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On the Merits of Trading Jay DeMerit

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Vancouver Whitecaps stories are not exactly thick on the ground. The Whitecaps are hopefully going to draft a useful squad player in a couple of days, the team is linked to players of little significance who I've already written about, ho hum.

It's not just annoying from a writer's perspective, of course. The Whitecaps finished dead fucking last in Major League Soccer last year and it'll take more than a Matt Watson and a Martin Bonjour to change that. Vancouver's filled a few key holes at right back and at head coach but this is still not quite a competitive team, and fans are eagerly looking to plug up the many remaining gaps.

Perhaps it's in that spirit that, when I whined on Twitter about how there's nothing to write about these days, @AfroCarl tweeted me this suggestion:

Demerit as trade bait. "Captain America" would fit well in a team like NYRB, or "homecoming" to Chi. 'Caps could get large assets.

Readers from around the league might be taken aback at the idea of Jay DeMerit as trade bait. DeMerit was the Whitecaps' first MLS signing (well, not really) and served as the team's captain. He's a major public relations face, a high-profile player around North America, and somebody with a good reputation for fan and media relations. His importance in the Whitecaps defense, such as it was, showed in spades when he was injured last season. At 32 years old, DeMerit is obviously past his best-before date but should have a few seasons of quality professional defending left in him.

It's a surprisingly common refrain among some Whitecaps fans. DeMerit's ability, his durability, even his leadership have been called into question, and as an older player with an expensive contract on a team that needs several new pieces it's easy to question him. So how about it? Should the Whitecaps seriously consider trading Jay DeMerit?

Obviously, the Whitecaps would need to add a centre back, either by trade or signing, if they moved DeMerit. DeMerit and Carlyle Mitchell are the only two Vancouver centre backs who qualify as "mobile": Michael Boxall and Bonjour are both big, slow towers of power. Alain Rochat could move over in a pinch but then we're moving Lee Young-Pyo to left back and trading for Jeb Brovsky so we can put him at right back again and we're right back into that endless nightmare. Good mobile centre backs aren't as easy to find in North America as we sometimes hope.

The problem is that I'm not sure DeMerit's trade value is as high as Carl Valentine's Afro might hope. DeMerit's $300,000 base salary is a big deal on the MLS trade market and such pricey veterans almost never fetch fair value. Moving DeMerit, we're likely looking at getting seventy-five cents on the dollar: more likely Yamith Cuesta than Jalil Anibaba. Unless a team desperate for help is willing to offer Vancouver great value, trading DeMerit is unlikely to yield a very good return, and while a couple of good depth players are important to the Whitecaps it's not as important as a good starting centre back.

We have no youth players ready to step in: Daniel Stanese is a fine youngster but isn't nearly ready. Potential SuperDraft pick Andrew Wenger has played centre back in the NCAA but I don't want to rely on him at that position. Replacing DeMerit through a free transfer isn't impossible, but neither is signing a competent right back and the Whitecaps sure fell over on that last year. The MLS allocation system and salary cap means that you can't count on free agents; if the Whitecaps actually had a player of DeMerit's calibre ready to sign a contract that would be another matter, but trading DeMerit and saying "oh, we can find another one" is a dangerous game.

If we trade DeMerit without adequately replacing him then we're right back to the awful defense that cost us so much of 2011. And make no mistake, DeMerit is a valuable defender for this team. Unless Bonjour is about to really surprise us DeMerit is certainly our best all-rounder: quicker than Boxall, better in the air than Mitchell, a tougher and more accurate tackler than any of them. He's vocal at the back and has assumed the role of organizing the defense. He had injury problems last year but, over his career, he's been reasonably durable apart from one eye problem that seems behind him.

DeMerit is not the best centre-back in Major League Soccer despite being one of the best -paid. Arguably, his contract represents poor value, particularly if his injuries continue, and therefore if we could trade him for good value we should do so. That doesn't mean he'd be easy to replace, and the Whitecaps have no proven depth behind him. Even though there are well-founded concerns about him, DeMerit should remain in Vancouver for now.