To the surprise of no one, the San Jose Earthquakes passed in Stage One of the MLS Re-Entry process last week and didn’t pick up the wholesale contract rights to any of the discarded players among the list. The Quakes will get another crack at most of those same players available this Friday in Stage Two, but with the added flexibility of being able to negotiate new terms to their MLS contracts.
However, should San Jose go ahead and pass in Stage Two as well? Are there any players on the list that general manager John Doyle and head coach Frank Yallop should consider entering with into contract negotiations? Quite simply, the answer is "no."
Sure, some former Earthquakes populate the list — for the obvious reason that at their current salary expectations were considered superfluous to the roster — and some other intriguing players from around the league also found their path to "free agency" via this grand experiment in player redistribution (MLS is single entity, so the fact that a mechanism exists for the quasi-free movement of players among teams is a curio remnant from the previous round of Collective Bargaining between the league and the players’ union, and the whole process is likely to be overhauled during the next set of negotiations), but why not wait until those targets truly become free?
Selection via the Re-Entry process requires a team to offer the player a bona-fide contract offer — parameters for such have never been sufficiently spelled out — that if not accepted still shackles the player’s contract rights with the selecting club. Want to play for another team, and the player will have to hope his rights get traded. Being selected via the process is in some way an anti-free agency ordeal for such players, and potentially retirement is the only way to truly become free again.
Has it happened before? At the end of the 2011 season, Earthquakes defender Chris Leitch was not invited back to San Jose at his current contract rate, and so he elected to enter the Re-Entry process. After being passed over in Stage One — only three players were selected league-wide — Leitch was selected by the LA Galaxy in Stage Two. With his player rights now in the possession of Bruce Arena, Leitch waited to receive a qualifying offer, declined said offer, and announced his retirement from MLS. Fortunately for the Quakes fan favorite, Leitch had a soft landing back in San Jose, where starting early this year, he became the technical director of Earthquakes Youth Academy.
This year, another Quakes favorite awaits his fate via the process, as MLS Original and long-time team captain Ramiro Corrales is on offer in Friday’s Stage Two. The 2012 MLS All-Star has intimated for some time that he does not want to play for any other MLS club save San Jose, and team management has gone on record as stating that they’d like Corrales back with the club in 2013, though maybe not solely in a player’s role (the money’s on Rams being a player/coach for the Blue and Black next season). But Corrales, if he does not negotiate a new deal with the Quakes before the end of business Thursday, might find himself in the same scenario that Leitch did a year ago.
The likelihood that Corrales would be selected appears rather low; after all, a bona-fide offer to the fullback would likely approach the $150K mark (Corrales earned $183,875 last season according to figures released by the MLS Players Union), which is a lot to pay for a player of his age and presumed on-field impact. But what if another team takes a flier on Corrales in hopes of extracting something from the Quakes in a trade to return his player rights to San Jose? Would Doyle and Yallop play ball, or would they instead hasten Corrales’ path to retirement? Nothing would be more shameful than seeing the last standing player from the original 1996 season of MLS make his exit so quietly.
The Earthquakes still have a few days left to ensure that doesn’t happen — re-sign Corrales to a new contract before Friday’s Stage Two — and give the Captain a chance to leave the field on his own terms. He may not be a sure-fire starter anymore, but Corrales has proven he can still be very effective when called upon in a pinch. And if anyone wants to question his coaching and leadership skills, they are turning a blind eye to the mentoring he has provided such young players as Rafael Baca in becoming rising stars in MLS.
Does San Jose want to take a chance that, like Leitch the year before, Corrales will be scooped up in the Re-Entry process? Shouldn’t the man that defines what a home-grown player is all about get the on-field tribute he deserves? For Corrales and the Quakes faithful, the only way to answer that is with a resounding "yes!"