July 17, 2008
by Charles Cuttone
Mid-season callups? Is this Triple A?
Fans of the Scranton/Wilkes Barre Yankees knew they would probably lose their top player, Brett Gardner, before the end of the season. After all, by the time he was called up to the New York Yankees earlier this month, he was leading the Triple-A International league in steals, and was among the league batting leaders. And, after all, that’s what minor league baseball is for, to develop players for the majors.
Fans of the Cleveland Indians might be mourning the loss of Cy Young award winner CC Sabathia, but the Tribe management felt the season was beyond saving, and the pitcher was due to become a free agent, so they opted to get some players in return and sent him to the Milwaukee Brewers. But at least the Indians picked up some solid prospects which could help the club in the future. The fans also had the chance to enjoy Sabathia’s talents for eight seasons.
Fans of the New York Red Bulls and Chivas USA got no such consolation after their best players were sold off in mid-season.
The Red Bulls’ Jozy Altidore was sent to Spain for a $10 million, while Chivas goalkeeper Brad Guzan appears headed to England for $6 million – millions payable to MLS, only a fraction of which comes back to the teams.
What do Red Bulls and Chivas USA fans get in return? So far, nothing.
The Red Bulls have been looking to fill the void left by Altidore ever since May, so far with little luck.
Add to that, the retirement of Claudio Reyna, and the Bulls have an awful lot of holes to fill. Reyna filled one of the two designated player slots on the Red Bulls, but because of MLS’ wacky player allocation and payroll system, they won’t be able to fill that slot until next season, because they don’t have $400,000 available under the $2.3 million MLS salary cap.
So far, all Chivas has available to replace Guzan are their number two and three goalkeepers, and the promise of signing a (third-string) player from one of owner Jorge Vergara’s other teams, Saprissa of Costa Rica. No established stars. Certainly no keepers of the caliber that Guzan is. Sure, the talent that remains might develop into stars, but the club is left in a lurch in the middle of the season, where they are in good position to make the MLS playoffs for a second straight year. They also are in the middle of a SuperLiga run.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with player transfers. They happen all the time. Fans know that. But MLS, needs to make some adjustments. Allow clubs to use transfer money to buy new players. Under the salary cap or not. Also, the league should not sell its brightest young stars in the middle of the season. If a European club really wants a player, they can wait until the next transfer window. Just like MLS has to wait for its own European acquisitions to finish their current seasons.
Indeed, Guzan almost was sent to Aston Villa last winter, before the MLS season, but in the middle of the English season. At least then fans would have known what they were in for, and a replacement could have settled in.
At a time when MLS desperately needs stars, selling them off midseason might make good dollars. It just doesn’t make any sense.