The Morrison Report – Omnibus Offseason Edition Part I

I hope nobody took a long holiday vacation. In as busy a week as the Portland Timbers have had in the last two years, the Portland Timbers have added a designated player to their roster, introduced a new coach, had their schedule unveiled, and stood idly by while the MLS made a brazen attempt to trademark the term “Cascadia Cup.”  Oh, brother.

If you have been under a rock for a couple weeks,[1] well, you have some catching up to do. Luckily, The Morrison Report has you covered. In Part I of the Omnibus Offseason Edition we tackle the additions of Valeri and Porter and the funny things that people said when those additions were announced. In Part II this weekend, we’ll cover MLS-oriented issues and a little bit of Timbers potpourri.

Welcome to Chez Valeri

There is no such thing as too much of a good thing.[2] So when one guy named Diego was serving the Timbers well in the midfield, Caleb Porter and Gavin Wilkinson decided to add another.

Enter, Diego Valeri, former Lanus number ten and occasional Argentine national teamer. In a move that was sussed out by the TA’s own Sheba weeks prior, the Timbers on Thursday announced the major creative signing that had eluded them for two years.

While Valeri’s signing was exciting enough, the Twitter drama began shortly after the announcement when The Oregonian’s Geoffrey C. Arnold speculated that Franck Songo’o may be on the outs, bro. Arnold may prove to be correct,[3] but I don’t see the Valeri move as being the primary causal factor. Songo’o’s position in the team was imperiled the moment the Timbers traded for Will Johnson, who essentially stripped Songo’o of the benefit of his incumbency at left mid.

That said, Franck is a good player at a very decent price, which makes him of value to both the Timbers and potential suitors. In this respect, however, he is similar to Eric Alexander and Sal Zizzo, both of whom have proven to be productive players but who at the moment appear to be relatively unlikely to crack the XI.[4] In this way, the addition of Valeri just added a chef de cuisine to an already very crowded midfield kitchen. In this kitchen, Zizzo, Alexander, and Songo’o represent three chefs de partie who other restaurants may just desire as a sous chef. Accordingly, don’t be surprised if the Timbers dangle all three of these guys on the trade market, and see what offers come their way.

I think Zizzo is probably the one the Timbers would most readily part with. Both Alexander and Songo’o can play multiple midfield positions.[5] On the other hard, of the three, Zizzo looks like the only one with a better than longshot chance of starting.  Don’t be surprised, however, if the Timbers trade one or two of these guys. The team still needs a right back and, if a high enough pick were offered and a prospect catches Porter’s eye this weekend, the Timbers might jump at the chance to get back into the draft to lock up another off budget Generation Adidas player.

Hey Porter

In even less surprising news, the Timbers introduced Caleb Porter as the new head coach on Tuesday morning at Jeld-Wen Field. After being hired nearly five months ago, Porter finally made his official debut appearance wearing Timbers green.[6]

With one exception, the introductory presser was notable more for how much Caleb said than what he said. As he showed in his occasional press conferences at Akron, if Porter is asked a question of any specificity, he will often give a surprisingly forthright, think-out-loud answer that runs a few seconds longer than his boss would probably like.

The most prominent example of Caleb saying more than prudence may advise was in his answer to a question about Kris Boyd’s fit in Porter’s system. Caleb answered that he had a hard time seeing how Boyd fit, especially because he expects his forwards to defend and, you know, move.

This may have been an example of a rookie coach unaccustomed to answering difficult questions under pressure.[7] But a little bit of me has a hard time believing Porter wasn’t given a pointer or two beforehand on how to handle a question about the elephant in the Timbers’ boot room. Not to mention, it’s not like Porter had a negative slip of the tongue amidst of a long answer about how Kris is a great scorer whose nose for goal fits in any system.  No, Caleb dove right in, swam a couple laps, and stole Boyd’s swimsuit on the way out of the pool.

The answer, though, brings simmering questions about Boyd’s future in Portland back to a boil. We may get a hint when Trencito Valencia’s purchase is announced. If Trencito is still a young designated player, then he and the Diegos would take up all three DP slots. All indications, then, would be that Boyd is on his way out before the roster compliance date.  If the Timbers have negotiated Valencia’s purchase price low enough, it very well could be that it’s worthwhile to keep the DP tag off of him.[8]

So, what about Boyd? Well, there are a few options. First, and I think least likely, the Timbers could welcome him into camp with open arms, keep him around, and see what he offers in 2013. To be frank, I don’t see how this helps anybody. Second, the Timbers could find a willing buyer within the next month, ship him out on free transfer, and likely swallow a good chunk of his million-and-a-quarter salary in 2013. This requires a taker and, as explained in footnote nine below, may not make that much sense for Portland financially.

Third, however, the Timbers could use their once-per-offseason get out of jail free card on Boyd, which allows a team to buyout one player’s contract per offseason and have it come off the salary cap for the subsequent season.[9] This possibility makes some sense if Porter’s Boyd bashing session was something less than absent minded. Namely, Porter may have been sending a message to Boyd that he better take the Timbers’ buyout offer. By making it clear that Boyd was out of favor here, he creates a strong disincentive for Kris to return. Simply put, at the age of 29 – and after two years completely off the European footballing map – Boyd can’t afford another season without production. If he toils in Portland for a year and then, at 30, tries to return to Europe, he wouldn’t receive a serious offer. So, after being told he’s persona barely grata on Morrison Street, Boyd may prefer to take a buyout from Portland for a fraction of his 2013 salary, and try to resuscitate his European career now.

Nonetheless, Gavin’s coy response to the follow up question clearly shows nothing yet it settled with Kris. Stay tuned.

Onward, Rose City!

[1] Say, for example, helicopter skiing.

[2] This is verifiably untrue.

[3] Say what you will about GCA, in the past he hasn’t been one engage in wild-eyed speculation.

[4] I don’t include Kalif Alhassan here, as I think his potential is probably greater than his trade value at this point. As such, I would be a little surprised if he were as prominent on the trading block.

[5] Keep in mind, in a 4-4-2 setup, Franck can play three midfield positions and, in a pinch, step up and be a second striker. That versatility is a quality a coach like Caleb Porter certainly values on his bench.

[6] Well, more specifically, a suit and an anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-uglier League-brand scarf.

[7] The look on Gavin’s face immediately after Porter’s answer seemed to suggest this is the case.

[8] This could be the case even if his salary and amortized transfer fee wind up being a little bit more than $200,000. If that is the case, the Timbers could decide they’d rather keep the DP slot open for a future player than buy Trencito’s price down to the $200,000 level his young DP status would allow. Such a price doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility.

[9] See 2012 Roster Rules and Regulations § III(D). It’s not clear if the Timbers would get Boyd’s DP slot back for the season, but if Valencia is not going to be a DP, that may not matter all that much and could further save the Timbers some money. Remember, teams still have to buy the third DP slot for, in 2012, $250,000. If the Timbers only had two DPs in 2013, that would not only save the quarter-million dollar fee, but would also likely bring in another couple hundred grand in payments from teams who do buy the third slot.  See id. § II(B) par. 6. It’s not unreasonable to think this strategy could net Portland somewhere close to half a million dollars in off-cap money. That by itself could account for a good chunk of what Merritt would have to pay for the buyout. This makes way too much sense, though.

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