What is going on down at Fremantle?
The Dockers made one of the biggest about-turns in trade period history when they announced on Friday that they were removing themselves from the race to acquire Melbourne forward Jesse Hogan.
Fremantle’s new General Manager of Football, Peter Bell, stated that the club had done its ‘due diligence’ and decided that Melbourne’s asking price of two first-round picks in exchange for Hogan was too steep, and the club would therefore be focusing its attention elsewhere.
It’s a bizarre decision from Fremantle, given it has actively and openly courted Hogan pretty much from the time Melbourne acquired him in the mini-draft in 2012.
The whispers about Hogan eventually wanting to move back to WA have followed him over the past six years, and Fremantle has not exactly been subtle about their wish to one day bring him to the club.
This season, Melbourne has finally been willing to entertain a trade for Hogan – given his difficult personal circumstances over the past few years – if they receive adequate compensation to acquire Steven May. It’s the exact situation the Dockers have been dreaming of – and now they’ve balked.
I find this astonishing – this is a club that has been in desperate need of a key forward since before the retirement of star Matthew Pavlich in 2016. They have missed out on several targets over the past few years – including Travis Cloke, Jack Riewoldt, Mitch Clark, and Cale Hooker.
They finally have a Western Australian key forward who is willing to come to the club, and a current club who are willing to do a deal.
If media reports are to be believed (although in trade period we need to take everything we read with a grain of salt), Fremantle had made a commitment to Hogan and his management that it would get a deal done with Melbourne, and that he would be a Fremantle player next year.
The fact that Melbourne apparently softened in their demands in recent days, requesting instead pick six and a second-round selection, makes Fremantle’s decision to undertake a pick swap with Port Adelaide – which saw Fremantle flip pick six for pick 11 and a bunch of second-round selections – misguided.
In isolation, it’s a good deal for both clubs, but Fremantle had to know that it would make its pursuit of Hogan much more difficult.
Instead, with three days left of the trade period, everyone is in limbo. I still think that Hogan will end up at the Dockers – usually when players express a desire to be traded, a deal gets done (especially given Hogan’s difficult personal circumstances over the past few years) – but a number of things need to be resolved for that to occur.
Fremantle needs to decide exactly what their strategy is, and then pursue it in a methodical manner. The pick swap suggests that the club wants to load up at the draft, which goes against their desire to recruit Hogan.
It has also been reported that Fremantle has offered Geelong pick 11 in exchange for wantaway midfielder Tim Kelly, which, if true, confuses the picture even more.
If their main goal is to get Hogan, then they need to realise that good clubs get deals done, no matter the price.
They identify the player they want and pay the price to get them. Melbourne with Jake Lever last year, Geelong with Patrick Dangerfield, Adelaide with Bryce Gibbs – these are all prime examples of this.
It’s common knowledge that clubs need to pay ‘overs’ to extricate players from their current clubs, particularly players still on contract.
Based on what we’ve seen over the past few years, two first-round picks seem to be the new normal in ambit claims when trying to acquire a top quality, contracted player.
When fit, Hogan has shown the potential to be one of the best players in the competition and a fulcrum of any side.
Melbourne is absolutely within its rights to ask for two first-rounders as a starting point, including Fremantle’s pick six, or pick five should it be received from Brisbane in exchange for Lachie Neale (on that note, there is an absolute irony in Fremantle demanding two first-round picks for Neale when they are not prepared to give up the same for Hogan).
In Fremantle’s defence, the nature of Hogan’s injuries over the past few years, which perhaps, in the club’s eyes, has diminished his worth.
However, I’d argue that Melbourne was in the same position last year with Jake Lever, and still decided that they were happy to pay the price of two first-round selections.
It’s hard to get a read on how much of this is posturing by Bell, designed to make Melbourne blink and lower its asking price, and how much is truly based on the club’s assessment of Hogan’s worth.
While Hogan won’t be a free agent next year, he will at least be out of contract, which would give Fremantle a little more leverage and better odds of trading him in for a low price.
That’s a risky strategy – given the Dockers seem to have broken an in-principle agreement with Hogan and Melbourne, they risk Hogan deciding to re-sign long-term at the Demons next year.
There’s also the risk that West Coast might come hard for him, which, given current ladder positions, would be a far more appealing proposition than the Dockers.
The fact that Bell is reportedly trying to convince Neale to stay perhaps suggests that he is prepared to play hardball, despite these risks.
Fremantle has had a bad on-field run the past few years, but have slowly looked to be piecing together the makings of a good team, helped by last year’s trade period in which it made out like absolute bandits and received Gold Coast’s pick two in exchange for Lachie Weller.
Hogan could and should be the last piece of that puzzle. Adding him to the line-up could take the Dockers from the bottom third of the ladder into finals calculations.
This could be a ‘line in the sand’ moment for the club – will this trade period be remembered for the club standing its ground, and missing the chance to acquire that which it has so desperately craved, or will we look back on it acquiring a player who looks likely to become a star of the competition over the next decade?