This past week, Paul Tenorio over at FourFourTwo put out a story about four hypothetical trades "that should happen definitely (but almost certainly won't)." One of those trades Tenorio proposed involved Sporting Kansas City sending starting center back and team captain, Matt Besler to the Chicago Fire in exchange for a first round draft pick and $200,000 in allocation money. Before immediately saying no to the prospect of trading the club's longest tenured player who is also the active leader in appearances, starts, and minutes played for the club, let's take a look at the possibility of what trading Besler would do for KC.
First, let's remember that when Besler signed his designated player deal with the club during the 2014 season, Besler's deal also included a no-trade clause. Unless something has changed in the few years since that deal was signed (which is possible as Besler is no longer a DP, instead paid down with allocation money) that clause is still in place and Besler would have to waive that clause in order for any deal to go through. Currently Besler is a regular starter for a club that has only allowed one goal in the first four games, it's not something Besler would probably be interested in stepping away from, especially with KC being his home town and having a fairly young family here.
Does it make sense to move Besler?
With that out of the way, let's pretend Besler waives the no-trade clause or it isn't an issue any more. Where does that leave KC? Tenorio in his article says that KC has some depth at the position with Ike Opara, Erik Palmer-Brown, and Kevin Ellis. While true, the problem with that, at least in the short term is Palmer-Brown is set to miss a good chunk of the season away. He will likely be with the US U20 team for the World Cup. That'd leave Sporting with just Ellis and Opara as center backs on the roster. Long term with those three, Palmer-Brown is reportedly at the end of his contract and has previously shown a desire to play in Europe.
While Opara remained healthy all of last season, his history of being injury prone is something that KC can't ignore when it comes to moving any of the other center backs at this time. The club could in theory sign Swope Park Rangers defender, Amer Didic to a contract and bring him up. The club couldn't do an emergency loan because that requires KC to have fewer than 15 players available, which wouldn't affect Sporting. Even with a Didic call-up it would still leave KC thinner at the center back position than I would like, especially with 30 games left this year. With that many games left there would still be plenty of questions to be asked of a potential starting partnership of Opara/Ellis with Palmer-Brown and Didic potentially filling in or winning a job.
Trades aren't just about the present though, they are also about the future of the team and what Sporting could do if they traded Besler. Besler's contract is currently paid down with TAM; he had a base salary of $700,000 last year according to the MLS Players Union salaries they put out, meaning that Besler's cap hit is at most $480,625 (TAM can be used to pay down to or below the maximum salary budget charge). Sporting would in theory be able to open a lot of cap space in a move for Besler, which would in turn open up space to improve other areas of the field. The allocation money would also be something useful for Sporting KC with the likes of Benny Feilhaber, Dom Dwyer, and Diego Rubio all being paid down with allocation money.
There would be teams that would seem to be in the market for a center back. Tenorio in his post suggested the Fire, but there are other possibilities too. Expansion side, Minnesota United had reportedly been in the market for a center back, instead acquiring defensive midfielder Sam Cronin and left back Marc Burch from the Colorado Rapids. Minnesota would still seem to need some center back help, but don’t have a lot to offer in trades having spent a large chunk of allocation money to acquire Kevin Molino. There is the prospect of a high first round draft pick, but I’ll touch on that more later.
What could KC get in return for Besler?
There aren't a whole lot of straight player for player trades within MLS at this point, most trades will involve teams getting allocation money, draft picks, international roster spots, or a combination of those in a trade. A trade involving allocation money would give Kansas City similar roster flexibility not just with paying down higher salaries, but to also improve elsewhere on the field. The amount that Tenorio throws out, $200,000, is a decent amount too for the club. It's not the $400,000 the Fire sent to the New York Red Bulls for Dax McCarty, but given that Besler would require allocation money to buy down his salary (unlike McCarty), Besler isn't going to command the same type of allocation money that McCarty brought in even though the two are fairly close in age. It'd be more than the combined $175,000 Houston sent to LA for another defender, AJ DeLaGarza, earlier this offseason, but less than the $250,000 New York City FC sent to the Fire for the third overall pick in this past year's Superdraft.
The first round draft pick, like Tenorio mentioned in his hypothetical trade depends on the location, but could just as easily be a throw away pick depending on where the pick ended up. KC already currently has two first round picks in the 2018 Superdraft, their own and one from the Portland Timbers that they got in the Lawrence Olum trade. Does Kansas City really need another three pick first round like a few years ago? Tenorio talks about how Vermes has been very good at finding players in the draft, but the club has just two players on their roster from the prior five years of the Superdraft, a total of 18 picks for Sporting KC. Yes Kansas City has had success, but the success has trailed off a little bit in the last few years, with just Saad Abdul-Salaam and Colton Storm on the roster from the Superdrafts since 2013. The draft hasn't been as successful to Sporting KC in the last few years, compared to years when Vermes draft MLS regulars like Teal Bunbury, CJ Sapong, and Dom Dwyer.
While in theory the idea of trading Besler for money and a pick may seem like a good idea, when you really start to break it down, it seems unlikely given he's reported no-trade clause and KC isn't as deep at center back as the article made it out to be. While there are a number of fans that would like to see Palmer-Brown get more time, trading away Besler isn't the way to go about doing it. As Tenorio said in his article though, a trade of Besler is almost certainly not going to happen, and that's an easy point to agree on.