Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Look at the Failure that Was the First MLS Free Agent Signing

During the most recent collective bargaining between the MLS players union and the league, one of the big points that the players were fighting for was free agency within the league as when players contracts expire the team they were with could make them a "bona fide" offer and retain their MLS rights. In the end, the players got some of what they wanted, they got a little bit of free agency, players that were 28 years or older and had at least eight years of experience in the league now earned themselves free agency when they were out of contract or had their options declined. Last offseason was the first time players were free agents within MLS as 27 players met the requirements for free agency within MLS.

Along with re-signing their lone free agent, Paulo Nagamura, Sporting Kansas City also became the first team to actually utilize MLS free agency, signing Justin Mapp from the Montreal Impact as the league's first free agent. Mapp was signed to be a depth piece on the wing and start some while Krisztian Nemeth was on international duty. With the addition later of Brad Davis, Sporting looked set on the wings for the season. Then came the Nemeth transfer which turned the wing position into what looked like a platoon between Davis and Mapp. Then Mapp got hurt, got hurt again, played a game, got hurt again, played a couple more games, then got hurt and missed the rest of the season leaving Kansas City in the position of having to play an aging Brad Davis more early on or rely on Connor Hallisey to try to help with the offense. Eventually KC got a career year from Jacob Peterson to sort of help fill the gap, but the string of all those events made the Mapp signing look worse and worse with each passing day and each passing game. Mapp finished the 2016 season making just six appearances for Kansas City, playing 43 minutes. How bad was Mapp's free agent signing for Kansas City? Here's a look at the 27 players that were free agents ahead of the 2016 season and how they ended up (all stats are their stats in league play only).

GK Jon Busch (Chicago Fire) - Signed with NASL's Indy XI.
GK Troy Perkins (Seattle Sounders) - Did not sign with anyone.
GK Kyle Reynish (New York Red Bulls) - Re-signed with New York played 0 games. Salary: $62,500 base and guaranteed compensation.
GK Andrew Weber (Portland Timbers) - Did not sign with anyone.
DF Corey Ashe (Orlando City SC) Signed with Columbus played 18 games, starting 14 of them, playing 1,214 minutes and recording four assists. Salary $95,000 base, $105,500 guaranteed compensation.
DF Bobby Burling (Colorado Rapids) - Re-signed with Colorado, played 16 games, starting all of them, playing 1,415 minutes and scoring one goal. Salary, $110,000 base, $116,000 guaranteed compensation.
DF Ty Harden (Chicago Fire) - Did not sign with anyone.
DF Michael Harrington (Colorado Rapids) - Signed with Chicago, playing in 19 games, starting 16 of them, totally 1,291 minutes and recording 1 assist. Salary $125,000 base and guaranteed compensation.
DF Stephen Keel (FC Dallas) - Did not sign with anyone.
DF Drew Moor (Colorado Rapids) - Signed with Toronto and played 32 games starting all of them, playing 2,880 minutes and scoring 3 goals. Salary was $235,000 base, $250,000 guaranteed compensation.
DF James Riley (Colorado Rapids) - Did not sign with anyone.
MF Eric Avila (Orlando City SC) - Signed with the NASL's Tampa Bay Rowdies.
MF Brian Carroll (Philadelphia Union) - Re-signed with Philadelphia playing 26 games, starting 23 of them, while playing 2,094 minutes and scoring one goal. Salary $120,000 base and guaranteed compensation.
MF Ricardo Clark (Houston Dynamo) - Re-signed with Houston, playing 32 games, starting 29 of them, while playing 2,551 minutes, scoring four goals and adding four assists. Salary $319,200 base, $356,700 guaranteed compensation.
MF Ned Grabavoy (New York City FC) - Signed with Portland, playing 22 games while starting five, playing 632 minutes. Salary $150,000 base and guaranteed compensation.
MF Nick LaBrocca (Colorado Rapids) - Signed with Chicago, playing 12 games, starting five of them totaling 514 minutes and one assist. Salary $110,000 base and guaranteed compensation.
MF Jeff Larentowicz (Chicago Fire) - Signed with LA  and played 23 games, starting 17 of them playing 1,501 minutes, scoring one goal and one assist. Salary $175,000 base and guaranteed compensation.
MF Justin Mapp (Montreal Impact) - Signed with KC, playing in six games for 43 minutes. Salary $224,070 base, $239,070 guaranteed compensation.
MF Paulo Nagamura (Sporting Kansas City) - Re-signed with KC, playing in nine games, starting six of them totaling 526 minutes recording one assist. Salary $225,000 base and guaranteed compensation.
MF Khari Stephenson (San Jose Earthquakes) - Did not sign with anyone.
MF Nathan Sturgis (Houston Dynamo) - Signed with Seattle but played no games. Salary $62,508 base and guaranteed compensation.
FW Chad Barrett (Seattle Sounders) - Signed with San Jose playing in 20 games, starting three of them while totaling 531 minutes played, scoring two goals and adding an assist. Salary $90,000 base, $95,500 guaranteed compensation.
FW Edson Buddle (LA Galaxy) - Did not sign with anyone.
FW Conor Casey (Philadelphia Union) - Signed with Columbus making four appearances for 35 minutes. Salary $105,000 base and guaranteed compensation.
FW Kenny Cooper (Montreal Impact) - Did not sign with anyone.
FW Alan Gordon (LA Galaxy) - Re-signed with LA playing in 22 games, starting seven of them for 710 minutes, scoring three goals and adding an assist. Salary $170,000 base and guaranteed compensation.
FW Mike Magee (Chicago Fire) - Signed with LA, playing 30 games, starting 16 of them while playing 1,467 minutes, scoring six goals and adding four assists. Salary $250,000 base and guaranteed compensation.

Looking at the performance of all the other free agents last year, Mapp's performance stands out, especially in comparison with his salary. Mapp ended up with the fifth highest salary of free agents in terms of base salary (behind Clark, Magee, Moor, and Nagamura) and the fourth highest in guaranteed compensation (in front of Nagamura). The salary combined with the performance by Mapp is one of the lead causes to the frustration with his performance (along with the circumstances I mentioned about regarding player movement), if Mapp had been making close to the amount that Conor Casey was making for Columbus last season, I doubt the complaining would be at the level it is among fans. Casey made less than half of what Mapp made ($105,000), so even though he actually made fewer appearances and played fewer minutes he doesn't seem to be looked at by Crew fans in the same sense as Mapp does here. Mapp's inability to even make the bench because of his string of injuries combined with his $224,070 base salary puts a sour taste in a lot of peoples' mouths. He made over $37,000 per appearance for Kansas City on the field and over $5,200 per minute played. The only players to play fewer minutes than Mapp did are the aforementioned Casey and two players that made no league appearances, Kyle Reynish and Nathan Sturgis and both of those players were making the senior roster minimum of $62,500, they were end of the bench players not expected to contribute much at all. So while there are players that have played fewer minutes than Mapp, no one comes close in terms of that combined with salary.

In fact, the only player that comes even a little close is his teammate, Nagamura. While I appreciate everything he has done for the club, Nagamura has been one of those players the last couple years where you look at the salary he's making, look at his contribution on the field and ask yourself if he should be making that much. Nagamura though is a little easier to justify when he does actually get on the field. The other thing working in Nagamura's favor is while he only played in nine games, he was available for more on the bench but was not subbed into the game, unlike Mapp.

While Nagamura was a better contribution to the team than Mapp this season, KC still used almost $450,000 of cap space on a pair of players that made just 15 league appearances, started six games, played 569 minutes and contributed to a grand total of one goal for KC. The only team that spent more on free agents in 2016 in terms of cap space is the LA Galaxy who used just under $600,000 to sign two new players (Jeff Larentowicz and Mike Magee) and re-sign one (Alan Gordon), but even with that much money spent they at least got production from those three players as they made 75 appearances, 3,678 minutes played and contributed to 16 goals for the Galaxy. That's not good enough for Sporting KC, especially for a team that isn't going to draw in the big name players, or likely spend $7 million on a transfer fee for a player, KC has to get more out of those players in the upper-middle range of salaries on the team. The pair certainly aren't the only reason for KC's struggles in 2016, the club had a number of players in 2016 not play to their abilities or to their perceived value based on their salaries, but it certainly didn't help having that much cap space tied up in those two players. Mapp for his part is already the worst free agent signing in the young history of MLS having free agency amongst its clubs, and given his salary and performance on the field likely has to be considered one of the worst signings in KC Wizards/Sporting KC history.

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