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Gaston Sauro’s injury leaves Columbus Crew SC few options off the field

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Sauro’s significant contract will hinder the team salary budget

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The concerns of a major injury to Gaston Sauro that Massive Report first noted in November were confirmed yesterday by the Dispatch. Sauro will miss the entire 2017 season due to significant knee problems. That leaves Columbus Crew SC short a starting defender and with a giant salary budget problem.

Sauro was due a guaranteed $601,313 in 2016 and that number won’t change significantly in 2017. The team can easily put Sauro on the “Season-ending Injury List” and the team will get a roster spot and an international spot back based on the MLS Roster Rules.

The roster regulations aren’t the problem, it’s the issue with Sauro’s salary budget number. He makes Designated Player money that has been bought down with Targeted Allocation Money. Adding him to the the Injury List won’t clear his salary from the budget, it just sits there, hindering the team’s flexibility.

So, there is no easy way to clear the “cap space”, Crew SC will have to get creative and barring undisclosed methods, MLS provides two options, a buyout and salary cap relief, both will come out of the team’s pockets.

The buyout may not be available to Crew SC given Sauro’s injured status. The team carried rookie draftee Sagi Lev-Ari off roster in the 2015 season due to injuries he picked up during the preseason.

If the team can pursue a buyout, the league details the guidelines in the section "Buyout of a Guaranteed Contract" of the MLS Roster Rules and Regulations.

A club may buy out one player who has a Guaranteed Contract (including a DP’s) during the offseason and free up the corresponding budget space. Such a buyout is at the MLS club’s expense.

A club may not free up room in the salary budget with a buyout of a player’s contract during the season. In the case a team buys out a player’s contract during the season, the buyout amount will be charged against the club’s salary budget.

The timing is right for Crew SC with the team assessing their options with over two months to the next game. The team can ultimately pay off the remaining obligations to Sauro and buy out his existing contract. The center back is guaranteed for 2017, but his contract status is unclear beyond that. If he has options, those option years likely have value.

It’s still unlikely that the team has the option and it’s unlikely Sauro would accept it as he faces a long road to resurrect his playing career.

The other option open to the team is detailed in the MLS Roster Rules and Regulation section for Budget Charge for Season-ending Injuries.

MLS clubs are only able to receive budget relief (paid out of the club’s own pocket) for a season-ending injury under the following parameters:

The injured player must be earning at least $100,000 per annum but not greater than $250,000 per annum.

The injured player must have suffered the season ending injury prior to the close the Primary Transfer Window and the new player must be signed as of such date.

The club is ultimately responsible for the payment of the replacement player’s salary (which will not be charged to the club’s budget).

MLS clubs will only be allowed to sign one such Season-ending Injury Replacement Player a year.

Sauro is a DP level player with TAM buying down his budget charge. He certainly does earn under the $250,000 yearly salary that would make his contract eligible to get budget relief and the team has indicated they’d like to rework Sauro’s contract to try recover some room in 2016.

As with any contract renegotiation, the team and the player will have to agree on the new terms. Currently the player is guaranteed his 2016 salary and likely has future options. Most players in this situation would only be looking to give back money for some future security. Sauro may be willing to give back some of his 2016 salary for a longer deal that gives him stability as he tries to revive his career. Given the reported severity of Sauro’s injuries, that’s a deal he might make.

The danger to the team is that the budget charge will have to be paid and this may be merely putting off the bill into 2017 and beyond. That may be a good choice by the team given the way MLS rules evolve over time. There may be new wrinkles that grant the team more options in the future.

Ultimately, the loss of Sauro is a giant blow to the team and puts the breaks on the prime of Sauro’s career. The team and player are hoping to come back strong in 2018, but the business of soccer means that both sides are going to have to make some hard choices in the coming weeks.