Why the Quakes won’t (and shouldn’t) buy out Simon Dawkins
PHOTO: Quakes Fan (quakesfan.com)
It genuinely pains me that I have to write this article. Simon Dawkins has a wonderful, happy place in the club’s history, firing 14 goals in 53 games in his first stint, playing an essential role in the ebullient 2012 supporters’ shield campaign, and earning his place as a fan favorite. Despite fan grumblings, he was even a contributor in his second stint with the club, managing the highest WhoScored player rating on the team in 2016 when playing a natural position, not to mention the two otherworldly, points-saving goals he scored that year. And on-pitch performance aside, he’s a genuinely nice, thoughtful man.
But rather than build on his 2016 campaign, 2017 turned into a nightmare. A preseason injury put him behind right out of the blocks, and either through lingering fitness issues or a complete lack of form, he played so poorly that he lost his place in the team altogether, and didn’t make a single appearance for the club past July. The ensuing offseason only added more attacking talent to the club, further limiting his already narrow opportunity for redemption.
A third guaranteed year on his contract has led many fans to demand a buyout, allowed in MLS roster rules, to get him (and his valuable DP tag and international slot) off the roster. In short, I think it’s an unwise use of money, and unlikely to occur.
A buyout comes entirely at the owner’s expense, and that’s actually important when thinking through this decision. The alternative is a combination of TAM and on-cap space that, because of MLS’s odd single-entity structure, have to be spent anyway (although Simon qualifies as a DP because of his salary, either he or Chris Wondolowski will have to be bought down, and from an owner-spending perspective, it’s six of one or half dozen of the other since they make the same amount). That means that $800k more would come out of John Fischer and Lew Wolff’s pockets than would have if they just let him ride the bench for a year. I want to emphasize this point, because it’s a very different situation than it would be in, say, a European club: the money to pay his contract is currently coming from an already committed pool, whereas a buyout would be above and beyond that commitment. It would not be coming out of the owners’ pockets either way. It’s therefore not a simple matter of zero-sum allocation.
Keep in mind that this buyout would only afford the Quakes an extra free DP spot for a single season, after which Dawkins’s contract expires and it would have opened up anyway. The international slot also has some value, but not nearly as much (even if no Quakes get green cards, and MLS doesn’t expand the foreign limit as rumor suggests it might, the going rate for a slot isn’t particularly high). Of course, it’s possible that Simon himself gets a green card after nearly four years spent living in the country, which would render that entire discussion moot.
So is a single season of an extra DP spot worth $800k? It’s easy for fans to say owners should never stop spending, since it’s not our money, but surely we can all acknowledge that the total amount of investment an owner can put into a club is finite, and it’s self-defeating to insist a club is run in a financially unsustainable manner. As such, we can usefully compare whether the $800k in limited funds is better spent one place than another.
For me, if the ownership group indicated they were willing to dig into their pockets for an extra $800k beyond what they were originally planning to spend, I can think of plenty of other things I’d rather have them do with it. For example, I’d prefer they acquire a DP with a $1.6m/year salary starting in 2019 than an $800k/year DP starting in 2018, since that gives access an entirely different category of player ability. Perhaps they’ve identified two DPs with similar salaries but one is on a free and the other requires a $800k transfer fee because he’s younger and has sell-on value: I’d take the latter one every day of the week. We could even go beyond the playing roster, and I’d happily invest that $800k in our scouting staff and budget, or on coaching salaries to attract better assistants, or on academy scholarships and subsidies to attract a bigger geographic region of youngsters, and so on. Fill in the blank with your favorite off-field investment, and see if you prefer it to a single year of a DP slot.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to reject a common trope I see on the message boards or on twitter: the Quakes are not cheap. That perception may have been fair in the fledgling first years of Quakes 2.0, or in the lean build-up to moving into a $100 million privately-financed stadium, but it is no longer. San Jose ranks in the top half of an increasingly free-spending league in salary spend, and just dropped a mouthwatering $2 million transfer fee on Magnus Eriksson in addition to that. Small transfer fees have gone from almost unheard-of to commonplace: the club most likely paid out transfer fees for Marco Urena, Valeri Qazaishvili, Jahmir Hyka, Florian Jungwirth, Danny Hoesen, and Eric Calvillo, all in just the last 12 months.
There’s another practical issue: even if you still think that the buyout makes financial sense in the hypothetical, it only will translate to on-field value if you can find, and sign, the right DP in the few short weeks before the season gets underway and the primary transfer window closes. Color me skeptical there, especially considering most leagues on earth have their transfer windows closed and teams are generally hesitant to let DP-type players go without the possibility of bringing others in. Jesse Fioranelli has also not shown a penchant for rash, wheeling-and-dealing transfers where you buy off the sale rack: he’s much more of an identify-the-right-fit-and-get-your-man kind of guy. If you wait until the midway point of the season, which would give you more time to find the right player and give access to the much more fruitful summer window, you’re only getting half of the potential benefit of a buyout, which makes the proposal even less sensible.
All of this assumes, of course, that Dawkins has essentially zero playing value for the team in 2018, which is unfortunately probably the case. However, in the remote chance he contributes to the team, either through reclaimed health and form or through veteran mentoring and leadership, you can add it to the ledger of reasons to keep him around.
I like Simon Dawkins, and I hate his contract. Regardless of my opinions on the matter, I don’t believe it’s going to be bought out based on everything I know. But even if it were reasonable to ask our owners to dig extremely deep into their own pockets to get out of this bad deal, I’d still rather they spend that money somewhere else.