Each year, because MLS refuses to disclose player salaries and transfer fees (grrrrrrr!), it falls on the MLS Players Union to release that data - once in mid-May, and once again after the second summer transfer window closes, mid-September.
The information is interesting on a couple of levels. For one, it gives a picture overall of how many players are making yeoman's wages, in that $50,000 to $80,000 range. Another matter of interest is general roster building - are MLS teams generally splashing the cash, or playing a frugal form of moneyball? It can also tell us where a team ranks in the overall MLS picture of spending. Here's American Soccer Analysis' breakdown:
Average Salary by MLS Team. Dallas' average is 1/5th of NYCFC's. https://t.co/ZuRX4b3Z9m pic.twitter.com/gyyoVHyzM6— AnalysisEvolved (@AnalysisEvolved) May 19, 2016
Some stuff is already known well before this data is released: the MLS Salary Cap for 2016 is $3,660,000. The DP threshold is $457,500 - that amount hits the cap, and anything above is allowed to be spent on up to 3 DP players.
There are still some surprises to learn. We get our first look at a new DP to the league's salary from this document, so for the Rapids, today was the day that we learned that Shkelzen Gashi earns $1.67 million per year. Let's look at what else it reveals, and then I'll share my thoughts on the 2016 Colorado Rapids big bargains and sunk costs.
Micheal Azira ($66K) , Dominique Badji ($53K), Marc Burch ($120K), Marco Pappa ($110K)
Honorable Mention: Jermaine Jones ($650K)
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It's simple: the MLS median average salary, according to American Soccer Analysis, is $117,000 a year.
If you have a starting player giving you above-average production at their position for below-average cost, you are getting a bargain.
Micheal Azira, the first Rapids acquisition of the Winter 2015 offseason, was a lightly used backup defensive midfielder for Seattle. When he came, he struck me as a younger version of Nick LaBrocca: defensively solid, a clean passer of the routine ball, and reliable bench depth. Instead, Azira has formed a defensive midfield tandem with Sam Cronin that is as reliable combo for the Rapids as Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance was for the Cubs (baseball reference, look it up). The two have been solid and frustrating to break for opposing defenses. At $66K, that's a steal - especially when you consider that Sam Cronin gets paid $220,000 and is pretty close to equivalent in production and skill. Sam should buy Mike a nice watch or something.
Dom Badji is still learning and evolving, and nobody would argue at this point that he's going to displace Gashi, Jermaine Jones, or Marco Pappa as first team attacking midfield starters. But he has provided 1 goal, 1 assist, and 583 minutes for the Rapids this year in 6 starts and 10 appearances. Brazilian legend Kaka has 2 goals 2 assists. Frank Lampard has zero minutes this year. Those guys get paid $7 million and $6 million a year, respectively. Badji doesn't have to be your favorite player, but he's well worth the $53K he'll earn this year.
Marc Burch has been great this year. He might not be more than a slightly above average defender, earning almost league-median* pay: but he deserves those dollars. For more fawning over Marc Burch, look here.
Marco Pappa is providing excellence in attack: 1 goal, 3 assists, 13 Key Passes for the Rapids. That's nearly equivalent production to Gashi (2 goals, 3 assists, 23 KP in twice as many minutes) for, literally, 1/10th of the cost. Some think that Jermaine Jones was the thing that made the Rapids morph from MLS doorstop to table-topping juggernaut. Those folks forget that the Rapids were 3-1-2 (W-T-L) before Jermaine joined the squad. Pappa was the rollin' stone that started this team off right.
Listen, $650,000 a year to kick a soccer ball is a lot of money. Sure, a star soccer player sells a lot of jerseys and can win you games, but shelling out roughly nine times the salary of the average US worker, while possibly 'worthy', cannot accurately be called a bargain. Nonetheless, Jermaine Jones is pretty close to a bargain. Jones earned $4.5 million from New England on an 18 month contract, and the Rapids are getting every bit as good a Jermaine as the Revs did for a much smaller payday.
He also earned $5 million a year for Schalke 04 as recently as 2014.
So at $650K, he ain't cheap, but he's much more affordable than he was when he got paid $5 million a year. Looking at our record with Jermaine Jones in the lineup - 4 wins, 2 ties, 0 losses - he's been an amazing buy.
Shkelzen Gashi ($1.67 mil), Marlon Hairston ($113K), Tim Howard ($2.54 mil), Dillon Powers ($300K), Juan Ramirez ($85K), Kevin Doyle ($1.1 million),
In business parlance, a 'sunk cost' is an expenditure that you've made and potentially regret, so you see it through and hope that, in the end, it pans out as a reasonable expenditure. I'm using it here in place of the clickbaity term 'big busts' that usually goes in these articles. See: exhibit A. Only 1/4 of the way through the season, it's premature to call a player a big bust. Instead, they're a person you've spent considerable cash on, that might be hard to sell, and hasn't quite panned out the way you'd like considering the cost.
Gashi: Sunk Cost
It's too early to tell whether Gashi as a DP has been worth it. He's clearly a talented dribbler and passer, and he's definitely an improvement on the wing. But ask yourself this: if we could clone Marco Pappa and put him at both wings for $110K each, wouldn't that get us roughly the same thing as $1.7 mil for Gashi? It's hard to say whether Gashi is vastly under-performing for what he's paid, or whether Pappa is vastly over-performing for what he's paid - it is in the eye of the beholder. But Gashi is clearly getting paid well, and with that comes the pressure of playing up to your paycheck.
Hairston: Sunk Cost
Marlon Hairston isn't overpaid, but he is paid a lot for a backup fullback, and it's a little hard to understand exactly why. MarlyG earned $103,000 in 2015, and $93,000 in 2014. When you overpay for a player that you get through the SuperDraft, the only logical reason for it is that the player (or his agent) was successful at making the case to MLS clubs during the draft that the player has 'options abroad', and that MLS need to make him a serious offer. Otherwise, you pay your rookies as close to the minimum as you can. Not only is Marly getting paid well while barely getting minutes, he's gotten a $10K raise two years in a row. Hairston is a player I like a lot - he's talented and fast and well liked by fans. And he's still young; only 22 years old; and has potential. I think Hairston's an investment worth spending a little on. But he needs minutes, because there are scads of players in USL and Central America with talent and speed that would cost the Rapids half of Hairston's salary, and also carry the 'potential' tag, and the Rapids FO knows that.
Howard: Sunk Cost
Tim Howard was signed because he's a big name; because he'll sell merch; because he might get more casual soccer fans out to DSGP; because it might give Colorado a few thousand new EPL fans from either side of the pond; AND, after all that, because he's a good goalkeeper. He's also, by far, the highest paid keeper in MLS. The next highest paid is Nick Rimando, at $420,000 a year. Howard might turn out to be a great addition for all sorts of reasons, but he's really expensive, and he supposedly has a three year contract, so if he ISN'T awesome, it's a problem for a long time to come.
Powers: Sunk Cost
Dillon Powers. Oy, Dillon Powers. Play him? Trade him? Sell him? It's fodder for another article. But at $300K, he's your 5th highest paid player, and he's only scrounged 457 minutes, mostly before JJ got here, and has just 1 goal, 0 assists. Powers does have 10 key passes, so some of his lack of production is others not finishing when he dishes them the tasty pass. And I still think, despite all of our success with Jones at the number 10, maybe Powers deserves a shot in some kind of lineup with Gashi, Powers, Pappa, Cronin & Jones. But until that happens, he's an expensive odd-man-out.
J. Ramirez: Sunk Cost
Forgive me if I don't understand how a loan works. See, I always though that the loanee got an awesome player, no transfer fee, and all they had to do was pay the dude's salary. Yet here we are with Juan Ramirez as a roster hit against the Rapids - according to the MLS Players Union Salary figures, the Rapids are paying for Ramirez to suck in Spain instead of for him to suck in Commerce City. That sucks. Maybe it's a technicality - maybe he counts against the cap, but UD Almeria actually does pay the $85K. Nonetheless, the frustration that came with the fact that we used to pay $85K a year for Ramirez to run into a corner and fall down isn't hardly assuaged by knowing that we now pay $85K for Ramirez to fall down in Spain instead.
K. Doyle: Sunk Cost
Kevin Doyle is paid a lot of money to score goals. He had 5 in 20 games in 2015 for a miserable Rapids team, and he has 2 goals in 8 games for the table-topping 2016 Rapids; that puts him on pace for 7 or 8 goals, or roughly $120,000 a goal. Cyle Larin scored 17 goals last year for Orlando, and was paid $167,000, or about $10,000 a goal. There are a dozen strikers that are paid less than Doyle that I could compare him with unfavorably - Kamara, McGee, Nyarko, Dwyer, Blas Perez, Octavio Rivero, for starters. I don't like it, but that's the truth. Doyle could still turn out to be a top goal scorer in this league, but I think that'd surprise nearly everyone at this point. Let's just say I have more Rapids players on my MLS Fantasy team than is reasonable or prudent, but Doyle ain't one of 'em.
The Expected Costs of Professional Soccer
Sean St. Ledger ($195,000)
Sledge was just acclimating to Colorado at the end of last year, and depending who you asked, looked like he was a solid CB for the team going forward. He had a procedure on his knee in the off-season and I've heard no timetable for his return to the squad.
Guys get hurt. That's just part of the sports world. The Rapids paid a full year for Brian Mullan in 2014, although he never played a minute and retired at season's end. Cameron Porter has yet to come back from a blown ACL with Montreal. I really hope Sledge can get healthy and contribute, but there's no shame in getting paid to come back from injury. Paying a reasonable cost for a guy to get healthy is just part of the game.
However, if that guy were my DP, was earning $6 million a year, had been brought in to be the face of the club, only to be yanked back for a 'loan' to Manchester City, then got hurt, and yet still made a deal to be a commentator for Euro 2016 for the BBC, I'd be totally pissed off. But hey, that'd never happen.
* I use the median instead of the average because the giant salaries of MLS DPs pulls the average waaaaay higher than the median, to $290,245 per year. Lots of MLS players earn in the $90-120K region, while few earn over $290,000. So for our purposes, it's more instructive to ask if a player is worthwhile of their pay in comparison to the median pay.