We have our first roster moves of the offseason, and they reveal a logjam on the 2018 roster that Gavin Wilkinson and company will likely have to work hard to free over the course of the winter.
The Portland Timbers on Monday released the list of players for whom they had exercised or declined 2018 contract options, as well as additional information regarding whom the Timbers have under contract and who is now out of contract. The timing of the Timbers’ release comes as a pleasant surprise, as the team has typically released such information after MLS Cup.
The substance of the announcement, though, highlights some of the challenges in the Timbers’ upcoming offseason.
The Timbers exercised 2018 contract options on the following players: Jeff Attinella, Kendall McIntosh, Zarek Valentin, Dairon Asprilla, Darren Mattocks, and Jack Barmby.
Among this group perhaps the biggest surprise is Mattocks, who made over $300,000 in 2017 and is likely to be in line for a raise under his 2018 option. Mattocks was an important piece for the Timbers down the stretch in 2017, but his hefty contract, injury history, and the presence of an up-and-coming Jeremy Ebobisse on the roster had cast considerable doubt on Mattocks’s return. Until now, that is. Unless the Timbers trade Mattocks away (which isn’t impossible), it appears likely the Jamaican will start his third season in Portland.
Although Rennico Clarke is presently under contract for 2018, a source tells Stumptown Footy that Clarke and the Timbers will be parting ways this offseason.
Ben Zemanski is out of contract and the Timbers declined to pick up the contract option of Amobi Okugo. Zemanski will test the free-agency waters while Okugo will go through the Re-Entry Draft.
The Timbers also declined the 2018 option for Bill Tuiloma, but extended a bona fide offer to the Kiwi defensive midfielder and centerback. A source with the Timbers front office tells Stumptown Footy that it is very likely Tuiloma will return next season.
If that holds true, the Timbers have 26 players under contract for 2018: Fanendo Adi, Vytas, Victor Arboleda, Gbenga Arokoyo, Dairon Asprilla, Jeff Attinella, Jack Barmby, Sebastian Blanco, Diego Chara, Jeremy Ebobisse, Marco Farfan, Jake Gleeson, David Guzman, Larrys Mabiala, Darren Mattocks, Kendall McIntosh, Lucas Melano, Roy Miller, Chance Myers, Darlington Nagbe, Lawrence Olum, Alvas Powell, Liam Ridgewell, Bill Tuiloma, Zarek Valentin, and Diego Valeri.
Although these players are currently under contract for 2018, the Timbers can, if they so desire, still explore other avenues of moving them including intra-MLS trades, international transfers, buyouts, or a mutual contract termination. Accordingly, simply because a player is currently under contract for 2018 does not mean he will be in green and gold to start the season.
The biggest news from Monday’s release, though, is the large number of players the Timbers currently have under contract for 2018. Lucas Melano, obviously, will remain on loan and/or will be transferred and, as such, won’t be a Timber next season.
But the Timbers are also currently committed to a number of players whom they would likely want to see off the balance sheet in 2018. For instance, it remains to be seen whether the Timbers will bring back Liam Ridgewell and (in particular) Gbenga Arokoyo in light of their significant salary-cap hits and injury histories. Although the Timbers can avail themselves of the annual amnesty provision to wipe one of those contracts off the cap, there is clearly more maneuvering to be done if the Timbers want to part ways with both.
In addition, the Timbers would obviously prefer not to retain Chance Myers, who spent almost all of 2018 on the shelf after signing as a free agent last winter. Although Myers doesn’t carry the potential cap hit of somebody like Ridgewell, his hit isn’t minimal and he does occupy a senior roster spot.
The primary takeaway, then, is there is clearly still a lot of work to be done on the roster before the Timbers open camp in January. And all the while the Timbers will need to hire a coach who, should he come on board early enough, will have significant influence over many of these roster decisions.
In other words: Stay tuned. This is going to be an active offseason.