Lagerway evokes ‘Moneyball’ to explain Brandon McDonald’s acquisition

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Brandon McDonald was a major part of D.C. United’s success last season, but amid the downturn at RFK this season, he lost his spot. Before this morning’s trade, the former LA Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes defender hadn’t played a Major League Soccer game since June 15. Even on the league’s worst team, McDonald had become expendable.

That Real Salt Lake, a team sitting at the opposite end of the Supporters’ Shield standings, took a chance on McDonald was the surprise. Though RSL’s dealing with some injuries at the back (Aaron Maund, Carlos Salcedo, and Chris Schuler out), they have enough to scratch through Saturday’s visit from Sporting Kansas City without adding McDonald to the roster.

But instead of waiting that out, general manager Garth Lagerway’s giving up a third-round pick (2014) and a conditional choice (2015) for the 27-year-old.

“The basic premise of ‘Money Ball’ (sic) is that you try to acquire undervalued assets,” was Lagerway’s curious explanation for a player with a $235,000 base salary. “We’ve had a long track record of picking up pieces that other people don’t want anymore and cultivating their talents …”

That’s indisputable. Lagerway and head coach Jason Kreis consistently take other teams’ cast offs are turn then into valuable depth, with Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Lovel Palmer, Joao Plata, Ned Grabavoy, Khari Stephenson, Abdoulie Mansally and Josh Saunders all giving Kreis meaningful minutes this season. With that track record, RSL deserve the benefit of the doubt with McDonald.

How much of a benefit they deserve all comes down to length of McDonald’s contract. Because terms of the extension he signed in 2011 weren’t disclosed, we don’t know how long McDonald has left on his deal. If his contract runs beyond this season, this is a bad deal for an RSL team who will have to carry that cap hit into 2014. If, however, McDonald is in the final year of his deal, Lagerway may have decided the less than $100,000 the team owes McDonald is the best use of their remaining cap space.

If that’s the case, this does have the look of a Billy Beane-esque deadline deal, looking beyond what would otherwise be a bad contract to see the short-term benefits. And if short-term benefits are the only things RSL have to absorb from this deal, McDonald may prove more valuable than the throwaway picks it cost to get him.