TORONTO, Canada—A big decision looms for Toronto FC as the club will have just five days (Nov. 30 at 1 p.m. EST) to exercise options or extend bona fide offers to pending free agents, including designated player Pablo Piatti.
Piatti, who reportedly signed a one-year contract (with a team option in 2021) coming over from LaLiga in Spain, impressed in his first go-around in North America, scoring four times and adding three assists in 19 games in all competitions this season. He linked up well with Toronto FC’s most important player, Alejandro Pozuelo, establishing himself as the team’s best winger early on.
From a personality standpoint, there have been zero question marks with Piatti as both Toronto FC staff and players have raved about the beloved Argentine.
But does his character, and perhaps more importantly, his play and production warrant one of three coveted designated player (DP) spots?
Assuming that Piatti’s contract isn’t at threshold where you can buy him down into a TAM player, there are three different ways to approach this situation:
Option #1: Exercise his option
The first avenue Toronto FC can explore is to straight-up exercise the option they have on Piatti, thus, bringing him back as a designated player next season.
This wouldn’t be the worst-case scenario as Piatti has proven that he can find success among this team, and if you’re Toronto FC ownership (in the middle of a pandemic), a cheaper DP like Piatti has to be somewhat appealing.
The Reds are expected to have some wiggle room with decent-sized contracts coming off the books, meaning they can add around Piatti and co., but it also likely means that Toronto FC return next season with Pozuelo, Piatti, and Jozy Altidore as their designated players.
Will that be good enough in 2021?
Option #2: Decline his contract option; re-negotiate a cheaper deal
“Option Decline Players may re-sign with their current team at any compensation subject to league approval in its discretion at any time prior to the beginning of Stage Two of the Re-Entry Draft (Dec. 3 at 3pm ET).” via Major League Soccer
For me, declining Piatti’s option and trying to renegotiate a cheaper deal is the most ideal scenario, and there’s precedent for something like this taking place on this squad. A year ago, after Toronto FC fell in the MLS Cup Final to the Seattle Sounders, captain Michael Bradley was left without a contract when the club released their roster decisions to end the 2019 season.
“ ... we have had positive discussions with Michael and his representation ... regarding a potential return to the team for 2020,” said Toronto FC General Manager Ali Curtis at the time. “We have a strong group, and we hope to improve upon our 2019 campaign.”
Bradley, leaving money on the table from other interested suitors, returned to Toronto at a discount, signing a contract using allocation money, and thus, freeing up a DP spot, which was eventually turned into Piatti.
Now with Piatti in a similar position to Bradley, will he do the same in order to free up a spot for the club? Or does the 31 year old, coming off injury, believe that he already bet on himself this season and look to get paid next year?
Thinking out loud this could also be a risk as well. What if Toronto FC decline Piatti’s contract option, try to negotiate, but come up short?
That leaves us with...
Option #3: Let him walk
Option three, and for me, this is the worst-case scenario.
Toronto FC can’t really afford to lose another winger—let alone their best winger—right now as it’s the position they boast the least MLS-ready depth at. The likes of Jayden Nelson, Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty, and Jacob Shaffelburg are the future of this club on the wing, but none of those players are quite at the level of Piatti (right now).
And while TFC as a whole didn’t get the end result they wanted, we know that Piatti did in fact work in Toronto and he also created a special bond with Pozuelo—the team’s best player and frontrunner for 2020 MVP—in the process.
If they do decide to let Piatti walk, they better be bringing in someone who will make their beloved no. 10 just as happy—if not happier.
So, what would you do if you’re Toronto FC? Let us know in the comments. We’ll find out in less than five days.