2023 AFL Trade Period Day 3 – the Swans and the Kangaroos get going

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

A flurry of cascading moves today as the Swans unlocked all their moves, North turned assistance selections into players and draft position, and several clubs staked out their draft pick claims. This rush of moves has brought the 2023 player movement period to life – finally – but there is a downside to this.

While it’s likely there are a few more pick trades to come heading into (and during) the draft, the list of players likely to change clubs is rapidly dwindling. While some late additions to the puzzle are sure to come, there may be as few as 10 players left to change clubs. Xavier Duursma might be the highest profile player set to find a new home, or perhaps one of the Freo duo of Lachie Schultz or Liam Henry.

Dylan Stephens heads south to North

Together with the subsequent Zac Fisher trade, this move is a suggestion that North Melbourne are after some more leg speed, be it on a wing, halfback, half forward, or in some hybrid thereof. The fit remains to be seen – Stephens did his most notable work as a wing for the Swans, but often struggled both with the decision-making required to keep speed on a quick transition, and also with the defensive side of the role.

The picks swapped here value Stephens around the early 40s. His lack of regular game time gives him a record of output that, after four seasons, historically suggests a limited prospect, but the argument in his favour is that he fell behind quite a strong cohort of hybrid outside types at Sydney and just needs a chance with less competition. Whether he actually finds that in a suitable role at North remains to be seen.

It’s worth noting that Stephens was a top five pick not too long ago, and he’s already played in a Grand Final. His resume is solid, if you squint a bit and look over the last couple of years. If North believes it is opportunity that has curtailed his development, then a side stuck near the bottom in recent years *should* be able to provide it. It’s a relatively cheap gamble for the Roos to make given their strong draft hand.

North’s trade here brings them a slightly worse pick than the end-of-round compensation one they were given for next year, but also locks in the value given it was subject to “review”, meaning it now can’t taken away again before next year’s draft. The pick is essentially pick 19, coming at the end of the first round, but like all modern draft picks, could slide a little depending on 2024 free agency and tied player bid matching.

Sydney gain a slightly better pick here by nabbing North’s compensation pick, meaning they’ll have their natural first rounder as well as this one to play with next year.

Verdict: Fair trade given Stephens’ limited output to date.

Zac Fisher heads the next suburb over

Continuing their acquisition of speedy players of indeterminate roles, North have tabbed the established but enigmatic Zac Fisher as he searched for more regular opportunity with a club less stacked for midfield and halfback quality than Carlton. Fisher was left on the outer during Carlton’s finals run and may have seen the writing on the wall with respect to opportunities at the Blues.

At one point in time Fisher was one of the shining lights of a Blues rebuild, but positional uncertainty and system change shoved him backwards in the pecking order. He actually showed a bit on the inside in his second year, a role he is unlikely to fill at North.

Fisher and Dylan Stephens actually project fairly similarly, but for different reasons. Stephens’ youth suggests a longer but more uncertain future according to PAPLEY, with a wider range of outcomes. Fisher is more certain to produce value in each remaining year of his career. The trades reflect this, both balancing out to roughly value the player in question in the 30 to 40 range.

Notable given the controversy of the selections, North have essentially turned two of their three AFL assistance package selections into Fisher, Stephens, and pick 17. The pick 25 used in this trade was acquired along with Stephens for the future pick sent to Sydney, with pick 21 being North’s 2023 assistance selection.

Given these moves, it may be that the AFL intended to pressure North to trade the future selections without explicitly saying so (cf the Gold Coast assistance package), or that North indicated to the league that they would do so (cf North’s last assistance package where that demand was made by the AFL).

Regardless, the assistance package has netted two somewhat established players for the Kangaroos.

Verdict: Fair trade.

Sydney get a new Grundy

Sydney have had ruck problems and contest midfield problems with their new look side in recent years. Tom Hickey provided some grunt, some solo clearance efforts, and some blocking shape in the Swans march to the 2022 Grand Final and helped the side break even in that facet of the game. However, neither the banged up Hickey nor Peter Ladhams with injury and disciplinary issues could help much this season.

Brodie Grundy, after being eased out of the Magpies for salary reasons and then struggling to adjust roles behind Max Gawn at Melbourne, looms as a god-send to this Sydney group. Grundy’s archetype, the “extra midfielder” ruck, seems a very good fit for the young and outside-dominant Sydney midfield, whose group of smaller hybrid midfielders often struggled to maintain any sort of control around the stoppage or around the ground contest coalface.

While many have proudly claimed that Grundy is on the slide, the small sample size of his performance as a sole ruck at both the Pies and Dees in the last two years doesn’t show much of a drop, if any. Grundy doesn’t need to get back to world-beating prime form, but if he can bring good ruck craft, ground level ball skills and a bit of bash and crash, that will be plenty for Sydney.

Grundy’s lowly valuation reflects two big question marks – two years of limited performances, and his age. Along with Melbourne’s gains by shedding the Grundy salary, these are the grounds that would have justified reported offers of a single pick in the 40s.

Grundy will be 30 in April, and hasn’t much of a recent track record, though he performed well in his rare solo ruck outings for Melbourne this year. It’s worth noting that taller players have tended to age a little better than smalls in recent years, especially high quality tall players. If the new environment does get him back to regular high quality ruck performances he will significantly outperform this valuation and probably the picks swapped for him.

For Melbourne the notional pick gains are perhaps less significant than the cap space flexibility. They probably won’t use pick 46 directly, but could look to creep up the early part of the draft or shift the pick into 2024. The future second is handy, especially if Sydney fail to progress back up the ladder. Having freed up two relatively high-paid salaries already this offseason without any big ticket inclusions, the Dees may be trying to get ahead of their oncoming cap crunch with a number of high profile extensions kicking in.

Verdict: Ostensibly Melbourne-favoured trade, with strong mitigating circumstances given Grundy’s past quality.

Taylor Adams heads back to the Harbour City

Sydney’s second acquisition of an older former Magpie sees them bring Taylor Adams in via a straightforward swap.

Adams’ management reportedly sought Sydney specifically, and they’ve spotted an astute fit because as with Grundy, he stands to bolster the shaky inside strength of the Sydney midfield. He may also bring some instant chemistry with Grundy given the years they played together. At Collingwood Adams was largely shunted to running the “rails” of their half forwards, sitting on the outside of their primary midfield rotation.

Adams missed both recent Collingwood finals campaigns with injury, highlighting the injury risk he carries, though he did still play 41 games in those two seasons. The risk is simply that his body breaks down from here, and it’s not a trivial one.

The value here sits with Collingwood because of Adams’ age. He’s a year older than Grundy, and played more footy recently. HPN’s projections essentially rate him to play two more years at the level of his most recent three seasons. Reportedly, his contract with the Swans is three years, and if he manages that length of time, he’ll about match the career expectations of a pick 33.

Both the Grundy and Adams moves are classic “win-now” moves. It’s a sign that the Swans believe that their window is firmly open now.

It’s costed Sydney the middle of their draft hand between them but not their first round pick. It complements the free agency acquisitions of James Jordon and Joel Hamling, and standing an excellent chance of improving a team that expects to contend next year.

Verdict: Somewhat Collingwood-weighted trade due to Adams’ age.

Melbourne creep up the draft order at a cost

Sometimes a critical, but understated, part of the player movement puzzle is sequencing. List managers across the league have reads on not only which players might head where, but how many spots are open for players. By trade time, most lists are getting tight, with only a handful of players floating on the fringe in case of emergency.

Melbourne’s list situation post the Grundy move had seemingly hard-wired them into likely only takingtwo picks at this draft due to limited uncommitted list spots. Melbourne have had four players move off the primary list, and have committed to bringing in Adelaide’s Shane McAdam and promoting defender Daniel Turner to the main list. They’ve also committed to bringing in Tom Fullarton – a move signalling there might be one more list spot opened up, or that the Dees will have 37 listed players instead of the 36 they carried last year. Teams can have between 36 and 38 primary listed players, with 42 total listed players (excluding category B rookies).

The Dees found themselves trying to move up the draft order in a year everyone wants to be inside the top bracket, holding onto picks they can’t use, and finding fairly limited buyers for those later picks. They have therefore paid a significant premium to the Suns who are moving the other way for their Academy bid matching game. It’s a buyer’s market when it comes to late picks.

There is also a wild possibility that the Demons could try to trade up further and use just one pick, perhaps in a ploy to seize a top 3 selection.

Through sheer quantity of picks, the 3 for 1 trade naturally weights heavily to the Suns, but this is the sort of move we expect to see a few times this trade period as clubs anticipate a short draft with an unusually large drop off beyond the top bracket. While trading two seemingly (and historically) valuable picks for just a three pick upgrade outside of the top ten seems like a waste, passing on those picks would have been even worse.

HPN’s valuation system may be useful for highlighting, via trades such as this one, just how unusual the shape of this draft pool may be.

For Gold Coast, the pick 14 received wasn’t to stick around long – as discussed below.

Verdict: Unfair trade weighted to the Suns. Clearly demonstrates Melbourne don’t want to or can’t use those latter two picks.

Adelaide nab Burgess and a bump up the draft order

Chris Burgess is a slightly undersized tall who at times before 2022 looked a potential part of the Suns future. Unfortunately for Burgess he fell right out of consideration as soon as any two of King, Casboult, Lukosius and Chol were available up forward or when Ballard, Collins and Andrew were available down back.

Burgess has won the last two Frosty Miller Medals on the bounce, providing the focal point for a VFL Premiership winning Suns outfit.

He now moves on with a fighting chance of grabbing regular game time with the Crows, at an end of the ground yet to be determined.

The Crows, soon to face a post Walker future, have identified him to fit into the mix with Fogarty, Thilthorpe and their dangerous smalls, but it’s still far from a sure thing that the slightly undersized Burgess gets regular game time forward. Adelaide could well decide to shift smaller without Walker, running two key forwards and then using Rachele and Rankine to emulate the way the some clubs use premium small forwards as deep one-out targets,

The backline, now permanently absent Doedee and currently held down by Butts, Hinge and Murray, may also provide another path into the 22, though similar pace and size question marks remain.

The pick swap rates Burgess around pick 41, which is probably reasonable, reflecting his potential usefulness but also how deep he sits in the Suns’ forward rotation and the queries over his attributes. The Suns side of the trade should be seen in conjunction with the follow-up swap with North, discussed below.

If the fit doesn’t work, Burgess might stand a chance of adding a Ken Farmer Medal or two to his Frosty collection.

Verdict: Trade favours Gold Coast due to Burgess’ very limited projection.

Gold Coast shift some value into the future with an even pick swap

North now hold a quarter of the first 20 picks with 2, 3, 15, 17 and 18 sitting in their hands. This is pending any further moves such as targeting the Eagles’ pick 1.

The pick swapped here was their other future compensation selection, meaning that it can also no longer be subject to review by the AFL before next year’s draft. Together with the earlier trades, it can currently be said that the three bonus end-of-first-round selections have brought in Fisher, Stephens, pick 17 and pick 18, before any further moves with those two draft picks.

Gold Coast gain yet more picks in the 2023 draft, and after this trade hold a full one-third of the second round of the draft with 23, 26, 27, 31, 35, 37 along with some post-60 rubbish. The key question for them remains how many list spots they have open and whether they need to trade pick value into next year ahead of live trades back into 2023 on draft night.

Significantly, they’ve now completed trades with North Melbourne (picks 2 and 3), the Bulldogs (pick 5), Melbourne (picks 6 and 11) and Adelaide (picks 10 and 14). Also upcoming is a trade with Hawthorn (pick 4) for Mabior Chol. This would all mean only West Coast at pick 1 and the 7 to 9 stretch of GWS, Geelong (last year’s trade was noteworthy), and Essendon without trades made with Gold Coast this year.

Perhaps these recent deals may change these clubs’ perception of the Suns’ young Academy talents such as Walter, Read or Rogers. Maybe these players have less attractive in the eyes of recruiters and they might slide down the order a little more than expected. Currently, the Suns are *just* short the points required to match all four of their prospective Academy talents if bids come around where draft watchers suspect they will fall given the likely number of picks the Suns will carry into the draft.

But if these players slide just a little, Gold Coast will have judged it perfectly.

Verdict: Very fair trade. They’re nearly the same pick, just in different years.

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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