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Bargains & Blunders: Why the 'Caps Must Be Careful With Contracts

John Thorrington is a dangerous player to be spending six figures on in a salary cap world.
John Thorrington is a dangerous player to be spending six figures on in a salary cap world.

At the start of the season I wrote about the MLS steadily becoming a top tier league it large part due to it's single entity salary cap structure. This has been further emphasized by statements made by the likes of Barry Robson regarding an increase interest in the MLS among countrymen and teammates.

Is is therefore with great interest when the MLS Player's Union releases the salary information for the entire league. It's a time that everyone with any interest in playing armchair manager get a sneak peak into the extremely murky waters surrounding MLS rosters.

In a cap restricted world, the recipe for success includes getting more performance value from a player than you're paying him. Sounds simple, but so many other factors impact the theory. Developmental delays in young players, clubs competing for signatures, and fluctuating player form all make defining a players salary worth at the start of a season a difficult task.

Executives much smarter than I make these assessments and sign on the dotted line, and that's that for the duration of the contract length, right?

Well, no.

At least not with the Whitecaps.

Camilo created a bit of a stir in the 2011 off season when he made some public comments on twitter about wanting to be rewarded for his excellent play. The Whitecaps obliged, and upped his pay from $127,000 a year to $200,000. Meanwhile, Atiba Harris showed a lot of promise early in 2011, scoring twice and providing three assists in his five appearances, and was rewarded by having his salary doubled to $150,000.

Now Bob Lenarduzzi has made public statements on the radio about players outperforming their salary and named Jun Marques Davidson as a player who is deserving of a bump in pay next season.

Wisely, the Whitecaps also renegotiated a couple contracts down coming in to this season. Joe Cannon knocked around $33,000 off his salary cap number, and the oft-injured John Thorrington moved from $197,000 down a slight amount to $170,000.

Perhaps the Whitecaps have decided on a style of cap management which includes enticing players to perform by showing a willingness to pay up when a player has an outstanding season. Okay, fine, but it's a dangerous game to play.

While he's aging, Alain Rochat has shown he's worth every penny of his $170,000 a year contract, and Gershon Koffie is best bang-for-your-buck player at a modest $90,000 salary (and is still considered Homegrown to boot.) Jun Marques Davidson has also shown he's a fantastic value at a $67,500 salary which can barely pay for rent near BC Place.

While Rennie has a reputation as a real players coach, he has also proven to be cutthroat by moving on fan favourites Davide Chiumiento and Eric Hassli, and trading the so-called steal of the season Sebastien Le Toux.

Let's hope he keeps with this trend when it comes to the negotiating table as well. If the club mantra is to pay up for players who have exceeded expectations, should it not also have players take pay cuts who aren't able to contribute up to their salary number?

John Thorrington and Atiba Harris are players being paid starting eleven MLS money, yet both raise serious question marks regarding their durability over an entire season. Not to mention both players, even when fit, may not crack the current rosters starting eleven. While both are players who could have a role on the club, the Whitecaps can not afford to be paying over $300,000 on two bench players under a salary cap league. Jordan Harvey, despite having a good run of form of late, is also a candidate for a reassessment considering his $100,000 contract as a backup left back and moderately effective shut down left midfielder.

I'm not sure where this whole re-negotiating thing comes from. I'm also not clear on the MLS roster rules surrounding the issue, as contract term (and club option information) is not made available, and there's no cut and dry explanation to renegotiation rules. And while the sentiment shown by Cannon and Thorrington is nice, they're not exactly a steal at their current value.

But if I'm a club executive, and I've been told by a scout that a player, such as in the case of Camilo, should be brought in and I wisely negotiate a contract that I, and at the time, the player is happy enough with to sign for multiple years, I'd expect that player to shut up and play out his contract and earn a big pay raise when it's time for a new contract. No one held a gun to the head of the player when he signed the contract. Prove your worth and you will get rewarded.

While it hasn't bitten the club yet, Camilo has been a shadow of himself, and while he's being played out of position, has looked far less interested throughout the majority of the year and certainly hasn't looked anything like a $200,000 a year player.

It is certainly a cautionary case study that the Whitecaps Front Office should examine before they make a habit of paying up on their good buys in a league where winning the battles at the negotiating table makes it far easier to win on the pitch.