Buy or Loan: Analyzing the Vancouver Whitecaps contract negotiations with Michaell Chirinos

As the future of Michaell Chirinos in Vancouver remains up in the air, we look at what’s holding up negotiations with the Honduran International, and why he may deserve a decent chunk of change

The offseason has felt so long, yet is still barely getting underway. 

It’s been nearly 2 months since the Vancouver Whitecaps last played a game, a tight 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake in Nick Rimando’s last-ever MLS regular-season game. Since then, things have remained quiet on the West Coast, bar them announcing their end of season contract updates. 

That’s not to say that there hasn’t been some action in Whitecaps-land, as World Cup winner Olivier Giroud got linked to the team, they finally announced their long-awaited Technical Director, Axel Schuster, and also sold their popular defender, Doneil Henry, to the Suwon Samsung Bluewings in South Korea. But besides those few moments of intrigue, things have remained relatively quiet on the news front, as negotiations continue for both new and returning players. 

One of those returning players in question is Honduran International Michaell Chirinos, who impressed on his short loan stint in Vancouver. In only 7 appearances (5 starts), he scored 1 goal and 1 assist, looking impressive offensively on a team lacking in that area of the pitch. 

Yet it appears negotiations have hit an impasse as of late, with rumours coming out of Honduras suggesting that Chirinos awaits an offer that he and his agent find suitable, with previous articles also saying that the Whitecaps would want Chirinos to consider another loan. As Vancouver looks to bring him in at an affordable price, it’s made for a complicated set of negotiations, with many factors at play. 

Our friends at 86Forever have pined for the return of Chirinos, as they were calling for a Chirinos return in 2020 before the end of the season, a drum that Peter Galindo of Sportsnet has also beaten since around the same time. Yet elsewhere reviews are mixed, as there hasn’t seemed to be much of a consensus on what his value would have to be for the Whitecaps to consider bringing him back next season.

With the calendar now hitting December, with no news of a new Chirinos deal in sight, here is why the deal is going to be one of the most complicated for the Whitecaps to orchestrate this offseason.

Sample Size:

Chirinos and his agent find himself in a complicated situation when it comes to negotiating their financial position, as Chirinos only played 412 minutes on his short loan, which makes it hard to gauge exactly how good he’ll be next year. From the Whitecaps perspective, it’ll give them a reason to hesitate when thinking about offering too much money, hence why the loan makes sense for them to pursue once again. 

On the other end, Chirinos certainly believes he’s worth a good chunk of change, and given how he performed, there’s no reason to say that he doesn’t earn it. Take this comparison of his stats to those of some of the best wingers in MLS this season. 

When comparing Chirinos to Diego Rossi, who had an excellent season at LAFC, things aren’t that far off statistically between the two. Chirinos outperformed the Uruguayan in Expected Goals per 96 minutes, while coming close in Key passes/96 and dribbles per game, suggesting that he does manage to get the ball into good positions on the field. 

While the sample size argument certainly makes those stats harder to justify, as Chirinos’s numbers can be seen as just a flash in a pan, the fact that he did that on a bad Whitecaps offensive side is positive to see. Considering that Rossi had the MLS MVP, Carlos Vela, on his opposing wing, on top of arguably the best trio of midfielders in the league pushing the ball forward, the fact that Chirinos’s numbers come close is a testament to the Honduran’s work in that short period of time in Vancouver. 

When comparing his stats to other wingers, it’s clear that Chirinos gets the ball to good areas of the pitch, and considering that the Whitecaps are due a midfield upgrade this window, it’s not hard to imagine him improving on those numbers in better circumstances in 2020. 

Stacked up with eventual MLS Cup-winning winner Jordan Morris, Houston star Alberth Elis and the tricky Scotsman Russell, Chirinos doesn’t look out of place at all, which certainly gives him plenty of ammunition in negotiations for a deal. Consider that Rossi makes just a hair over a $1 000 000 per year, Morris makes $500 000, Russell makes $1 500 000 and Elis $650 000, it gives an idea of why his agent would be wanting a decent deal for his client. 

With the Whitecaps investing nearly $600 000 in an unknown commodity in Lucas Venuto last year, whos contract got terminated in the summer so he could head home to Brazil, splashing some of that recouped cash on Chirinos makes sense. While statistically, they are very similar, Chirinos is faster and is more polished in his end product, which is something that this Whitecaps team is sorely lacking. 

Other options at play?

Chirinos in action at BC Place in August (Keveren Guillou)

Another issue stalling things could be that the Whitecaps might be looking at other wingers, possibly those who can bring a bigger reputation or a smaller salary, or even both. Justin Meram is a free agent, and given his relationship with Ali Adnan, maybe Dos Santos could be able to poach him for a salary in the $300 000 range. 

With the Whitecaps supposedly also in the hunt for a Peruvian winger, with the most tantalizing possibility being the high-scoring 22-year-old Alianza Lima winger Kevin Quevedo, who becomes a free agent in January. Heck, they could even be looking at a DP winger from Europe, which would also make things tight for Chirinos. Andre Schurrle is a World Cup Winner, something Dos Santos said they were looking at, and does have ties to Vancouver, no matter how negative they are, which could make him an option to don the white and blue. 

On top of wingers already on the fold, with Theo Bair and Yordy Reyna looking prime candidates to feature a lot next year, barring a possible trade for the latter, there are a lot of moving pieces at the winger position. With the Whitecaps and Chirinos having a month until the loan deal officially expires, that gives them time to properly assess their winger situation for next season, painting a better picture in terms of how someone like Chirinos would fit into their 2020 image. 

With Axel Schuster recently arriving in the fold, he and Marc Dos Santos are already laying that groundwork for months prior, and we will soon see how that picture starts to draw out, starting with the MLS movement periods. While they passed on the first 2 chances to get new players, the Waiver Draft and the Re-Entry Draft stage 1, there still is Free Agency and Re-Entry Draft Stage 2, with plenty of quality players available through both avenues. 

Considering that the Whitecaps have a 2nd overall pick in the Stage 2 draft, it would be a surprise if they leave that empty-handed. With all players picked able to completely renegotiate their contracts, unlike in Stage 1, where players remained locked in at old deals, Vancouver might be able to score themselves a nice deal there. 

Which based on the position they select, may positively or negatively impact Chirinos’ future on the West Coast. 

CBA Uncertainty:

Lastly, and probably most importantly, the MLS Collective Bargaining Agreement is still yet to be renegotiated, which has the potential to change things massively in terms of player recruitment. While it’s unsure how drastic those changes will be, with anything from the status quo to a much larger Salary Cap with more DPs being on the table, it makes negotiating contracts like this very tough. 

If the Whitecaps were to sign Chirinos to a hefty deal now, who knows how much things will change, which may impact the long-term value of the deal. While signing him early is the goal, as they will probably benefit from the Cap being sure to go up at least a bit, Chirinos and his agent may be wise to hold out on their end.

For all we know, the Salary Cap could increase exponentially, which could turn a $600 000 contract from quality starter money to fringe money, making several agents and players from this window look foolish. On the other hand, the Cap could remain similar to now, which would make someone like Chirinos getting a deal like that look smart. 

It makes it toughest for players like Chirinos, who find themselves making that in-between DP and Minimum Salary money, as the increases stand to impact them the most. With those players falling in that TAM range, and with TAM being something that MLSPA is going to bat for to remove, who knows how that may impact the salaries of players in that $600 000 to $1.5 million dollar range in 2020 and beyond. 

So while the CBA affects players like Chirinos, don’t expect movement to slow on MLS veterans and high-priced DPs, as those don’t stand to be squeezed to hard by a new deal. For DPs, the concept will either be abolished, opening up a bigger salary cap and more money to balance a squad, or there will be an increase of spots, which means that things wouldn’t change either way. With MLS veterans, teams will still need them to compete, with the only difference being that they may be pushed down the depth charts in certain organizations, as teams will look to use a new Cap to spend on a bunch of high-priced exports to compete. 

Looking Forward:

Luckily for the Caps, the negotiations with Godoy seem to be a lot more straightforward (Keveren Guillou)

With all of those factors at play, it makes for a very interesting negotiation period between the Whitecaps and Chirinos. It appears that the Honduran wants to return, and that Vancouver is happy to have him back, but how and for how much remain the big questions. 

While they do face the same question in a sense with fellow expired loanee Erik Godoy, they had a full season to evaluate him, giving them a better idea of what to expect. Considering that he was a rock in the backline, and that they transferred out Doneil Henry, it would be an enormous surprise to not see Godoy back at around $500 000- $750 000 a year.

But with Chirinos playing as little as he did, it makes things a lot less straight-forward than with Godoy. Given his production and how he fit in during such a short amount of time, it would be hard to imagine him not returning, but it’s clear that a lot remains to be sorted before that happens. 

In an offseason expected to be full of moving parts, it remains as one of the most interesting trains to monitor as it roars down the metaphorical negotiation tracks.    

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