Now Its All About Bezbatchenko
Tim Leiweke has been the primary receiver of the praise heaped upon Toronto FC over the last few days in the wake of arguably the best day in club history this week – the arrivals of Defoe and Bradley. As his job description entails Leiweke is the big picture guy who sets the agenda and of course has to sign off on the big decisions. He also is the one who has to go the ownership group to get them to cut the big cheques. In the past months he has done all of these things and done them well when it comes to Toronto FC. Now the focus moves on Tim Bezbatchenko for the next few weeks to truly put his imprint on the team and cement his reputation in his new role.
Bezbatchenko of course came to Toronto FC from the MLS League Office in New York. His role there was to administer all of the player contracts and keep track of the murky allocation tallies that each club possessed at any given time. During his tenure with MLS very single player contract in the league would have to pass through his hands at one point or another. Every single trade and granting of allocation dollars to each club would have been perused over. Every creative attempt to squeeze any advantage from the byzantine MLS rules would or should be known to Tim Bezbatchenko. He must know what works and what does not as he was the arbiter of what was allowed and what was not allowed. Better yet Toronto FC supporters can hope that he spent a lot of time in his former role thinking creatively as to how a GM could get around the letter of the law. Cops need to think like criminals often in order to solve crimes don’t they? I want my GM to be a criminal and a thief!
The first big issue young Mr. Bezbatchenko needs to figure out is what to do with Matias Laba. During last season his arrival and form before his season ending injury was one of the few bright spots for TFC. His ability to move the ball and to find a pass to a teammate in tight space was quite evident. I recollect a wonderful goal he scored early on late last summer in an away win in Boston that spoke to a latent scoring touch. Laba and Bradley anchoring the 2014 midfield would make every TFC defender that much better and give the creative types such as Osorio, Gilberto, De Rosario, Rey and of course Defoe more space to do their respective thing(s) offensively. If a way can be found to keep Laba in Toronto then I think the Reds will end up possessing one of the very best midfields in the league with a depth in both quality and quantity that few others in MLS could come close to matching.
The problem is of course his Designated Player status. Laba’s age qualifies him as a ‘Young DP’ under the rules which means that only $200,000 of his wage packet counts against the cap. That would be fine if TFC did not already have three newly arrived DP’s. You can only have three. So Bezbatchenko has to find a way to either keep Laba (the preferred option according to the team and to most TFC supporters you will talk to) or to trade him for value to address other roster concerns.
If you keep Laba you either have to get MLS to change the rules on the fly (not without precedent) or find some creative way to renegotiate his wages or the terms of his contract to give him the wage he is looking for without him having to take up a DP slot. Dwayne De Rosario’s recent contract at DC United before moving back home to Toronto might be something to look at as a precedent. Dwayne was essentially given Designated Player money by DC United by using allocation dollars to up his wages to what a DP might make without having him be officially a Designated Player. Bezbatchenko has been stockpiling allocation dollars since his arrival last fall continuing along on the work of roster clear out that Kevin Payne started before he arrived as his replacement. Perhaps that can be the way.
Loaning the player out to another team outside of MLS while keeping him as a Toronto FC player is another option, with the downside of not having Laba play in Toronto! Or he can be traded within MLS to a club willing to take him on as a young DP and one can be expected to think that the Reds might receive a bountiful harvest of players, cap or allocation space in return. TFC has to be ‘roster compliant’ by early March. How the Laba situation turns out over the coming weeks to meet roster compliance will by itself be the first big test that Bezbatchenko faces.
The SuperDraft is also upon us. Toronto FC has a couple of picks in the draft, but not near enough to the top to get an impact player that might be able to start or play significant minutes in 2014 (at least that is the conventional wisdom from most pundits much more familiar with the 2014 draft class). Bezbatchenko I am sure has relied upon Ryan Nelsen and his staff to come up with a list of potential players for Toronto to take a look at in the draft positions they currently find themselves at. I for one would not be shocked in the least to see a trade or trades involving the Reds and these draft picks Thursday. There might be a player TFC desperately wants that might require a trade up or there could be some sort of package deal for Laba involving high draft picks. Its all interesting speculation at this point.
In any case Bezbatchenko is coming to the time in his short tenure at Toronto FC where he truly gets to put his imprint on the team and how business will be run moving forward.
The last few days have been about Tim Leiweke. The next few weeks will all be about Tim Bezbatchenko.