In most American sports, world football-style transfers, where a player is sold for cash, is rare.
In the NBA, Major League Baseball and the NHL, players are routinely traded between teams for another player, not cash.
Admittedly, the world football way of doing business is cleaner, with clubs negotiating an agreed upon price for a player, but it also has its drawbacks.
First, if a club sells off a player late in the transfer window that they anticipate replacing and that replacement signing doesn’t go through, a team may be left short. That is precisely what happened to Liverpool at the end of this most recent transfer window. Andy Carroll was loaned to West Ham and a replacement striker was not signed.
Secondly, the American trading system is far more fun.
Like transfers in world football, American baseball, hockey and basketball teams must consider a wide variety of factors when negotiating trades such as team needs, ages of the players, contract lengths, wages and a team’s position in the current standings.
However, unlike world football, American teams must not only consider their needs, but the needs of other clubs as well. Clubs in a position to compete for a championship will often trade off younger players for veterans who can help them win now, while clubs who are already out of the title hunt will often sell off their veterans for young players who may help them next season. American teams must also consider what assets they have supplementary to their needs that they are willing to trade and what players another club may have that they want.
American clubs also routinely engage in deals you would rarely, if ever, see in world football—such as players being exchanged that don’t play the same position, three-, four- or even five-player deals that radically change both teams involved and even three-way or four-way trades between multiple teams.
Imagine the fun of Arsenal, Manchester City and Juventus working out a multi-player deal in January where Arsenal trades Theo Walcott to Manchester City who trades Mario Balotelli to Juventus who trades Lucio to Arsenal.
Will it happen? Of course not. But those type of crazy trades happen all the time in American sports.