One can imagine the mood at Bulldog HQ would’ve been pretty bleak on Thursday morning when news came through that Essendon had traded pick 11 to the GWS Giants as part of a larger deal that saw Devon Smith become a Bomber.
The Western Bulldogs have taken a firm stance in the media ever since it became clear that Jake Stringer’s preferred destination in a trade was Essendon – pick 11, flat, or no dice.
Essendon have rejected that demand emphatically by trading the pick away. The Bulldogs will now have to either accept something below their asking price, or keep Stringer around for 2018 and let a growing headache fester into a chronic migraine.
From their first confirmation that Stringer was on the trade table the Bulldogs have said that for a deal to be done, it has to work for them – otherwise they will hold him to his contract, which expires at the end of 2018.
However, there are plenty who are taking that statement about as seriously as an exhausted parent’s threat to turn the car around and cancel family vacation – back to Winnipeg. I’m one of them.
It has been a pretty public falling out between the Bulldogs and Stringer. For the sake of not becoming a gossip column we won’t go into the details of what has been alleged and printed about his behaviour outside football, but safe to say it’s not savoury.
Further to that, if what has been said about his teammates taking issue with that behaviour is true, it seems extremely unlikely that Stringer could be retained at the Bulldogs in 2018 in any kind of harmonious way.
The far more likely scenario if the Bulldogs hold Stringer to his contract is that his presence either drives the wedge deeper into what may already be a fractured culture, or worse still sits on the sidelines for 12 months.
Neither of those paths would do anything to increase his value ahead of presumably a second attempt to trade him at the end of 2018, and there would no longer be the threat of holding him to his contract to use as a bargaining chip then.
The alternative, then, is to find some new way of doing a deal to move him on in this trade period, but it is almost certainly going to be for much less than they expected.
Stringer and his manager don’t seem to have completely ruled out the possibility of a trade to Geelong, and in terms of getting the highest pick possible, a swap for the Cats’ pick 20 is probably more likely.
Essendon now hold picks 24 and 29 though, as well as both their own and GWS’ second-round picks in 2018.
Perhaps the Bulldogs would be willing to accept some combination of this, or perhaps either they or Essendon can finagle a two-for-one deal with Brisbane or Richmond to move the pick up higher in the order.
Brisbane have picks 18 and 19 at current, Richmond picks 15 and 17. Both have players who will be bid on in the draft his year – the Lions have academy member Connor Ballenden, Richmond have father-son Patrick Naish.
Trading one of their picks for the combination of two second-rounders possibly makes it easier for those clubs to match those bids when they come, depending on where they think they’ll fall – so that’s an avenue that at the very least should be considered.
The Bulldogs could demand Essendon’s 2018 first-round pick if they want to stick to that pricetag, but I suspect you’ll see Satan’s Daily News print record snowfall in hell before that happens.
Even the best case scenario for the Bulldogs in this is pick 17 which, regardless of what you think of his recent form, training standards or non-footy behaviour is a farcically poor return for a player of Jake Stringer’s remarkable natural talent.
If there’s any possible way for the Bulldogs to salvage his career at their club then they must surely consider it. It’s the only possible path to a win for them in what has become a lose-lose situation.
But, their decision to push him out suggests things are already too far gone.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the fundamental truth of trade period is this: you don’t win or lose it at the trade table, the game is already over by then. You win or lose when a player decides to stay or leave – doing the trade afterwards is more like negotiating a peace treaty.
When you push a player out of your own accord, you’ve pretty much shot yourself in the foot, forfeited the war before it even began. The damage is done – the only question that remains is how big the hospital bill is going to be.