Adrian Hanauer made one point crystal clear when discussing the series of events that resulted in the Seattle Sounders trading Alvaro Fernandez and signing Christian Tiffert: That wasn't exactly how they wanted it to play out.
If the transfer window had gone according to plan, the Sounders GM said he would have figured out a way to keep Fernandez under the team's control, while also adding their new German playmaker. Unfortunately, the league office had other plans and made it basically impossible for the Sounders to have their proverbial cake and eat it too.
"We tried very hard to figure out a way to hang onto Alvaro and bring Christian in," Hanauer said during a Tuesday conversation with reporters. "There isn't a 100-page rulebook on DPs at this point, so it's a bit of a work in progress. I think ultimately, it's my understanding that the league's position was that if we were to loan Alvaro out for instance, outside of the league, we would effectively have four designated-players under our control if we brought another one in. In that regard, you could start stockpiling Designated Players, loan them out all over the world, let them improve or find the optimal time when you needed an outside midfielder back and make a transaction."
Of course, as Hanauer noted, that might not be such a bad thing for a league that is still very conscious of trying to improve its product. If teams are willing and able to absorb the cost of loaning out DPs, there are certainly worse things than allowing those players to improve while someone else is helping defray the cost.
Hanauer didn't confirm that the Sounders had worked out a deal that would have resulted in loaning Fernandez to Deportivo Cali, but that seems to be what he was alluding to.
But that wasn't the only way the Sounders had hoped to keep Fernandez. From the sound of it, they also may have tried to re-work his deal.
"The second, sort-of-separate track that didn't pan out was ... the way many people are interpreting the transfer fees and how they relate to a player's Designated-Player status is that the transfer fee is amortized over the guaranteed portion of the player's contract," Hanauer explained. "In Alvaro's situation, he had I think it was a four-year guaranteed term, which meant that there wasn't a way to restructure that, even renegotiating the deal to potentially categorize him as a non-DP.
"In my opinion, there's gaming of that system that can go on. For instance, going out and paying $8 million for a transfer and signing the player to a six-month guarantee with multiple years of options. Long story short, I think we've got some work to do in the competition committee. No fault to the league, you just can't account for every single iteration of the rule. We'll probably sit down in the not-too-distant future and try to get a little more clarity on the rules."
Once it was determined that the Sounders were not going to be able to add Tiffert without losing one of their DPs, Hanauer indicated they shifted gears to finding a place for Fernandez. The delay in bringing in Tiffert had more to do with the possibility of other moves happening that would have changed their needs.
"It wasn't really a long negotiation with Christian," Hanauer said, noting there was a "nominal" transfer fee paid to FC Kaiserslautern. "What we weren't sure though is what was going to happen with the rest of the roster. If a different player or a different position had gone for some reason, then we needed to be careful that we prepared to solve a different problem or go out and fill a void. But in the end, Christian was the guy that we wanted and Alvaro unfortunately was the guy who we felt made the most sense to move out to make room."
In the end, it seems reasonable to conclude the Sounders attempted to be creative with this situation. Just about every conceivable avenue was explored and, in the end, the trade of Fernandez also opened the door for bringing in Mario Martinez, whose loan deal is now just a matter of "crossing T's and dotting I's." It certainly wasn't painless, but the Sounders do seem to have gotten better.