Yesterday, Charles wrote a very good piece about why he wouldn't protect Morales. I'd recommend you go read it, but I'll sum up the key points for you, too.
In summary: Morales is old (35 years old), is expensive, and isn't likely to be picked. If he were picked, he would provide a natural path for Luis Gil to grab minutes, and we would open a good deal of cap space.
But I'm not sure I agree. I mean, yes, he is old, and he does use a designated player spot for us, which should render a selection less likely. Those are true things. But I don't think it makes him less likely to be picked. We can't really say definitively what his contract option looks like, but he makes well under what a designated player cap hit starts at — he's only making $300,000, according to the latest MLS Players Union salary release.
That means that any team that picks him up could very well do so and not name him a designated player. We don't really know how his deal his structured, but a little allocation money buys down the salary cap hit in MLS — thus reducing the impetus for not picking him.
Additionally, Morales's impact given his salary is quite respectable. He's one of those players that has continued to provide good service through his career, and it's only improved. He may be 35, but he's been a great starting player this year. Could Luis Gil do the same thing? Maybe.
We talk a lot about how good he is at the top of the diamond in the rare circumstances when he's played there, but that's exactly the problem — the circumstances are rare. He's untested in that regard. He's been inconsistent as a player. He's not a ready-made solution. That doesn't mean, of course, that Gil isn't the long-term or even short-term solution. It just renders a bit of risk to the decision-making process.
Losing Morales wouldn't be the end of the world, but it also wouldn't be optimal. Both teams could reasonably pick him, and he's proven more versatile in his play than perhaps we'd expect. But would he fit next to a Frank Lampard (if he ever joins MLS, I guess) or a Kaka? Maybe. He's going to occupy similar spaces in the midfield to those two, and he's going to serve similar roles.
But while it wouldn't be the end of the world, and there's a possibility he might be picked, the notion of losing Morales to Jason Kreis leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Kreis has already shown a distinct preference for bringing in players he's worked with in the past, and Morales is a player he has tremendous respect for.
Most importantly, losing Morales means losing the first piece of our team's spine — on the field and off. Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales are our system-defining players. We've built our team around these three players. Our defense can come and go, and while some players are clearly much, much better and work within our system more efficiently, they're not defining pieces. If we're ready to ditch the system — and maybe we should be, but I wouldn't make that argument — losing Morales wouldn't hurt on-the-field nearly as much.
But off the field, Morales is, alongside Beckerman, an essential locker room player. He's more than just somebody to look up to, although he is that. He's more than just someone the Hispanic players look toward, but he's that, too. No — he's essentially a second captain of the team. He and Beckerman form a captain tandem in the locker room.
Maybe we shouldn't protect Morales. But for me, it's hard to not.