For no obvious reason, the Vancouver Whitecaps have traded forward Eric Hassli to Toronto FC for a first-round draft pick in 2014 and an international slot through next season.
Hassli, 31 years old, was of course the Whitecaps' first designated player with a 2012 base salary of $550,000. After finishing second on the Whitecaps in goals last year with 10, and his 0.483 goals per minute led the team. But he was in a slump this season and apparently Martin Rennie is so sure Hassli won't get out of it that he's traded probably the most popular single Whitecap for the pu-pu platter: a first-round draft pick that could be pretty much anywhere and one of Tom Soehn's favourite things, an international slot.
This trade is insane. Hassli's slump is in the form of his scoring on only 7.1% of his shots directed on goal this year: less than half of what he achieved this year and 0.6% behind even Gershon Koffie. Strikers with Hassli's proven level of production just don't hold that level of bad luck long term. It simply doesn't happen; everyone has a cold spell and everyone has a hot streak but only the truly short-sighted base their decisions off those.
Rennie is betting the entire 2012 season on the continued production of Darren Mattocks (whose goals on 26.1% of shots directed, incidentally, is third in MLS among forward with at least 500 minutes and I will bet you money he can't keep that up) and Kenny Miller, who has never played a Major League Soccer minute.
This trade comes mere days after the Whitecaps paid MLS $250,000 to sign Miller as a third DP, meaning it's even crappy financial management into the bargain. The only thing that can be said is that, by improving Toronto FC at absolutely no short-term cost to them, it means the Philadelphia Union are more likely to finish last overall. On the other hand, this trade is stupid. It gave up a quality player for the hope of a future player that is unlikely to be as good. That is not how you win playoff soccer games.
With the DP slot and two international spaces this move seems to promise something coming in this transfer window. It better be good.
The Whitecaps, who came into this year with an embarrassment of forwards with proven quality MLS seasons, now have one: Camilo Sanvezzo, who's spent too much of the year either fighting nagging injury or on the wing. You might want to call Mattocks "proven" on the basis of 697 professional minutes; I won't, especially given the way an unremarkable LA Galaxy defense pretty much marked him into non-existence on Wednesday.
I can't figure this out. Why would you make a trade like this unless you had someone truly colossal ready to sign on that last designated player spot? I don't mean Carlos Bocanegra; I mean somebody who can fill a position where we seriously need help and lead this team to the promised land. Was Rennie trying to create a need to justify his Kenny Miller signing? Was he just sick of Hassli's temporary inability to score a goal that doesn't belong on YouTube? The team is worse now; its depth murdered to help a rival who needs it.
Besides, Hassli's status as a cult hero, a crowd favourite, and a perfect face of the team counts for something. Even if you think he should be coming off the bench, you could do a lot worse than having somebody who scores the most beautiful goals imaginable and who loves Vancouver's fans almost as much as they love him. In fact, you could hardly do better. Jay DeMerit is worse at his position than Hassli is at his but is considered an MLS All-Star and a sure-fire starter on the basis of a great attitude and terrific leadership; these things matter from a franchise perspective.
Barring a successful major move with the remaining DP slot, the only way to defend this trade is if you think Hassli's shooting inaccuracy means a permanent decline. This seems hard to justify. There have been no serious injuries. His more withdrawn role has limited his shooting opportunities but doesn't indicate a sudden failure of talent. He's getting to the age where his athleticism will diminish and his stamina is certainly a concern; however, that's no different from last year. If he was shooting at the by-no-means-extraordinary rate he was last year, Hassli would have four goals and three assists; not brilliant production but certainly "covering the bet". It's certainly more production than the Whitecaps are going to get out of whoever that first-round pick is, and an international slot is only useful in potentia.
As a rule, one shouldn't trade proven players for hopeful players unless you have a very good reason, and there just wasn't one in this case. I'm holding my breath for the next move but right now, it looks like Martin Rennie has made a potentially serious misstep.