Give us all the draft content! On Wednesday, Major League Pickleball (MLP) announced the format for their supplemental draft, which they are calling the MLP Shuffle Draft. Honestly, it’s a little bit confusing to understand at first glance but if you read it over closely it’s generally straightforward. You can get the full low down on their website. The basics of the Shuffle Draft is that Team Owners have the choice to drop one of their players into the MLP Shuffle Draft Pool. All teams that drop a player will be eligible for the Shuffle Draft lottery to determine the order of the Shuffle Draft happening on July 6th. Odds for the lottery are determined based on (1) placement at the 2022 Austin MLP event, and (2) where the dropped player was picked in the original draft.
Although the format of the Shuffle Draft may need some tweaking, we love that this is happening. This is the type of stuff that drives interest and generates “water cooler talk”. What creates the most buzz for the NFL and NBA in the off-season? The draft and free agency. Hopefully, MLP is better at publicizing their player pool this time around than they did for their 2022 team draft. You really need the player pool available for people to engage in the process.
For the teams themselves, there is a lot to take into consideration as tempting as it may be to drop a player. The lottery situation is a lot of luck, and you may not be able to draft your original target. Another big factor is that teams presumably won’t know how many other teams are dropping a player. Smart teams should make sure they keep their decision close to the vest, Bill Belichick style, while still being able to get intel on what direction other teams are going.
Finally, teams will have the ability to make trades both before and after the Shuffle Draft with a trade deadline of July 14th for the Newport event. Considering the deadline to drop a player is July 2nd and the Shuffle Draft is July 6th, the ability to trade adds a big, unknown wrinkle for teams trying to figure out what the best course of action is. There is currently a window for new players to enter the draft pool and we don’t know who those new players joining might be. It would probably be prudent for all teams to hold off on a final decision until they see who is available.
With all that being said, there has been lots of vague chatter about teams wanting to make moves so we thought it would be a fun exercise to go through each team and see who might be a drop or trade candidate:
Team Clean – Dekel Bar, Michelle Esquivel, Regina Franco, Joey Farias
Everyone is on the table other than Dekel Bar. When we did our draft grades, we felt like both women went to high, especially Franco, and Farias was a bad fit next to Dekel. Expectedly, the results were not good for Team Clean in Austin and this team has to be looking to make at least one move. The question is not whether to drop, but rather who to drop. Esquivel or Franco may be better trade candidates considering how few viable female options are out there – would the Florida Smash be interested in a swap for Maggie Remynse? Unfortunately for genuinely good guy, Joey Farias, he may be a casualty for Team Clean. Replacing Farias with a player like Stefan Auvergne, Ben Newell or even Pablo Tellez could be a boost.
ATX Pickleballers – Dylan Frazier, Jade Kawamoto, Sarah Ansboury, Altaf Merchant
We continue to believe this team played above their heads. One event is such a small sample size at the new version of MLP that a couple of breaks here and there can offer a skewed perspective, good or bad. This team could have been significantly improved if it had originally drafted any one of Susannah Barr, Parris Todd or Lina Padegimaite. That didn’t happen and it seems unlikely they can improve on Ansboury through the Shuffle Draft. We expect this team to hold steady but they should be exploring trade options.
Jackrabbits – AJ Koller, Jackie Kawamoto, Mary Brascia, Wes Gabrielsen
Unfortunately for Gabrielsen, he came down with COVID and was replaced by Hayden Patriquin in Austin. Unfortunately for the Jackrabbits, it’s hard to gauge how Gabrielsen fits in with the team without seeing him play. Things didn’t go so well in Austin and we have concerns with the construction of this team with another genuinely good guy in pickleball in Wes Gabrielsen. It will be very interesting to see if this team decides to make a move or decides to stand pat, banking on their original draft being the difference.
BLQK – Irina Tereschenko, Zane Navratil, Rafa Hewett and Parris Todd
This team won in Austin. Is there an argument that a move could be made to help their team? Sure. Will they make any move before Newport? No. End of story.
Mad Drops – Vivienne David, Adam Stone, Julian Arnold, Olivia McMillan
This team made it into the playoff round without Adam Stone who got injured in NYC right before the event. Stone was eventually replaced by Ben Newell. All these replacement teams have a more difficult analysis process. Mad Drops squeaked their way into the top 6 with a 2nd replacement player taking the spot of their #1 male. Theoretically, they should be better off for Newport if Stone is healthy and don’t need to do anything to shake that up. We also may have underrated Olivia McMillan going into the season. Dropping a player does not look to be a good option for the Mad Drops. There’s always trades to be made and all teams should be exploring what is out there.
Chimeras – Andrea Koop, Rob Cassidy, Daniel De La Rosa, Megan Fudge
The Chimeras barely missed the playoff round and there’s one possible place they could improve, which is Daniel De La Rosa. Again, we love De La Rosa’s talent but there may be better options out there. De La Rosa was picked too high, which would allow them to improve their lottery odds. However, this would be a higher risk maneuver that is player pool dependent.
The Bus – Lauren Stratman, Kyle Yates, Eden Lica, Milan Rane
Despite their struggles, the Bus really seemed to enjoy playing with one another from a chemistry standpoint. Nevertheless, this is our #1 trade candidate team out there. Kyle Yates and Eden Lica are two right-sided players who are a square peg in a round hole fit with one another. The Ranchers come to mind with Austin Gridley as a trade possibility. It would have to be Lica going to the Ranchers, who would be very good fits next to DJ Young, and Gridley could be a better fit for the Bus with Yates than Lica is. That may help the Ranchers more than the Bus, but it’s something to consider. We also wonder if Milan Rane is a drop candidate, but that’s very player pool dependent.
Florida Smash – JW Johnson, Maggie Remynse, Lee Whitwell, Travis Rettenmaier
As the 2nd place team in Austin, we think it’s unlikely the Smash will make a move. If any move is made, it would have to be a trade of one of their women because part-owner/player, Travis Rettenmaier, is not going anywhere. We speculated above about a Remynse swap for either Franco or Esquivel. Michelle Esquivel could be a better fit with Lee Whitwell to bring some more power to the equation but Maggie is probably the better player, and who knows what bringing in Esquivel does from a team chemistry standpoint. It’s likely too much of a risk for a team that ended up 2nd.
The 5’s – Simone Jardim, Rob Nunnery, Erik Lange, Lina Padegimaite
The big question for the 5’s is Rob Nunnery’s health. Nunnery publicly stated it will be very tight for him to be ready for Newport after having a procedure done on his knee. We think it would be crazy for the 5’s to drop him outright. Nunnery is unlikely to be in good playing shape if he is ready for Newport but there’s still one more event to come later in the year. You have to take the chance that Nunnery is healthy because the difference between him and a Shuffle Draft replacement is too steep, even if he is rusty. If he’s not healthy, the 5’s have shown they can slot a replacement player in there and be right in the mix as they did with Pablo Tellez.
We discussed a Bus-Ranchers trade possibility earlier, but what about a Bus-5’s trade? The Bus could use a switch up of men and could take a chance on Nunnery getting health, ideally offering up Lica but, even Yates, in exchange. While the trade would be a downgrade on a healthy Nunnery for the 5’s, both Lica and Yates are probably upgrades on any player pool replacement if Nunnery can’t play. The 5’s could utilize this option because Erik Lange is such a strong men’s doubles player. Now, it does carry some risk of too much downside on the mixed side if the trade is Lica. That 3rd event is still looming in October, if Nunnery gets healthy, which is a big if currently.
For the Bus, they would be banking on Nunnery getting healthy and providing more juice as a left-sided, more dominant male in both men’s and mixed. It would be pretty hefty risk for the Bus, but there is a world in which this fake trade is a win-win scenario if everything works out for both sides.
Ranchers – Anna Bright, DJ Young, Austin Gridley, Maggie Brascia
We don’t mean to beat a dead horse but Maggie Brascia has been drop candidate since we found out about the supplemental draft. Brascia was likely picked to pair with DJ Young and it did not go well in Austin for Maggie. We didn’t have Brascia as a drafted player prior to Austin and if she goes back in the player pool it’s quite possible she would be out of MLP altogether. This team could be scary if they get the right player to replace Maggie.
Lions – Thomas Wilson, Bobbi Oshiro, Corrine Carr, Chuck Taylor
Speaking of beating a dead horse, this poorly constructed team has its work cut out. Ideally, they need to find a more powerful female to play with Bobbi Oshiro. The problem is where do you find that? Carr is definitely a drop candidate simply to take the chance of upgrading because it’s pretty clear this current iteration of the team is going nowhere. We like Cierra Gayten-Leach but that’s a move that carries substantial risk of making things worse. Unless there’s another PPA defector in the pool, this could be a very tough decision for the Lions.
Hard Eights – Andrei Daescu, Jorja Johnson, Susannah Barr, John Cincola
We made a mistake in our draft grades when we thought Susannah Barr was the 10th female drafted rather than the 18th female picked. If we had been on our game, we would have banged the drum of Barr arguably being the steal of the 2022 draft. Despite the steal of Barr, the John Cincola pick negated any advantage this team gained with Barr dropping egregiously low. Cincola is right up there for us as one of the top drop candidates. The Hard Eights made it to the playoffs, but this team should have championship potential with their first 3 players. Cincola is not good enough to be a trade option and we think this team should take their chances with whatever is out there by dropping Cincola.
In writing this column, we realize none of this is as easy as just dropping a player or trading someone. This isn’t a video game or fantasy sports. These are humans. It’s hard enough in big time pro sports when players are traded or released, and it makes it that much harder in the tiny pickleball world, particularly when it is essentially players making decisions about their fellow players. These teams do not have a highly paid front office with a President or General Manager overseeing personnel decisions. What you have are team owners who have a limited idea of what is going on, putting trust in their own players to guide them on what the right thing to do is. But that is their problem, not ours.
Let the draft fun commence!
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