tebow this week simply because the only other owner with waiver priority over me -- the owner I am playing this week -- drops his only kicker to grab him, and then to compound matters, subsequently cuts Tebow on Monday night in order to pick up Josh Scobee.

Is it clever? Sure. But to me, it violates the spirit of the game. And while you may want to play in a cutthroat, win-at-all-costs kind of league, to me, this move goes just a little too far.

The same holds true for those owners who remove their team defense on Monday night when they have a lead -- "taking a knee" if you will -- and getting the automatic zero from that roster spot without risking the possibility of negative points.

Can you do it? Again, yes. But should you?

If you're ever going to complain about inactive owners who leave an injured player in their lineup all season, then I'd suggest you abandon this tactic. After all, they're playing with more of a legal lineup than you are by going with zero at a position that requires you to have one.

So, if you miss out on the playoffs because a team that is still starting Jamaal Charles in Week 13 lost to the team you're chasing by one point when they had other options on their bench, then I guess you really do reap what you sow.

AJ Mass is a fantasy baseball, football and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. His book, "How Fantasy Sports Explains the World," is now available for purchase here.You can e-mail him here.