There is precious little left to discuss about the Rapids. Season? Over. Rebuilding? Far away. Current games? Irrelevant, and likely to be painful.
There will be some more purging of players and more attempts to acquire the right guys for next year. And there are some certain questions as to who should stay and who should go. But today I want to tackle three specific players on the roster. Because people on twitter mentioned them. But also because they represent an interesting thought experiment in who or what the 'Rapids Way' is meant to be, and how this team will be built and re-built in 2019.
So let us consider Edgar Castillo, Zac MacMath, and Marlon Hairston; three Rapids that are all possible suspects for departure when roster reductions and contract non-renewals are announced in December.
Castillo is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best player on the team this year, and he's sure to win the team's MVP award. With 3 goals and 5 assists, he is undoubtably the most significant offensive contributor. (I know, those numbers aren't "leap off the page" amazing, but on this team, in this year, they are.) So it stands to reason that he absolutely, positively must be brought back, yes?
Hold your horses there, amigo. It ain't that simple. Castillo is on loan to the Rapids from Monterrey in Liga MX. Apparently, the deal came with a clause to buy, and the Rapids are in talks with Monterrey to close the deal. What the price is - we don't know.
We ought to consider whether it is worth resigning Castillo. Yes, he's the team's best player. And yes, he plays a position, left back, at which it is hard to find above-average players.
However, it seems unlikely that the Rapids will be able to compete next year. If that's the case, Colorado won't be competitive until March 2020, when Castillo will be 33 1/2 years old. Fullbacks don't last forever, with the exception of DaMarcus Beasley. If the price is right, like say in the $100 to 300,000 range, it probably makes sense to buy El Homie from Los Rayados. But if it's much more than that, perhaps the Rapids, rather than dropping coin on a transfer fee in wrong year and at the wrong age, should just let Castillo go.
I don't think the Rapids front office thinks 2019 is hopeless. But I do think that the team they've got right now is a weird hodgepodge of the past, the future, and the right now. DPs Tim Howard and Shkelzen Gashi are clearly yesterday's players. Kortne Ford, Niki Jackson, Sam Vines, and Cole Bassett are looking forward to some time beyond tomorrow. And Edgar Castillo, along with Kellyn Acosta, are for right now. Acosta's contract expires at the end of 2018, but the Rapids have club options for 2019 and 2020. If Colorado is not good in 2019, but Acosta is, I can see Acosta begging to be sold on to Europe.
Castillo, on the other hand, will cost a bunch in transfer fees and require a sizable new contract. And he isn't going to appreciate in value - Castillo is essentially the proverbial 'new car' that loses value the minute you drive it off the lot. So if he's going to cost a $300,000 transfer fee and another $300,000 a year in salary, plus he's going to block Sam Vines from getting some MLS experience at left back, maybe it'd be better to move.
I guestimated those numbers, but I think they're in the ballpark. Transfermarkt.co.uk has Castillo valued at $1.5 million, which is certainly high. And Castillo's current salary has him making $130,000 a year - I think after his play this year, he's likely earned a raise.
So is he worth it? Is it worth blocking Sam Vines for a year? Is it worth a half a million to get Edgar for what looks to be a doomed year? I dunno. I'll miss El Homie if he isn't back next year. But if he's the one bright spot for a terrible 2019 Colorado Rapids seasons, I'll feel sad for him, for Sam Vines, and for how else that money might have been spent on something like a midfielder.
In a January 2017 interview with Daniel Boniface of the Denver Post, Zac MacMath disclosed that he signed a two-year contract. That means his deal expires... at the end of this month. Should the Rapids re-sign MacMath?
They've got another year of Tim Howard, and despite occasional calls for Tim to be dropped as the starting keeper, the Rapids have elected to keep Howard firmly between the pipes, week after week. His Goals Allowed - Expected Goals Allowed this season is +2.20. That puts him at 'below-average' but not 'terrible'; he's 18th out of 23 goalkeepers with 1500 minutes or more. We can't accurate compare Zac MacMath to Tim Howard in 2018 because MacMath has had too few starts to give us a big enough sample size of data.
So, should the Rapids resign MacMath to a new contract that would anoint him as Howard's heir-apparent? That makes a good deal of sense. MacMath is only 27 years old, and is still yet to come into the prime years for GKs of 30 to 33 years old.*
The Rapids would likely want to sign MacMath to a 3 year deal, and ideally they'd be able to pay a little less since that first year would be another year of Zac as Tim's backup. The question, of course, is whether Zac wants to wait another year to start. I think he might. He just had a baby, and that often means stability comes before big paychecks.
It is also possible, though, that Zac is burned out on being with the Rapids. After backing up Howard for the magical 2016 season, it can't be a lot of fun to be on the bench through two straight losing seasons. For 2019, MacMath might reasonably have to endure another losing season chained to the bench. He's young, he's well regarded, and I've been told he's had inquiries from abroad. Zac might want to make hay while the sun shines and leave right now for a starting job. Each year he can start and demonstrate himself to be a quality keeper will push up his salary, and each year he stays a number two is another year at which his value is effectively on hold. It's a tough call, but if Zac is itching to play, there's no good reason for him to wait another year.
There's also no better time to sell your Denver real estate than right now.
Marlon Hairston may not be the one in control of his destiny going forward. His future is almost certainly at the total discretion of GM Pádraig Smith.
Marly signed a new contract at the end of 2016, but it's length is unknown. We know it was at least two years, since the club listed him at the start of 2018 as 'under contract'. A fairly common MLS contract is a two-year deal, with a club option for a one-year extension. If that's what Hairston has, then it's the Rapids that will decided what to do with him.
Hairston has had a pretty poor year. He started 2018 with an invitation to January camp with the USMNT, but missed some time with injury, and even more time on the bench as an unused sub. Even when healthy, Anthony Hudson sometimes elected to start Kortne Ford or Deklan Wynne over Hairston. To date, he has played just 837 minutes this year. When Marlon was on the field, he was generally fine in defense, but his formerly stellar passing and attacking kind of evaporated. He's registered only 0.4 key passes per game and has zero assists. Compare that to 2017, when he had 0.8 KPpg and 4 assists, and to 2016 when he registered 0.9 KPpg and 5 assists. Granted, in 2016 he was a right midfielder, and in 2017 he split time at fullback and mid, so of course his offensive numbers were higher.
But still. Edgar Castillo, playing on the left flank, has average 1.4 KPpg and has 5 assists. It's not about where for Marlon, it's about how. And his how hasn't been great.
Hairston has sale value within MLS, so if the team chooses to do something like a sign-and-trade; to pick up Hairston's option, then flip him to another MLS team for another player or TAM/GAM, they could do that. If the team chose not to resign him at all, he would pass through the MLS Re-entry draft, where teams might still need to arrange a trade with the Rapids in order to acquire him. Hairston would get a new job somewhere else. The Rapids would get nothing. I don't see this as likely, but you never know.
From where I sit, Hairston still has a lot of value, and he's probably unhappy in Commerce City and wants to go. He clearly doesn't rate very highly with Anthony Hudson. This all reads like a perfect storm - player has value, he wants out, club can get good value in return. It all spells departure from DIA for MarlyG to my mind. Maybe he stays, but I would say odds are better that he goes.
The bummer from a fan's standpoint is two-fold. First, all three of these players are well-liked by the burgundy faithful. And second, they don't currently cost a lot, which means their departure doesn't free up much moola for an upgrade. That's if you ignore the likelihood that Castillo's price will go way up.
But consider also that a roster spot is more than the salary cost. It is also the opportunity cost of having a given player on your team, getting minutes or reps at practice, instead of another, possibly better, player. Letting Edgar Castillo, Zac MacMath, and/or Marlon Hairston leave might not be the most popular move(s) the team makes, but they might be the right call to move the club forward long term.
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* If you look at that AmericanSoccerAnalysis.com list of GKs by GA-xGA, all of the top keepers (Stefan Frei, Evan Bush, Joe Willis, and Luis Robles) are between 31 and 34 years old.