By Cody Atkinson and Sean Lawson
Although the grand final was run and won less than three weeks ago, the battle for future flags has taken shape with the 2019 trade and free agency period.
Much like the real season, the silly season was dominated by stars making moves (Tim Kelly) and being forced to stay home (Joe Daniher).
The biggest deals were perhaps the ones that didn’t take place after long periods of speculation. Tom Papley, Daniher and Jack Martin loomed as the biggest targets on the final day of trading, and all three went untraded.
It’s the last of these three that may have the biggest implications for the league. Martin, originally picked up by the Suns in the 2012 mini-draft, is the only one out of contract, and hasn’t hit free agency yet.
That leaves his options at either re-signing at the Suns, entering the national draft or entering the pre-season draft (PSD).
The PSD has been held only one time since 2014, when Cameron O’Shea was picked up by Carlton in 2017, but it remains Martin’s most likely route to Lygon Street. Unfortunately for Martin and the Blues, the Suns and Melbourne can pick him up if they match the likely costly nominated contract terms, before the Blues get a chance to pick. All parties need to tread carefully.
Saints get to work in quiet trade period
If the 10-day period seemed a little devoid of action, that’s because it was.
The 29 trades that took place (involving 27 players traded and four free agents) is the lowest number since 2014. Clubs can still trade draft picks right up to the end of the draft, but the relative inaction this year was noteworthy.
One club that didn’t sit idly was St Kilda. The club — under new coach Brett Ratten — is desperately looking to break its streak of nine seasons without finals.
The Saints flew into “win-now” mode, trading for a suite of predominantly faster players, while losing a couple of stalwarts in Jack Steven and Josh Bruce. All up, St Kilda was involved in seven different moves.
According to predictions of future player value (measured by Player Approximate Value, or PAV, a system for comparing players and picks based on historical data, as explained here) for 2020, only one club — Gold Coast — improved more in the short term than the Moorabbin mob. Other near-term improvers include Melbourne, Hawthorn and West Coast.
At the other end of the scale, Adelaide — under newly announced coach Matthew Nicks — has seemingly signalled the start of a rebuild, or at least a refocusing of its list.
The Crows lost a number of fixtures including Eddie Betts, Sam Jacobs, Alex Keath, Hugh Greenwood and Josh Jenkins, which easily represents the largest downgrade in on-field prospects next year. A number of those players are nearing the ends of their careers, with the Crows pushing some of the returns into 2020 draft pick value.
What to prioritise — players or picks?
Many football department types have talked about the strength of the 2018 and 2020 drafts over that of the potentially weak 2019 crop, but with the loss of Brad Hill and Kelly respectively, Fremantle and Geelong have invested heavily in this year’s draft.
There’s a fine balance to strike between winning in 2020 and setting up your side to win down the road as well. The safest way to do this is with promising and established players, taking some of the guesswork out of the draft process.
The split is about whether clubs think they can win a flag in 2020 or 2021, or if they believe success is further down the road. Some of the key traded players illustrate this quite well.
Dougal Howard and Blake Acres (highlighted red in the chart) are likely to turn out as some of the most valuable traded players from this year. To St Kilda and Fremantle respectively, with their youth and exposed form, they project to be good players for many years yet.
However, neither is going to change the fortunes of a side by themselves next year. On the other hand, Paddy Ryder and Betts (shown in orange) are established guns with short careers remaining for them. Sometimes a couple of players, when deployed correctly, accelerate a club’s development, even if they’re not going to be around for too many more years.
Who won the Tim Kelly trade?
A team that had their season ended in the semi-finals is placing a large bet that just one player will make a difference.
Kelly was a big part of the Geelong outfit that knocked West Coast out this year, but from 2020 on he will don the blue and gold of the Eagles. Kelly is the best player to be traded since Dangerfield, and as such the Eagles had to pay a king’s ransom to get him.
The Eagles gave up the equivalent of pick one and a third-rounder to get Kelly, making him the most expensive player traded since Chris Judd moved to Carlton for picks three and 20 and Josh Kennedy, who had recently been taken at pick four.
Geelong, as a result of the pick gains, was one of the clubs to gain the most long-term value, and the bounty of picks collected is likely to collectively outperform the remainder of even Kelly’s potentially illustrious career.
While Kelly (and Hill, to the benefit of Fremantle) were expensive, the Demons’ newly acquired pick eight also went for a high cost, bewildering staff of other clubs.
The common consensus is that GWS and Melbourne are angling to trade their respective high selections (picks three and six) along with GWS’s 2020 first-rounder. Even if that is the case, the trade in isolation — with a swap of a future first-round pick plus others with North Melbourne for pick eight — goes down as one of the worst in recent memory.
Winners and losers? It’s more complicated than that
But one of the most interesting stories of the trade period is the journey of Melbourne’s 2020 fourth-rounder.
The pick was involved in the third trade of the period (the Frost deal), before being dealt by Hawthorn for Jonathon Patton, then by GWS along with Aiden Bonar and now sits with North. In the past half-decade, the most times a single pick has been moved is five, and given there is over a year of potential trades left, the late pick could yet continue on its cross-country journey.
That future pick was one of many which changed hands. With the talk of the 2019 draft being shallow and the 2020 draft being full of players pre-linked to clubs via father-son and academy rules, it is worth looking at whether clubs tended to prefer to use their trades to enter one draft or the other.
Some of the most aggressive “win now” clubs like West Coast, the Bulldogs and St Kilda traded everything they could, and the Crows and Port Adelaide turned players into value in both years.
Some other clubs had divergent views. Collingwood and North moved strongly into next year’s draft while Fremantle focused on the current year. Hawthorn and Brisbane actively vacated the 2020 while building up stock this year. There’s no clear trend in either case, which suggests views of the draft pools are fairly diverse.
So who are the winners and losers? It depends how you look at things.
St Kilda, Melbourne, Gold Coast and the Hawks all look to have gained ground immediately with the players who will perform next year. Fremantle and Geelong reaped a long-term bounty with the picks they gained for highly sought-after players. The Suns managed to make good gains on-field next year, as well as netting some new draft value, generally coming out ahead in the future value of their swaps.
Despite the best predictions available, there will be surprises with the picks and players swapped. Only time will tell who really ends up ahead.