If you’re from the tri state area and of a certain age, and were a sports fan, you undoubtedly have some fond sports radio memories. Mike and the Mad Dog in the afternoon were a mainstay, driving the discourse, making opinions, ranting about heaven knows what in a manner that was equal parts entertainment and insanity. They took calls from fans across the region who had questions or ideas about how to turn the Jets around, what the Knicks really need, and so forth. Unquestionably, the best type of calls always began with, “Guys, I have an idea for a trade I want to run by you.”
You knew whatever happened next would be not based in reality. It frequently ended with the Yankees or Mets getting the best player in baseball for some aging star and “a couple prospects” who never actually had names.
“Guys, what do you think, Mike Trout for Sabathia and a couple prospects?”
“Got an idea for you. Jason Bay and a couple prospects for Miguel Cabrera.”
The gambit was simple. My favorite team gets exactly what it needs and the rest of the sport is just a trade partner waiting to help them get to that point. Consideration for anything other than “how do I fix my favorite team’s problems” is not part of the equation here. GMs clearly just sit by the phone, awaiting the call, saying thank you for reaching out and of course you get to pillage my roster. And for fans, it's a grand fantasy of, I know these guys are good, I’d be happy if they’re on my team, so let’s cook up some trades and make it happen. It's like video game trades. The NBA trade machine took this thinking and sent it into high gear, as fans of virtually every team cooked up ways to get Kevin Durant or LeBron James back for bad contracts and picks, and the machine would even say the trade was a good one.
Now, it’s the time of year where PLL trade talks are firing up for some reason. I suppose All Star Weekend can leave the content well a little dry. The talks are mostly centered around the Redwoods, because the Redwoods are the team with the most obvious and glaring issue. Their midfield production is terrible. So naturally, time to try and solve that problem. No sooner has it popped up that it’s time to make some moves and deal with it.
The landscape for trades in the PLL is unique for a few reasons. First, the deadline is late. It is set for 2pm on the Tuesday before the final weekend of the regular season. That’s 2pm on August 22nd, over a month away. 90% of the regular season is played by then. The PLL has eight teams. Seven of them make the playoffs. Nobody is ever truly out of the playoff race. And once the playoffs start, the teams are tight enough in talent that it’s seriously anyone’s trophy to win. Last year, the two teams that played for the championship finished in the bottom half of the regular season standings. This year, the team that finishes eighth gets about as sweet a consolation prize as you can imagine: Brennan O’Neill.
All that adds up to, there’s no reason to roster panic and start dealing at the All Star break. Particularly for the Redwoods, who are currently fifth in the standings and have one of the league’s top defenses. Garrett Epple leads the league in caused turnovers, and they are surrendering just over 11 goals per game. The league leading Archers are giving up 10. Even after a stinker against Archers in which they only scored three goals, the Woods still have scored more goals this year than the Chrome. The offense ain’t good, but it ain’t truly horrible yet either. It's inconsistent. They have two attackmen in the top six for MVP odds on DraftKings right now in Ryder Garnsey and Rob Pannell. That’s a lot of reasons to hold off on making a move. You’ve got a month to figure it out, and you’re almost certainly making the playoffs anyway.
But that’s just the Woods side of things. And trades take two teams. A good trade involves a pair of teams, each with a problem to solve, and each willing to part with the thing that will solve the problem for the other. When it’s over, both teams should feel like they got the better of the other. Again using the Redwoods, we know what the problem is. The midfield needs a boost. Myles Jones and Sergio Perkovic have been ineffective, and they need some reinforcements. Easy enough. Trades still take two.
What other team in the league has a problem to solve that the Redwoods can help with? What can the Redwoods offer right now? That’s the real set of terms for the whole thing. Myles and Sergio have never had less value. The Woods shouldn't be parting with their defensive talent, it's where their strength is. But hypothetical trades that only think about things from one team’s perspective fall squarely into the sports radio caller category. Help the team I like, come up with something that is semi-rationalized and say it’s all fair. Convenient, sure, but not terribly realistic. There’s a few scenarios to think about.
A trade that sends players to the Woods. A few considerations here. First, you know how you’ve been watching and noticed those struggles in the Woods midfield? You know who else saw all that? Every other PLL coach. And no coach is in the business of solving another’s team’s biggest problem. Trading a player to help the Woods deal with their midfield problem is not something other teams should consider barring a huge overpay of a return. The criteria that makes a player a legit trade candidate needs to be considered. In a lot of hypotheticals, it basically comes down to “this guy isn’t in the lineup a lot” or “this team has a ton of good players at one position so they should trade one of them”.
Those are both very bad reasons to trade players, and really in the same way. The first, "the guy isn’t in the lineup”, is not a reason to deal a player. A player can be stashed on your roster, getting them enough game time to avoid the 30% rule in free agency if need be. Every PLL team is one injury, one personal excused absence, one wedding, one anything away from an open roster spot. That guy who doesn’t play a ton might be needed sooner than you think. And beyond that, an inactive player may not be doing a ton for you, but he also isn’t playing against you. The likely return for bench players is more bench players. Dealing bench players to a team where they become starters and actually do some damage, while your return sits on the bench, is a serious loss. And also very easy to see coming.
With the salary cap era, there is the possibility of dumping money to position yourself better for free agency. Without knowing what any player makes because dollar amounts of contracts aren’t made public by the PLL, it’s impossible to assess which teams might actually need to go that route. This robs fans and analysts of some very fun conversation, but it is what it is. Either way, it feels safe to assume, again because of playoff format, nobody is going to fully blow it up and rebuild from nothing; that typically would come with a salary dump deal.
Second, there’s the team with way too many guys in a particular position scenario, e.g. the Waterdogs midfield. They have more midfielders than they can feasibly dress every weekend. And just like in the above scenario, this isn’t an actual problem! It’s the opposite of a problem. It’s a blessing. It’s having a roster so deep you can’t even get all your Team USA middies in the lineup every week. This is not a problem you go out trying to gift to anyone else. And also like above, any of those guys sitting on your bench may not be doing a ton for you, but they also aren’t playing against you. Trading even your 6th or 7th midfielder would need to return a king’s ransom to be worthwhile. Otherwise, you just keep your ridiculous depth, let the Redwoods continue to struggle from the midfield, and try to stay on top of the standings. There is zero reason to solve the Redwoods problem for them. They have weakness, don't fix it, attack it. At year’s end, none of those Waterdogs middies are hitting free agency. There is no risk of them walking. This ain’t socialism. One team having a ton of something and another team having none of it doesn’t mean they have to share. The Waterdogs are 4-1 without being fully healthy, why disrupt it?
Next, a trade that sends draft picks to the Woods. As we said above, the prize for finishing last this year is the prospect who plays like the second coming of John Grant Jr in Brennan O’Neill. Connor Shellenberger, Pat Kavanagh, Matt Brandau, Graham Bundy, they all are expected to be in this draft. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Trading away picks is effectively trading away these players. No team, including the Redwoods, would be making a good decision by dealing away picks in this draft. Particularly picks in the first round. And if I’m a team looking to deal with the Redwoods, those picks are the first things I’m asking for. That alone likely makes this scenario dead in the water.
All that considered, here are the hypothetical trades I think make sense right now, at the All Star break:
Good list, right?
This is pro sports. It’s competitive. As Bob Sugar said, it ain't show friends, it's show business. Any GM who is actively trading away their depth to turn it into someone else’s starter, and in the process fixing another team’s biggest problem, isn’t doing a good job, and shouldn’t have that job very long. I need this, they have a lot of this, maybe they’ll trade me some of it without me giving up much…that is for fantasy sports. Or sports talk radio calls.