For Geelong, the time is now. The Cats made the Grand Final this year, and were the best team throughout the Home and Away season. They are likely a couple of errant quarters of football away from a flag.
While the future always matters for a sporting team, it matters less to Geelong than any other team in the AFL.
Geelong fielded the oldest teams on record in the run to this year’s grand final. Their team was stacked with high-performing experience, and a large chunk of the team value came from the plus-30 crowd.
Trading in Shaun Higgins, who turns 33 next season, suggests they see no reason not to continue with basically the same approach for next year, rather than head to the draft. Players like Fogarty and Cockatoo have been traded to help make this happen, with potentially more to follow.
Higgins, like Smith, will provide support around the midfield, wing and half forward areas, stepping into the void left by the likes of Gary Ablett. Is he as good as Ablett? Probably not. But he’s good, and he’ll likely be playing, and that’s useful in itself.
There’s two things working in Geelong’s favour for the tilt at 2021 or 2022 using the collection of veterans at their disposal.
First, mature players tend to keep performing until they retire.
That’s reflected in the projections for some of Geelong’s senior players in the HPN PAPLEY projections. The declining projections here largely reflect the probability each year that an old player will stop playing. History suggests most players in this age bracket will keep performing if they’re fit.
This means a critical mass of veterans makes losing a couple in-season merely tolerable attrition.
Second, the Cats have a good record keeping old players performing, for perhaps longer than teams in previous eras were prepared to bet on. They may be the first team to identify improved longevity as a market flaw, and capitalise on it.
Third, staying good can help bolster Geelong’s “destination club” status, already naturally aided by helpful geographical factors. The appeal helps bring in slightly more long term players like the comparative spring chicken Jeremy Cameron (28 next year). In that sense, keeping things rolling along with a flow of reliable short term senior players is also an aid to more sustainable recruiting.
Those three factors mean that if enough veterans have one full year left, a good but old side like Geelong can stay at the top and contend again.
Still, make no mistake: the Cats are loading up for now. They’re having to dig hard into their stocks of younger players and draft picks to do it, and they probably aren’t too concerned about what happens later when the influx and the cost eventually proves unsustainable. They want a flag. Next season is the next one available.
Pick 30 will very likely give the Kangaroos a lot more value over the journey and this trade was an incredibly obvious deal to take for a side in full rebuild mode:
However what Geelong care about is next year, and fairly obviously, Higgins stands to give them a lot more than any draft pick in that short time window:
Verdict: Unfair trade. North wins this trade and Geelong do not care even one little bit.
Note: This post is part of a series of posts using a valuation method called Player Approximate Value (PAV) to evaluate trades for fairness and balance. Readers can explore these values with tools such as 5-year player value projection charts and a Salary Prediction tool as well as the HPN Trade Calculator to evaluate potential trades.
Elsewhere, read much more about the method and theory behind PAV. Expressing the value of players and picks in terms of expected future PAV provides a common currency for comparing them in trades and other movements. Players are projected using PAPLEY, a method to derive expected future PAVs.