For those teams that did not qualify for the conference finals, November is typically the most boring time of the year in MLS. The rumor mill doesn’t usually get going until December and roster moves are largely on hold until after the playoffs conclude.
After crashing out of the playoffs under the force of a tidal wave of injuries, it looked like that would be the case in Portland this year, too. Until — well — you know.
Still, November is almost over. Which means the active part of the offseason is on the horizon. So let’s look ahead, shall we?
November 27th — Option Exercise Deadline
All MLS teams have to report to MLS which options it is exercising and declining by 10:00 a.m. next Monday. This is, in general, when teams disclose whose options have been declined, whose have been picked up, who remains under contract, and who is now out of contract. Ordinarily this isn’t terribly sexy stuff, but it will both start to paint a picture of who will be returning in 2018 and set the table for roster decisions down the line (i.e., who the Timbers may protect in the Expansion Draft, etc.).
It’s important to note, though, that we may not see the Timbers list on Monday. Just because the Timbers have to send their list to the league doesn’t mean they have to release it. And although this year’s deadline comes a little bit before other seasons, the Timbers usually wait until the last minute (often after MLS Cup) to make this list public. Feel free to be annoyed if the Timbers delay this release, but don’t be surprised.
December 10th — Half-Day Trade Window
Set your alarm clocks, friends, because 6:00 to 10:00 a.m. on Sunday, December 10th, will be the most action-packed four hours of the offseason. Certainly by this time we’ll know who is and isn’t under contract with the Timbers, but this trade window will see plenty of movement around the league and potentially the Timbers.
Why? The Expansion Draft. In this trade window teams that have players they can’t protect and fear may be on their way to LA can preemptively strike and try to obtain value for that player in a trade. Additionally, teams that plan to offload a player in the offseason via trade have a strong incentive to do so in this window so they don’t have to waste a valuable protected spot. As a result, trades will abound the morning after MLS Cup.
Like I said, set your alarm clocks. You should probably make some coffee, too.
December 12th — Expansion Draft
11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, December 12th, will bring one of the more anxiety-inducing days of the offseason for current MLS teams. LAFC will have five selections, but can only select one player from any given team. Current MLS sides can protect 11 players. Although high-priced players are usually either (a) protected; or (b) undesirable to expansion sides, there are usually a healthy number of fringe starters and quality depth pieces available for the plucking — potentially including a few from the Timbers.
December 12th — Free Agency Begins and Trade Window Opens
Immediately after the Expansion Draft ends, MLS free agency begins and teams may again trade players. Free agency in MLS is limited to players 28 years old and older, and who have at least seven years of MLS service time. You can find a list of all players who may be free agents at the bottom of this piece (some, though, have already retired or otherwise fallen off the list). The only current Timber on the list? Ben Zemanski.
Immediately after the Expansion Draft we traditionally see a flurry of trade activity, typically related to players selected in the Draft. For example, in 2016 the Timbers acquired Jeff Attinella in a trade with Minnesota United following the Expansion Draft.
December 13th — Waiver Draft
The Waiver Draft is perhaps the lowest-profile of the offseason acquisition methods, and consists entirely of players who have been waived and neither qualify for free agency nor the Re-Entry Draft. How low-profile is it? Below you can find a list of every player taken in the 2016 Waiver Draft:
[Empty space on the internet]
December 15th — Re-Entry Draft Stage One
The Re-Entry Draft consists of players who are either:
(1) At least 23-years-old with at least three MLS service years whose options were not exercised by their clubs; or
(2) At least 25-years-old with at least four MLS service years who are out of contract and whose club does not wish to re-sign them at their previous salary.
If a team selects a player at Stage One, that team essentially either picks up the player’s option (if the player fits into category (1), above) or, if the player is out of contract (category (2), above) signs the player to a new contract of at least the player’s 2017 salary.
Stage One is usually pretty quiet, but not always. The Timbers, for example, took Steve Zakuani and executed the trade that landed them Jorge Villafaña at Stage One of the 2013 Re-Entry Draft. Typically, however, if the players available were worth the contracts for which they can be acquired at Stage One, they wouldn’t be in the Re-Entry Draft to start with.
December 21st — Re-Entry Draft Stage Two
Players who don’t get selected at Stage One of the Re-Entry Draft are then available at Stage Two, which will be held at 11:00 a.m. on December 21st. The primary difference between Stage One and Stage Two is that teams don’t have to sign players selected at Stage Two at their option price or their 2017 salary. Instead, the team that selects a player has an exclusive opportunity to negotiate a new contract with the player, which is most often below the salary required at Stage One.
As a result Stage Two of the Re-Entry Draft is often a bit more active than Stage One, and teams frequently shop for depth pieces at Stage Two. In 2015, for example, the Timbers took Jermaine Taylor at Stage Two. After Stage Two things will pretty well shut down for the holidays until the second week of January when we’ll get set for the Combine and Super Draft.
In addition to the various acquisition mechanisms in December, we’re likely to see a steady flow of international signings and rumors before the year-end holidays. All of that, of course, will he in anticipation of training camp opening in late-January. Some signings will continue to trickle in through camp and even into the regular season, but by and large after the beginning of camp MLS’s frantic silly season will give way to preseason games and the countdown to March.