A Look Into New Contracts From Last Season

There is no doubt that the signing of a new designated player has become a key tool for MLS clubs. It gets fans excited and interested, and — as we say last season — can turn a mediocre club into a powerhouse (Toronto FC) or turn a tanking club into a champion (Seattle). The Quakes are in desperate need of a turnaround, and appear to be well on their way to making a big splash.

But the majority of the work of a GM is concerned not with superstars, but with a building a roster that fits the ever-increasingly complicated salary cap rules of the MLS. If a vast majority of the money is going to only a few players, teams have to have a significant portion of their squad be overachievers in terms of what they earn. For example, this season saw Joevin Jones start 29 games for Seattle while making less than the median income in that city. When the contracts on these overachievers is up, the GM is forced to decide if these players can still fit on the roster with a salary that is closer to their market value.

Here, I briefly examine the effectiveness of the decisions GMs made on salary increases in the 2016 season. To begin, I note that I do not claim that this is a complete analysis, primarily because I focus on goals. While this is obviously the objective of the sport, the number of goals scored clearly does not encapsulate all players contributions to their team. Therefore, this is more of a look at strikers and attack-minded players.

With that in mind, we begin with the relationship between goals scored in the 2015 regular season and guaranteed compensation.

Perhaps predictably, the Quakes have a gem in Chris Wondolowski in terms of cost per goal. We can also look at this more directly. The figure below examines is simply the ratio of guaranteed salary to 2015 goals set in order of lowest first (along with selected others).

Again, Wondolowski appears among the league leaders. He is no Mike Grella — who scored 9 goals while making only 60k for NYRB — but he is right in line with fellow productive strikers Dom Dwyer, Fanendo Adi, and Bradley Wright-Phillips. The ratio is also far below high-earning DPs such as Robbie Keane and David Villa. The other Quakes players among the leaders are Cordell Cato (3 goals, 60k) and Quincy Amarikwa (6 goals, 100k).

To double check this, it might be important that some players had more time on the field than others. Wondolowski in particular is rarely off the pitch. Below is the same figure, but with cost-per-goal/90 minutes played instead of simply number of goals. This would would benefit players that are particularly productive with limited time on the pitch.

Despite extensive playing time, Wondo still appears among the leaders. The list reveals some interesting players, some of whom are no longer in the league (Robert Earnshaw, Aaron Schoenfeld). But Cato and Amarikwa no longer appear.

Amarikwa’s contract was up in 2015, and the Quakes chose to give him a big raise: from 100k to 247k in guaranteed compensation. With his 2015 cost-to-goal ratio, this seemed to be a good idea. But how did this turn out after the 2016 season?

This figure shows the relationship between salary increases and cost-per-goal in 2016. Players in the top left got larger raises, but were still productive in terms of goal scoring. Quincy is among the top in this category, along with USMNT fringe players Lee Nguyen and Gyassi Zardes. This would indicate that despite some struggles in front of goal, Quincy’s new contract was a good use of the Quakes money.

Besides Quincy, how did the Quakes do overall with new 2016 contracts? The answer is not that great. The figure below shows ratio of goals per 10k in player raises. As such, it is restricted only to players that had an increase in salary from 2015 to 2016.

The Quakes are near the bottom of the pile here, indicating that their salary increases did not result in many more goals. This figure is only suggestive however, we would need to see this for several seasons to draw any conclusions about the Quakes front office. This is because some clubs may have had to give new contracts to goalkeepers or defenders pushing the ratio up. Further, one offseason’s worth of new contract decisions is only a subset of the over/under-acheiving pool on a given club.

New Quakes GM Jesse Fioranelli will have a number of challenges in rebuilding a contender, and new contracts are only one of them. But while fans clamber for marquee signings, it is worth remembering that decisions regarding squad players can be just as important in the tricky MLS salary environment.

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