2023 AFL Trade Period Day 1 – the pickening

HPN will attack this AFL Trade Period in one post a day, either as a roundup or with progressive updates through the day.

Somewhat unusually, the only assets to change hands on the opening Monday were draft picks, as the jostling to climb the ladder kicks off.

Gold Coast begin Operation: Acquire Academy Assets

Gold Coast have one focus this trade period – affording to bring in all four highly rated tied academy players in Jed Walter, Ethan Read, Jake Rogers and Will Graham. They face two constraints on this. The first is sheer quantity of draft pick points they need to match some likely very high bids, and the second is how many picks they are actually allowed to carry into the AFL draft.

Before this trade, the Suns held pick 4, pick 30, and about six other picks adding up to 4070 points of bid match value. If the first three bids were to come at, say, picks 2, 6 and 12, matching the current Rookie Me draft board, they could cover that by going into deficit next year, but would be struggling if the bids came much higher than these. That’s before considering Graham, who is likely to fall in the second to third round and may represent the “swing” acquisition, the player the Suns can only afford by stocking up for the others.

The problem they face in building points value in the usual way is that clubs can only carry N+2 picks into the draft, where N is the number of open list spots. Once the draft starts they can execute further pre-arranged swaps, but until then, there’s a firm pick count constraint, a point they already sit at.

As demonstrated by their VFL premiership, the Suns are long on emerging talent and tight for list spots. After trading Mabior Chol and Chris Burgess, they’ll have 35 senior players contracted next year, meaning pending other moves, they could presumably take seven picks into the draft.

This limits the extent to which Gold Coast can accrue usable points value further by converting fewer higher picks into more lower ones. They need to be concentrating their pick value this year into a defined number of selections, and moving other value into next year, at least until the draft actually begins. Then, during live trading, they can split and trade future picks for present ones as much as needed.

As a result of these circumstances, this opening move looks slightly odd in isolation, because while it does remove a pick from the total count, it also decreases Gold Coast’s points value this year. Instead, the future first from the Bulldogs is the gain, as it either improves their hand next year, or allows another asset for swapping back into 2023 later in the trade period, or more likely, come draft night.

Note: A previous version of this analysis was based on erroneous reporting of the Suns trading a future first pick to the Bulldogs. This has now been corrected.

The trade only makes sense for Gold Coast as part of a phased project to work around the pick count bottleneck with multiple moves and pre-arranged live swaps. It does, also, get their first pick away from being matched outright for a Walter bid as well.

In the currency that matters they give up 2624 bid matching points to get 2420 here, and don’t gain any ground in terms of future assets, with a future pick moving both in and out. They’ve concentrated three picks of value into two picks, at an 8% cost in total points.

They may have also secured a quid pro quo not to bid, which will help them make their hand stretch further. Watching who else they trade with in the next week will be instructive as to where bids might actually happen.

For the Dogs, the appeal is simply the higher quality player available at 4 rather than two at 10 and 17. HPN wrote earlier about the trend towards well developed elite juniors making very rapid impacts early in their careers, and the Dogs now have a chance to try for themselves to get the next Daicos, Gulden, Serong or Anderson up and running, to help their flag push.

This draft appears two have two “main” tiers – one finishing around picks 6 to 8, and the second ending somewhere between 14-18. If the Dogs are out on that second tier, then the move makes sense. They also Jordan Croft via the father-son rule at the draft, with a bid coming somewhere in that 10 to 20 range. By making this trade they get to grab a top tier pick and still grab Croft.

The downside is the picks they gave up this year and next. 10 and 17 are also good picks and together actually tend to have a better long term projection than four in isolation, even if those third round picks turn into (say) a matched pick 15 on draft night. Any value gain is all in the expectations on 2024 ladder position of the Dogs who now don’t have a first round pick next year, so if they rise up the ladder next year the trade becomes very even overall but a further Dogs slump could be costly.

Verdict: Fair trade with Gold Coast’s overall strategy using the newly acquired assets remaining to be revealed.

Port trade forward to trade for players

Port Adelaide has a lack of draft picks after their trading activity of last year, with their first selection sitting at 39. Thus, they need more picks to satisfy the needs of clubs with players seeking moves to Alberton.

The asset they’ve used to get things moving is their future first selection, swapped for Fremantle’s current top pick of 23.

As usual with two-for-one swaps in this range of the draft, the deal looks better for the pick-splitter because picks in the early second round are nearly as useful as picks late in the first.

Port have made this kind of future first pick trade before, swapping away their future firsts in 2016 and 2019. Both times they made the swap in years where they missed finals and then rose on the ladder.

Both times the move unlocked useful draft goals, and after further moves brought them four draft picks inside the top 30 each time. This time, though, they’re already in the top 4, and swapping to bring in ready-made players, not a suite of picks. Time will tell if this departure works as well.

For Fremantle the equation is simple. A finals berth for them and Port slipping to 10th or 12th would even this swap up considerably in hindsight.

Verdict: Port look to have the better of this one, but Fremantle are backing themselves to rise and Port are never a certainty to reproduce a good season the following year.

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 the HPN Trade Calculator to evaluate potential trades.

Elsewhere, read much more about the method and theory behind PAVExpressing 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.

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