Before we discuss potential TAM targets for the summer transfer window, let us first take a closer look at what TAM is, and how it is used.
MLS roster rules 101
This season, the official salary cap that all MLS teams are bound to is $3,660,000. Somewhat separate from that budget, there are Designated Players, general allocation money, targeted allocation money, transfer fees, signing bonuses-- a whole host of supplemental budgetary mechanisms that clubs utilize to enhance the modest $3.6 million salary cap.
With so many tricky roster rules and caveats in MLS, trying to figure a player's salary can get confusing. Enter the MLS players union (MLSPU) who for the past several years have made halfhearted attempts at salary transparency by publishing player salaries several times a year. Upon inspection of the listed salaries, it becomes apparent that several figures appear blatantly misleading (see Barrios, Michael). If transparency is truly the reason for salary reports, there ought to be asterisks after certain players, with an accompanying footnote stating something like "it's complicated" so that readers know which salaries are genuine, and which salaries require--shall we say--further explanation.
Only a portion of these external compensation mechanisms (signing bonus, transfer fee, etc.) get reflected in players' respective cap hits, making some players' salaries a total guessing game. To complicate salaries further, players can be signed to a "backloaded" contract where their salary increases incrementally with every successive season. This was the case with Marco Pappa. Last season his on-the-books salary was $75k, but according to Garth, Pappa's contract entitled him to a significant pay raise this season--and from there the rest is history. Today, Pappa is now a key contributor on a first place team, reportedly earning $150k this season.
TL;DR: When attempting to evaluate/compare player salaries within the league, proceed with caution, and especially take MLSPU reported salaries with heaping grains of salt. These reported salary figures are far from perfect, but represent the best/only resource to go on.
What is a TAM player?
Let us think of a TAM player as DP-lite. TAM players and designated players alike represent the select few in MLS whose annual salaries exceed the the maximum budget charge of $457,000. What separates designated players from TAM players is that designated players do not have a cap on their salary other than the owner's willingness to pay. TAM players on the other hand require the use of allocation money to buy down a player's contract below the $457,000 threshold. TAM players typically earn between $457k - $1 million per season. Because clubs have finite amounts of TAM at their disposal, they tend not to allocate more than $500k of TAM towards any one player. At $900k, Ozzie is the richest TAM player in MLS this season (although we suspect he's actually a DP, as wasting TAM on a player when you have an open DP spot would make no sense). If Ozzie were to be categorized as a TAM player all season long, the Sounders organization would be required to buy down his contract using $443k of allocation money ($900k - $443k = $457k).
TL;DR: $457,000 is the maximum hit against the salary cap for a single player. If a player's salary exceeds that amount, then he is either a designated player, or a TAM player, requiring the use of allocation money to buy the salary below the legal limit. If you want to know more about AM, TAM or GAM, then by all means go nuts. And don't forget about Wham!
Who are these so-called TAM players?
The Sounders employ two, hopefully soon to be three. To give you an idea of to the caliber of TAM players, here are just a handful of TAM players playing in the league already.
- Ozzie Alonso - $900k
- Roman Torres - $491k
- Jermaine Jones - $600k
- Chris Wondolowski - $700k
- Kyle Beckerman - $750k
- Javier Morales $590k
- Fanendo Adi - $712k
- Darlington Nagbe - $500k
- Tranquillo Barnetta - $687k
- Brek Shea - $695k
- Dax McCarty - $500k
- Sacha Kljestan - $687k
Potential TAM targets
Many of the following TAM targets currently play for teams that the Sounders scouted earlier this season. With the anticipation of Nicolas Lodeiro's arrival, I took the liberty of listing a few young, promising Uruguayan wingers even though Uruguay's Primera Division was not a recent scouting destination for Sounders scouts. As a Uruguayan national team veteran, Lodeiro could potentially be seen as influential in attracting additional Uruguayan attacking talent. The last two names on the list represent a couple players who are currently out of contract in European leagues and therefore would not require a transfer fee. Neither are likely to sign with Seattle, but were included in the list due to their availability, position, and pedigree. Let's hope Garth pulls the trigger on one of them soon:
- David Llanos, 26, CF, Chile (transfermarkt, sofifa) Would come rested. Had career season next to Jeisson Vargas.
- Angel Mena, 28, RW/LW, Ecuador (transfermarkt, sofifa) A polished inverted winger. Dangerous from both wings. Scores as often as he assists. Don't believe his sofifa ratings.
- Jose Angulo, 21, CF, Ecuador (transfermarkt) Having a breakout season for Independiente del Valle, the team that just eliminated Boca Juniors from Copa Libertadores.
- Brahian Aleman, 26, LW, Uruguay (transfermarkt, sofifa) Coming off a down-season. Contract expires in December
- Tabare Viudez, 26, RW, Uruguay (transfermarkt, sofifa) He has bounced around Uruguay, Italy, Mexico, Turkey, and Argentina. He is not performing well for River Plate. MLS is an eventuality.
- Leandro Barcia, 23, RW, Uruguay (transfermarkt) 10 goals, 10 assists through 52 appearances. He plays for Club Nacional, the very club that Lodeiro came from. Just sayin.
- Gaston Rodriguez, 24, RW/CF, Uruguay (transfermarkt) A lifer at Montevideo Wanderers. Looks like a young, promising prolific goalscorer who can line up anywhere up top. Cool.
- Lautaro Acosta, 28, LW/RW, Argentina (transfermarkt, sofifa) Speedy winger. Played in Spain for a few seasons, then headed back to Argentina. In 4 seasons with Lanus: 29 goals, 29 assists through 145 appearances.
- Ely Esterilla, 23, RW, Ecuador (transfermarkt) An emerging star for Ecuador soccer giant Barcelona.
- Alexander Gorgon, 27, RW, Austria (transfermarkt) Austrian Bundesliga veteran. 47 goals and 23 assists through 135 appearances is nothing to sneeze at. He is a free agent. His Instagram game is strong, @gorgonzola20. With several offers from European leagues, I'd assume he stays in Europe.
- Junior Hoilett, 26, LW, Canada (transfermarkt, sofifa) Canadian international has played for Queens Park Rangers (QPR) but is now a free agent. He has been offered a new contract by Swansea and QPR for TAM-level money. Garth could probably swoop him if he really wanted.
Who would you like to see donning the rave green this summer? Did I leave anyone out? The summer transfer window closes on August 3 at midnight, leaving Garth exactly two more weeks to close a deal. I've got my heart set on a summer Uruguayan invasion: Nicolas Lodeiro, Alvaro Fernandez, and Gaston Rodriguez. All the Yerba Mate are belong to us.