Heading into the last event of the year, we have seen a significant shift to a no holds barred kind of mentality from teams knowing that this is their last chance to make some noise. As Rob Nunnery and Adam Stone talked about on the second episode of their new podcast, It Feels Right, with the payout discrepancies as big as they are, it makes sense for teams to go for broke. In addition, teams will be re-drafting next year with 16 teams so if the moves don’t pan out, there’s no next event to worry about.
As a reminder on the timeline, teams had until Friday, August 26th to communicate any dropped/waived players (drop and waive mean the same thing for MLP purposes). On August 27th, MLP communicated with all team owners the final available draft pool and the order of the Shuffle Draft. On Monday, August 29th, the Shuffle Draft will be held. Our understanding is trades can still be made after the Shuffle Draft for a period of time.
As a further reminder, teams are only allowed to drop one player so it limits their ability to make overhaul changes without trades. There were a total of 8 drops this time around! Let’s take you through the players that were dropped by their respective teams.
The 5s – Erik Lange
One of these things is not like the other. This was the most surprising move of the drops that were announced today. Much like Jackie Kawamoto, Parris Todd and Susannah Barr, Lange provided the 5s with a significant advantage having #1 male traits in a #2 role, at least for men’s doubles. When we put together our most recent NML player rankings, Lange was just outside our top 10 . As a truly legitimate top 15 men’s doubles player, Erik was able to play the left-side and compensate for what Nunnery lacked in some movement coming back from knee surgery where they went 3-1 together.
We had some concerns this team was good, but not good enough to win it all, and the 5s must have a plan of attack to take the risk of dropping Lange. Esserntially, the 5s will be banking on Nunnery being a lot healthier and less rusty by the time Columbus rolls around in October. There’s a real argument to be made that Nunnery was the better drop candidate. By keeping Nunnery, the 5s are expecting he can fill a #1 men’s and mixed role that he was drafted to be, which he wasn’t able to do to great success in Newport. Maybe this is not the plan but it would be a lot to ask any of the other players out there to fill these roles.
As it will be for most teams, the 5s’ draft position for the Shuffle Draft is crucial for getting the right player and they get the 4th pick for men.They may have a target, but with so many drops happening other teams may have the same idea. We think Tardio has to be their target after he filled in so well in Newport and Nunnery mentioned Tardio as a guy he would be shocked not to be on a roster on his latest podcast episode.
For Lange, every team out there that has dropped a male player should be considering his services. He is not an elite mixed or singles player, but he is one of the best men’s doubles players at MLP who can play the right side. The only guys we clearly have above him are JW Johnson, AJ Koller, Dylan Frazier and Dekel Bar – DJ Young and Andrei Daescu also have a case to be above him . No one watched Nationals in 2021 so people probably forget that Erik Lange and Wes Gabrielsen beat Matt Wright and Dekel Bar. There are unquestionably some limitations in mixed and singles with Lange, but you only need him to hold up enough to get a win or two in mixed. If Lange is not in the top 24, that would be a major upset.
Team Clean – Joey Farias
This one had to happen. Team Clean has not found its way out of pool play this year and Joey had a rough go in Newport. It’s unlikely that Farias being swapped out will solve the riddle for this team who have the same problem as the Smash with two middling female players. Nevertheless, with so many talented men out there in the player pool, this is a move that had to be made.
Team Clean should be focusing on finding a better fit for Dekel than Farias. Eden Lica is out there as a good right-side fit for Dekel but then you’re not gaining much in mixed. A swing for the fences play would be someone like Hunter Johnson or Federico Staksrud. Of course, Erik Lange is a high-end option and he has the capability to fill a right side role as he already has done with Dekel at the PPA Masters last year. It would be a lot of length pairing Lange with Dekel and, you know what they say: can’t teach the reach.
Florida Smash – Lee Whitwell
What a difference a year makes. Lee Whitwell has gone from being the darling of the first MLP in 2021 to the fake MVP of Austin, to disappointment in Newport, to being dropped all together before Columbus. Pro sports can be a real roller coaster ride.
We figured if the Smasb were making a drop it would be for Michelle Esquivel but it is Whitwell who gets the boot. It is also quite the shift for the Smash who have gone from a team right there in the Championship Match with BLQK in Austin to out of the playoffs and making another move.
The problem for the Smash is that with two middling females, they have had a lot of trouble winning their women’s doubles and #2 mixed matches. It’s hard to fix that problem and it highlights that you probably need to swing for some upside with that second mixed spot. Whitwell can hold her own but it’s not generally a winning proposition when Whitwell is sometimes trying to take 65% of the court. This may come to who Rettenmaier wants to play with as a #2 because we saw JW playing some with Esquivel.
As we discussed in our 5 Most Interesting Teams article, the options are limited here for them to fix their issue. They need to find a solution but they need someone with more pop if they want to win some women’s matches. Maybe they swing for a higher upside female like Lacy Schneemann. The options are not plentiful for the Smash but making a change is something they pretty much had to do in some fashion.
Mad Drops – Corrine Carr
We thought this could happen but figured the way Adam Stone was talking about Carr on his podcast that they knew she would not be dropped. Somewhat similar to Cassidy, it is a tough world for these veterans who don’t offer the upside that more unknown quantities provide. Carr was in our top 24 prior to the initial draft but when you’re looking for wins that is low hanging fruit to pick. So Carr ends up getting dropped and it feels like the right move for the Mad Drops, who are making some upside plays. They got the benefit of the lopsided AJ Koller trade but they still have to overcome having two #2 women.
Mary Brascia has familiarity with Cierra Gaytan-Leach as those two will be partnering later in the year. Schneemann is also a California local so there’s a couple of natural targets. There are 3 truly viable female options out there on the waiver wite and we think the other is Oshiro, but she does not seem like as good a fit with Brascia as another right-sided player.
The hands just need to be able to hold up in mixed for whoever they pick up and this team could be frisky.
The Bus – John Cincola
We have been calling for this one for a long time. It has to be tough to make the semi-finals (going 4-5 overall in his matches) only to get traded and then get cut. Cincola had a nice little run in Philadelphia with Staksrud today too presumably after he knew he was getting dropped.
As we said after the trade happened, the Bus could be really scary if they put the right pieces in place and this is the step they needed to take if they want any chance at the $100K. Erik Lange’s best fit in our eyes is with the Bus as Wes Burrows needs a steadier partner and Lange should be quite comfortable with Susannah Barr given their Pacific Northwest connection. With Lange, the team may be vulnerable if a match goes to a Dreambreaker but, if you think about it, picking up a player to ensure you win a Dreambreaker is arguably the most risk-averse move in itself.
There are other upside plays out there like Gabe Tardio and Hunter Johnson. Ben Newell is a guy we keep bringing up as one who should probably be on an MLP roster. Austin Gridley has been forgotten about as well but he fits this team pretty well if they can’t secure Erik Lange. Gridley was firmly in our top 24 prior to Austin so why he has fallen completely out of the discussion as an option is somewhat baffling. Regardless of what the Bus do, they will be our #1 most interesting team to watch in Columbus.
Chimeras – Rob Cassidy
The Chimeras have been one of the least compelling teams in MLP this year. They have been very close to getting out of group play but have been unable to do it at both events, so they were due for a shake-up. Rob Cassidy is the casualty of the shake-up, and this is not the person we would have expected to go. With a good female duo at the #2 and #23 slots in Andrea Koop and Megan Fudge, the Chimeras have had the opposite problem as the Smash and Clean with two middle of the road men.
Neither Cassidy nor De La Rosa are alpha players, and they aren’t particularly strong in mixed either. They are solid. It seems to us that De La Rosa would have been the guy to drop, and you can go high upside with a replacement, which would leave the more steady and experienced Cassidy in the picture. At the same time, it’s hard to quibble with dropping either because of the lack of success that there has been overall. De La Rosa and Cassidy both have limitations, but De La Rosa has not been the home run picked they probably hoped he could be when they selected him as high as they did. You wonder if the Chimeras may be looking at Pesa Teoni as an option, who is a regular partner for De La Rosa in tournaments. The Chimeras have the first choice so they will get their target.
Cassidy also becomes an option for teams out there looking for a replacement. He does not offer the upside that other teams may be looking for to win a championship, but he’s another guy where it wouldn’t feel right for him to be left out of the top 24. On the other hand, Cassidy can be a bit up and down for a veteran, and his singles leaves something to be desired. It’s a harsh world right now for veteran players like Cassidy as teams would rather take a chance on the unknown quantity at this stage of the game.
Hard 8s – Milan Rane
It ends up that the Hard 8s and Bus both drop the player they didn’t want in the trade. It’s kind of silly they didn’t just make this a 1 for 1, Barr for Yates deal straight up but maybe they had not decided what to do when the deal was made. We had thought maybe Rane would stick around because of the connection to Jorja Johnson but it looks like the Hard 8s are not doing as much of the whole player empowerment thing.
Rane is actually coming off a bronze medal in mixed with Pablo Tellez but she did not have a good run overall with the Bus over the two events. Milan is one of those right on the border draftable players and it’s not absolutely clear whether the women out there are an upgrade over her. With 3 women getting dropped, the Hard 8s won’t necessarily get their top pick either as they have the 2nd women’s pick. As noted above, we see 3 options (Oshiro, Schneemann, Gaytan-Leach) and then it really gets dicey if a team is looking elsewhere – Rebecca Ryan? Emily Ackerman?. Is Corrine Carr an option here?
We still wonder if the Hard 8s would have been better off sticking with their team and dropping Cincola if they wanted to make a move. But hey, as we are seeing, teams are not playing scared this go around.
Jackrabbits – Wes Gabrielsen
Gabrielsen was in a very good men’s spot but a very tough mixed spot in Newport. He missed Austin due to COVID and we think that may have saved him from a drop at that time. The Jackrabbits have been the biggest wild card around from a transaction standpoint, but this was the most expected thing they could do. Gabrielsen does not offer enough juice in men’s to warrant what he lacks in mixed and singles. He continues to be a steady player who has added some tricky weapons on his backhand, but it’s not quite enough, especially when he is now going to be paired with Adam Stone, another right-sided player.
The Jackrabbits are probably going to miss the playoff rounds again but if they want any chance at winning they have to be looking purely at upside here. They might as well take a risk on someone in the same way the Bus did with Wes Burrows. Hunter Johnson will probably get a long look here with how close he is to Vivienne David but it’s unclear how well he can fill a left-sided men’s role. Staksrud is another one of those singles guys that is rapidly improving in doubles.
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