After the MLS Player's Union released information on 2011 player salaries last weekend many amateur capologists (myself included) began crunching numbers, analyzing data, and speculating as to the "salary cap" standing of each team in the league. It's an exercise that's rooted in educated guesses and assumptions based on the raw numbers presented by the union. It's easy enough to add up the salaries and deduce which players are considered as "on-budget" per the revised MLS salary rules but it's down right near impossible to nail down an accurate figure due to the league's insistence on not making allocation dollars public and their refusal to clearly explain the twists and loopholes available to each club in a given season.
A close look at the Fire's salary structure as presented by the union's figures brings to light several questions. Are the Fire actually paying Nery Castillo all that money? Why is his name still on the list? Are Diego Chaves and Gaston Puerari really that inexpensive? How much cap space is available to possibly add another midfielder? Is there room for a DP or two?
The first glaringly obvious assumption was easy enough to make even before the union's list was released. The Fire lost a significant amount of player salaries after the 2010 season ended. The departures of Brian McBride, CJ Brown, John Thorrington, Nery Castillo, Wilman Conde, Collins John, and Freddie Ljungberg freed up a substantial amount of "cap" space. How that "cap" space was used in relation to the 2011 season is a bit murky but I'll give it a shot anyway.
Media and fans aren't privy to club financial details like allocation dollars, buy-outs, carry over costs, bonuses, loan deal costs or any other quirks that may affect the "budget" number going into a season. MLS doesn't fully explain or make these details transparent thereby giving the impression that rules are made up on the fly. The league's policy of secrecy on this matter is based on the theory that making the information public would alert players and agents to the actual budget space thereby artificially creating a basis for each individual contract negotiation to result in an attempt to get the maximum dollars remaining under the cap. I'll leave this conversation for another day in order to focus on the Fire's 2011 situation.
Fire "On Budget" Players 1-20
MLS increased the salary "cap" total for each club to $2,675,000.00 in 2011. The "cap" number isn't in fact a cap but actually a budget number based on the base salary of players referred to this season as "on budget". Each team is required to count players occupying rosters spots 1-20 against the budget number. Two spots can go unused but the Fire aren't in that situation so I'll ignore that option for now by taking a guess at roster spots 1-20.
Player Age Base Salary Guaranteed Compensation
1 Diego Chaves 25 $ 45,000.00 $ 45,000.00
2 Yamith Cuesta 22 $ 72,000.00 $ 82,000.00
3 Marco Maric 28 $150,000.00 $200,000.00
4 Josip Mikulic 25 $110,000.00 $116,250.00
5 Marco Pappa 23 $120,000.00 $125,000.00
6 Bratislav Ristic 31 $144,000.00 $152,497.14
7 Gaston Puerari 25 $ 50,000.00 $ 50,000.00
8 Cristian Nazirit 20 $ 42,000.00 $ 42,000.00
9 Cory Gibbs 31 $150,000.00 $150,000.00
10 Patrick Nyarko 25 $110,000.00 $190,000.00
11 Dominic Oduro 25 $ 95,004.00 $ 97,004.00
12 Logan Pause 29 $176,000.00 $184,125.00
13 Dasan Robinson 26 $ 97,500.00 $100,000.00
14 Gonzalo Segares 28 $160,000.00 $167,750.00
15 Baggio Husidic 23 $ 82,500.00 $124,500.00
16 Jon Conway 34 $ 70,000.00 $ 79,833.33
17 Daniel Paladini 26 $ 75,000.00 $ 79,478.25
18 Mike Banner 27 $ 42,000.00 $ 42,000.00
19 Gabriel Ferrari 22 $ 70,000.00 $ 70,875.00
20 Mike Videira 25 $ 42,000.00 $ 42,625.00
Total $1,903,004.00 $2,140,937.72
The first eight players on the list take up the eight allotted International roster spots that each MLS club is allowed. Teams can add international spots via trade but the Fire are at a maximum in terms of non-domestic players. This means that someone will need to go if an international is added during the July transfer window unless another spot is traded for. Also keep in mind that if a player without a guaranteed contract is waived after July 1 his salary figure will count against the cap for the remainder of the season. If that player is waived before July 1, teams can save the "budget" space and use that amount elsewhere.
Assuming that these are indeed the players occupying roster spots 1-20 which constitute the "salary budget" of $2,675,000.00 it appears that the Fire have considerable space available to make substantial additions during the July transfer window once again. MLS has never confirmed which figure is actually used to calculate the budget amount. Is it the "base salary" or the "guaranteed compensation" figure which includes signing and guaranteed bonuses annualized over the term of the player's contract? I've heard it's the "base salary" figure from credible sources so I'm using that figure for the basis of these calculations.
It would appear that the Fire are currently $771,996.00 under the MLS salary budget of $2,675,000.00. What we don't know is how allocation money was used and if it was at all to bring in some of the new acquisitions during the offseason. MLS roster rules allow for clubs to "buy down" budget numbers on salaries by using allocation money. Is it possible that allocation money can also be used as a separate signing bonus that would not necessarily be shown on the union's player salary report? I suspect we won't be getting any straight answers from the league office any time soon.
Nery Castillo Is Making What ?!?
We also don't know if payments made to any of the departing players affect the 2011 cap number. For instance, the player's union list still includes Nery Castillo as a Fire player with a guaranteed compensation of $2,038,062.50. Before your jaw hits the floor be aware that the Fire are NOT paying Castillo's salary since his former club still technically owns his contract. Castillo is still on the union's list because the Fire hold an option to pick up his contract as part of the loan agreement that shipped him to Aris. The option can and surely will be declined on May 20. Is it possible that Castillo's DP salary "budget" amount is still clogging up a chunk of the salary budget? Maybe, but that will no longer be an issue come next Friday.
How Big A Bargain Are Chaves and Puerari?
How can Diego Chaves and Gaston Puerari be such bargains you ask? A careful study of the information on the MLS Player's Union site led me to this sentence, "These figures include compensation from each player's contract with MLS. They do not include any compensation from any contracts with individual teams or their affiliates."
Given that information, I'm pretty sure that Chaves and Puerari are not coming as cheaply as they appear at first glance. The Fire are assuming the remainder of their salaries which are not depicted in the player's union information. That amount should also be added to the total "salary budget" of $1,903,004.00. For the purpose of this exercise, let's just assume that the Fire are paying each player an additional $150,000.00. That would still leave an apparent surplus of $471,000.00 not counting the mysterious allocation money that each club holds onto.
Roster Spots 21-30
Players occupying roster spots 21-30 do not count against the salary budget number but both Corben Bone and Sean Johnson are Generation Adidas players who will likely graduate from the program after the season so provisions need to be taken to compensate for those amounts in 2012.
Player Age Base Salary Guaranteed Compensation
21 Kwame Watson-Siriboe 24 $ 44,000.00 $ 44,000.00
22 Steven Kinney 23 $ 42,000.00 $ 42,000.00
23 Jalil Anibaba 23 $ 42,000.00 $ 82,000.00
24 Pari Pantazopoulos 22 $ 42,000.00 $ 42,000.00
25 Victor Pineda 18 $ 42,000.00 $ 42,000.00
26 Corben Bone 23 $ 90,000.00 $151,200.00
27 Sean Johnson 21 $ 75,000.00 $108,000.00
28 Orr Barouch 19 $ 32,600.00 $ 32,600.00
29 Alec Dufty 24 $ 32,600.04 $ 32,600.04
30 Davis Paul 22 $ 32,600.04 $ 32,600.04
Looking at all the information it's impossible to nail down exactly how much the Fire have to play with under the salary budget amount but it's safe to say that there should be room available to add a substantial acquisition or two during the July transfer period. Given the unpaid gambles that the team took last July I would expect that any new additions will be "safer" bets if they play it smart.
How Are They Doing It?
While pouring over numbers and looking at the rest of the teams in MLS I added up the salaries of the New York Red Bulls while trying to figure out how exactly they could possibly fit not only two designated players but also Dwayne DeRosario, Teemu Tainio, Luke Rodgers, Jan Gunner Solii, and Bouna Coundoul who are all making upwards of $175K according to the players union, under the budget number.
The total salaries of players 1-20 is in excess of $3,000,000.00. They are at least $300,000.00 over the "cap" amount. That's a lot of allocation money. Mystery allocation money.