This year’s trade period was largely considered a ‘buyers’ market’ with clubs limited in their returns thanks to players choosing in advance which clubs they wanted to be traded to. Clubs were also hamstrung by the fact opposition clubs knew they could pick up these players for nothing either as a delisted free agent or in the draft. However, these limitations on clubs return for players may be reduced if the AFL was to introduce a mid-season trade period.
The possibility of a mid-season trade period has been floated a number of times across the last decade, however momentum is building for it to be introduced sooner rather than later. This is particularly so as the AFL continues to model itself on American sporting codes.
AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan told Fox Footy in June that the idea had ‘some merit’.
McLachlan is on the record as saying the way fans feel about mid-season trading would play a big part in whether the move proceeded.
“It’s really not any different to being traded at the end of the year, but in-season probably feels different and I think that cultural aspect is something that everyone is thinking about.”
In Major League Baseball (MLB) it is common for clubs not in playoff contention to ‘clear the decks’ come August. This year the New York Yankees traded away their number 1 & 2 pitchers, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman. Both these players took part in the recent MLB World Series, playing key roles for the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs respectively. In return, the Yankees received a host of heralded rookies, headlined by Clint Frazier (no. 15 ranked prospect in MLB), Gleyber Torres (no. 17 ranked prospect in MLB) and Justus Sheffield (no. 78 ranked prospect in MLB), an unprecedented haul for the usually prospect-depleted Yankees (note, there are thousands of rookies in MLB).
The trades were considered a win-win for all clubs. The Indians and Cubs were able to strengthen their championship bids while the Yankees were able to bolster their farm system and plan for the future, leaving all three clubs happy and better off.
If the concept was trialled in the AFL, such a result could similarly occur. For example, this year Hawthorn were lacking tall forwards and ruckmen, thanks to the unavailability of Jarryd Roughead and the season ending injury to Jonathan Ceglar. However, if a mid-season trade period had been introduced Hawthorn could have sought to address these needs, by acquiring Ty Vickery earlier or even Travis Cloke. Better yet, what could have happened if the Giants had acquired a (fully-fit) Brett Deledio to help polish off their forward line? Could he have been the difference in the preliminary final against the Bulldogs?
The introduction of a mid-season trade will also generate greater interest for supporters for a number of reasons. For instance, what if Travis Cloke was traded to the Hawks in July, two weeks ahead of a Collingwood v Hawthorn game? More, what if Richmond had been able to trade away Deledio, or Brisbane Pearce Hanley and Tom Rockliff (pre twitter scandal) for prospects? It is likely the interests of supporters would have greatly increased for the later rounds, with supporters wanting to watch their future stars, rather than departing older ones.
Another benefit would be that clubs would be able to maximise their returns for departing players. Instead of having to carry a player for the whole year who clearly does not want to be there, clubs will be able to offload players halfway through the year, thereby allowing the clubs who acquire these players to gain an extra 10+ matches from these players.
A mid-season trade will more than likely cause an increase in player movement. This therefore raises the query whether such player movement is actually good for the game, in particular the fans. In MLB the constant changing of players means that few players remain with the clubs that drafted them as rookies from High School or College. There are exceptions of course, such as New York Yankee icon and future Hall of Famer, the former captain and short-stop Derek Jeter who played his entire 20-season career in New York, however his story is incredibly rare.
The result of such prolific player movement means that sports fans in the United States, particularly in baseball, support teams, not players. While this may sound simple, the result is that fans understand that the sport is a business and do not become as attached to players, recognising their transient existence within their teams. In AFL, this is not the case, with fans quickly establishing relationships with young players who come into the club, and having faith these players will commit to the clubs for the future. One only has to look at the vitriol directed at the Hawthorn hierarchy for trading Sam Mitchell and Jordan Lewis for such affinity between fans and players to be obvious.
Another issue is whether a clean-out would have the desired effect of regenerating interest in struggling clubs. Instead, it could have the opposite effect with supporters of clubs who lose well-loved players quick to lose interest as they realise their club’s chances of winning games have dramatically reduced.
What will the AFL do?
The AFL will unlikely make any changes to the trade period dates for next year, but rumours are already circulating that this could be something the AFL and the AFL Commission looks at for 2018.
The benefits and disadvantages resulting from such a concept are there with the AFL now tasked with weighing up these pros and cons and seeing whether such an introduction would be best for the game. The concept has the backing of prominent player agent Tom Petroro from Strides Sports Management, who said in June that a month-long trade period could work.
“I think if we opened it up for a month, I don’t think it’d be as intense period as trade period is now. I think it’d be something that clubs would plan towards from round four or five onwards,” Petroro said.
One thing for certain is that a mid-season trade period would create interest for those who enjoy following the trade period, particularly as onlookers and fans alike watch how clubs approach the trade period in terms of whether clubs become ‘buyers’ or ‘sellers’ – or even both.