First off, Julio Cesar, even the one who's getting a bit older and can't break into the Queens Park Rangers first team right now, would undeniably be a big upgrade on Joe Bendik, I'm in no way writing this to debate that point. But this is MLS, a salary cap world, and Toronto FC are a team that has definitely had cap issues, last season was more or less given up in service of wrestling their cap situation into submission. Given that, despite the obvious upgrade in one position, is focusing more of the cap on that one position wise? That's a question worth exploring.
That cap wrestling mentioned in the intro had a few obvious victims. Darren O'Dea and Richard Eckersley were both on contracts that were way too big and had to be moved out, but there was more debate to be had about Stefan Frei. He was making $200,000 last year, which isn't outrageous and is in line with other goalies in the league with similar MLS experience and proven ability (Dan Kennedy, Tally Hall, Jimmy Nielsen, Matt Reis, Nick Rimando were all roughly at that level in 2013), so his contract in no way stood out. But after Joe Bendik proved competent at a much lower wage ($46,500 last year) well any self respecting capology wonk would see that as an opportunity to get some money back to spread throughout the squad.
Here's a couple of quotes from self respecting capology wonk Tim Bezbatchenko at the time of Frei's trade to Seattle:
"We are excited to watch him (Bendik) continue to develop his skills and be a leader on our re-shaped roster next season. We are confident that we have addressed our goalkeeper situation for the upcoming season, while adding increased roster and cap flexibility in the process."
"Parting with a player of Stefan's calibre and character is always difficult, but as we move forward with our re-shaping of the club, it is important that we have increased flexibility to make additional moves. This trade provides us with that flexibility,"
Bendik was obviously due a raise this year, but it still seemed like TFC would be in a position of having ok goalkeeping at a cheap rate, including Chris Konopka on a sensible backup's wage (last year $46,500, probably very similar to that this year), with added cap room to play with for all those sexy outfield player signings.
And now we've reversed course. I get the impression that much like the Michael Bradley signing, this is an opportunity that fell in management's laps and they decided to run with it, figure out the logistics afterwards. I picture 'Arry calling up his old mate and saying 'Oi Ryan, 'Oolio needs some playing time and no-one over 'ere wants 'im at full price. No way I'm going to do those guys a favour, but can you 'elp 'im out on the cheap?' The words Brazilian World cup player were guaranteed to make this management team drool uncontrollably and so now here we are, all of a sudden back to paying more for goalies.
As always with MLS, the devil will be in the details and as always we'll never really know for sure what they are. There's 2 big details. 1, is this simply until the World Cup or is there the potential for a longer deal 2, How much are we going to be paying him? Obviously QPR will be covering the vast vast majority of his wages, but what is the token amount TFC will be taking from that hard earned cap flexibility? We won't 'know' that until the Union puts out it's salary info later on (hell, we don't even know what Bendik is on yet). What we can do though is get an idea of what is a decent amount to be spending on goalies.
This is a rough guide rather than any kind of definitive analytics piece, (mainly because trying to present anything based on MLS' weird and secretive salary world as exact and meaningful would be insane, also because getting the data for multiple seasons to get more reliable numbers would have taken me forever, but if you want that, here's Ben Massey doing a look at multiple seasons from a whole back) so I kept it simple. Going by the latest salary figures released, here's what each MLS team spent on it's 2 highest paid goalies last season and how many points that got them, ordered from cheapest to most expensive). With the odd exception, hi Vancouver, most teams 3rd or 4th goalies weren't in their top 20 so didn't count to the cap so I decided to go with just the top 2 for each team rather than figure out exact amounts.
|Real Salt Lake||306,083.33||56|
There's a wide range, but the average is $260,911.00, happily enough very close to 1/11th of the 2.95m cap. Looking very simplistically at things, both overspending and underspending seem to be bad things. Take the middle 10 teams, starting with LA at $231,562.50 and going to RSL at $306,083.33 and 7 of those 10 were playoff teams. Only one in 5 of the cheapest 5 (though that one was Supporters Shield winning New York, so...) and 2 of 4 of the more expensive 4 can say the same.
Going the cheap route of just Bendik and Konopka (I'd say a generous guess of their combined salaries next year would be $150k) would have been a risk, a gamble the lower quality would be offset by the success of the theoretically better outfield players obtained with that cap room. It worked for New York last year but not the rest. But spending too big on Cesar wouldn't bring any guarantee of value for money either.
Points is a very simplistic metric though, and one that's unfair to good goalies stuck on bad teams, flattering to bad goalies on good teams, so let's also look at save %. Again, best not to look at this as exact, stats are from mlssoccer.com and a quick look at them shows they can't do even basic math, (68 + 30 = 100? 103 + 41 = 147? ok then.) For the purposes of this I added goals allowed and saves to get the shots stat I used to calculate the save %. Another quirk would be for example that a large part of Colorado's stats were down to Clint Irwin who didn't take one cent off their cap space last year.)
|Real Salt Lake||306,083.33||150||41||109||72.7|
Now here you can see the value for money. The league wide average is 69.3% (or 0.693% if you prefer to look at sv% that way). Of the ten highest paying teams, the ones paying more than average, 8 of them are ahead of that mark, 4 of them comfortably so. The range is from 67.4 to 75. Of the 9 cheapskates paying less than the average, only 4 meet the mark, the 5 that don't are all well below. The range is from 63.4 to 71.5.
So what does all that mean? Well first of all there's no guarantees whichever way you go, but generally splashing the cash will get you the improved goalie stats you'd expect, but it doesn't necessarily translate into team success.
Joe Bendik obviously left a lot of room for improvement over his 66.2% rate last year. Behind a bad team it didn't really matter, no goalie was going to drag TFC to respectability. But this year, with the squad improvements made, it really does matter, a repeat of that performance could drag the team down significantly.
Cesar should be a much safer bet to get those numbers up, but what sort of money would make sense for that presumed improvement. I'd say the safe bet is $200,000. If he somehow plays the full season, that would probably put him and Bendik combined at roughly $300k, a bit much but not outlandish. If he and his cap hit are only here for half a season, then half that, half Konopka's salary and all of Bendik's would be distinctly average.
Spend much more than that, and then questions about the effect on the rest of the squad could start to be raised.