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DCU 2014 Moneyball. Where we at?

One explanation Dave Kasper has offered, as to why D.C. United dealt the top allocation slot, was that the team didn't have enough cap room to add in a player using the allocation slot. I'll grant that maybe the team isn't going to shell out big bucks for a DP wage way above league maximum, but what about for Marco Pappa, who was reported about to sign for less than league maximum?

No one knows the actual cap hits for any player other than DPs, but I will use numbers favorable to Kasper's statement. Using the base salaries (which surely understates the cap hits for those players) for the players released, DCU cleared at least $1.505 million from the cap roster.

That's 2013 numbers -- so, I am not giving credit there for the increases that DCU won't have to pay that would be in line with the increased cap total. Moreover, the real number for freed cap space is definitely higher because I'm not including what DCU paid Iapichino for his partial year and what they paid BMac over the year (because we don't know what that was). The total for that combined slot is probably somewhere between $200k and $300k.

So the team has cleared at least $1.7 million, and probably north of $1.8 million, without even adding in the percentage increase in the cap total for the opened slots -- which I would estimate at about 60% of the approximately $148,000 cap increase. If I was guessing, I'd say United ought to have gained about $1.9 million in cap space, but we can stick with the known $1.505 million for starters.

Hard to say exactly what they've added in cap obligations, but I will try to use generous 2014, guaranteed compensation figures to estimate the upper level cap hit of the players we've brought in: Sean Franklin would be at $260k; Bobby Boswell at $231; Eddie Johnson (EJ), when he gets his DP, will presumably be at the same $368,750 that DeRo was at; Nana Attakora -- let's give him a 10% raise (I hope we're not in the madness of Jo Ngwenya here, doling out massive raises to 2nd phase RED picks), to $75,000; Davy Arnaud -- we don't know what he's making, but Steven Goff has reported it's a cut -- it could be anywhere between $200k and $250k, but less use the higher, presumably wildly overestimated figure; and Fabian Espindola will sign, probably close to $200k, but let's also give him a high range of $250,000. That gets us to about $1.495 million, just below the other figure I posed for the lowball of cap space freed up -- before today's trade.

Then, we still have to find room for Jeff Parke's wage, which would be a guaranteed wage of about $225k.

The thing is, there's no way all the cap room is really gone.

Of course, there is the possibility that the team would have to leave room in the cap roster for Patrick Mullins or Steve Birnbaum. I have written before that prior years suggest that first round picks are off-budget the first year, whether or not they are Generation Adidas players. This seems to be done with an accounting trick that sets seniors' base wage at the league minimum, which allows teams to keep them off-budget. However, for argument's sake let's give credit to those writing that Mullins has a six-figure on-budget deal. Assuming that will be over $100k, that would put DC United over the base number I posed above for freed-up cap space.

Remember though, that didn't include the annual cap hike. Plus, remember that I figured off the base salaries in the first instance -- if you did an apples to apples comparison, using guaranteed compensation numbers for the players released, there could be another $48k of freed-up cap space. The real difference is probably something less than that - perhaps half. So, I'd say that using more realistic numbers ought to uncover roughly $100-125k more cap room for 2014. That surely covers a rookie wage for Mullins. Last year's 1st pick, as a GA player, Farrell, got a base of $85,000.

Then, there's the BMac/Iapichino slot money. Even at the lower Iapichino figure, the team would have another $110k to play with but I think that really understates the size of that slot -- which is really at least $200k, and more likely around $250k, which more than covers Parke's salary. Still, it does mean that United is getting close to the cap limit. Even if I've overstated the wages for some of the new players, the team must be under $200k, and might have a lot less room than that. Even if I am right about the team not needing a budget slot and space for the draft pick, the team does not have that much cap space left -- not enough to squeeze in a DP contract, without using allocation money.

So what about Pappa money? To bring in someone like him, we've still got to touch that allocation money. I won't go deep into the allocation money thing, since it's all speculation -- Najar and Rochat and Jakovic out brings in over $1.0 million, and EJ and Silva out, at something less than that....probably a lot less than that. And, then there's the last place + CONCACAF allocation money, reportedly in excess of $200k, and possibly much more than that. If I had to guess, I'd say the team still has more than half of the $1.2 million (or more) they have picked up over the last year in allocation money.

There is one other unknown, and that's whether the league retention fund amount that DC United used to get Pontius' new contract under the cap in 2013 still applies. It may be that the team has to find some additional cap space for Pontius' contract -- but, even that would leave a bunch of allocation money left over.

Suffice to say, the money is still there to bring in a player. It could have been Pappa at something north of $300k, or it could even be a DP later. Let's hope they don't squander that opportunity. If the money is being reserved to be used later, then I am prepared to give Kasper a pass for dealing the allocation slot. I know the team could be made even better, without spending any more of the owners' money. At least, I'm pretty darn sure....

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***Update*** In writing the above, I didn't pay attention to the numbers on the roster. Even with Fabian Espindola, the team will have only 25 players. They may yet bring in a couple of players in the draft who would make the team, but they would have room still for up to 3 more players. It's probably good practice to leave one or two spots unfilled going into the season, but with a lot of games this year, the team is also going to want a deep roster.

As for the salary-capped budget roster -- this has been a bit of a mystery lately. A couple of years ago, the team did list budget roster players. Not sure that they will do it this year. With Espindola, the team has at least 15 players that must be on the budget roster, but league rules require that the team spread the cap money between from 18 to 20 players. As In wrote in a comment below, there are 4 players that I believe were on contracts that allowed the team to keep them off-budget.

Any calculation of the cap space should include funds for three more players, in addition to the 15 that must be there. It's possible that Mullins or Birnbaum would be on the budget roster, if the team picks one of them. Even if that's true, the team would have to add two more on-budget players or shift other players like Joe Willis and Conor Doyle to the budget roster. I believe there's enough cap space to do that, without touching allocation money -- preserving that money to spend later on a bigger name/talent later.

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