Best of all, Steve Mason’s new contract gives Flyers flexibility

Best of all, Steve Mason’s new contract gives Flyers flexibility

By all accounts, everybody was a winner over the weekend when the Philadelphia Flyers and Steve Mason agreed to a three-year contract extension worth $12.3 million. The orange and black can finally put the goaltender carousel in storage for awhile—at least we hope so—while Mason earns top-20 netminder money with a chance to cash in as a free agent when he’ll still only be 28 years old.

It’s hard to find fault in any of that. Mason’s numbers this season won’t blow anybody away—he’s got a 19-11-5 record with a .915 save percentage and 2.56 goals against average. However, since arriving in Philly at last April’s trade deadline, Mase has brought stability back to the organization both in the crease and the locker room. He was often the only reason the Flyers were in any games at all over the first month of the season, and who knows how good the numbers would look behind a more consistent defense.

Steve Mason is clearly the right goalie for right now. But the best part is if he’s not the right goalie anymore a few seasons down the road, it won’t be a major issue.

The biggest problem with Ilya Bryzgalov wasn’t his up-and-down play between the pipes or even the eccentric attitude that didn’t endear him to fans, teammates or members of the media. It was both of those flaws coupled with the fact that at nine years, $51 million, there wasn’t a thing the Flyers could do to remedy it.

In some respects, the NHL lockout might’ve been the best thing that could’ve happened to Philadelphia. The compliance buyouts that came with the new collective bargaining agreement are the only reason the Flyers were able to get out from under that costly mistake. Otherwise, Bryz would still be flinging his stick around the Wells Fargo Center and fighting his daily battles with reporters over his off-the-ice antics as much his deficiencies on the playing surface.

At $4.1 million, Mason is much more cap friendly—currently it will be the 14th-highest salary among NHL goalies next season, and it could fall further until new deals are signed. That gives the front office roughly $1.5 million per season to spend on additional players compared to what they would’ve had under Bryzgalov.

The most important aspect is the years though. If Mason should revert to the level of performance from his final days in Columbus, the Flyers are not stuck with him forever. If a better option comes along in the meantime, Mason’s contract would not be impossible to trade to another team. If 2012 second-round pick Anthony Stolarz continues his development along the current trajectory, Mason’s contract doesn’t prevent the youngster from becoming the franchise’s goaltender of the future.

Stolarz has done a nice job with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. In 50 appearances between this season and last, the 20-year-old has posted a 34-7-2 record with a .923 SV% and 2.46 GAA. He's still a few years away from being NHL-ready, but certainly remains a player to watch.

Of course, the easiest scenario that could happen is Mason would continue improving himself and hold on to the job for the duration contract, maybe longer. He’s looked visibly more comfortable and confident from the moment he first donned orange and black, and it’s possible he has yet to realize his full potential. After all, Mason was a Vezina Trophy nominee as a rookie in 2008-09, so there is precedence for him playing at or near the highest level in the NHL.

For now, it remains uncertain what exactly the Flyers have in Mason. At the very least though, he’s a solid hand with the potential to be more. For once, we’ll get to find out without breaking the bank or eliminating every other possibility in the process.

Best of MLB: Trout's 16th home run guides Angels past Marlins

Best of MLB: Trout's 16th home run guides Angels past Marlins

MIAMI -- Mike Trout hit his major league-leading 16th homer, and the Los Angeles Angels reached the .500 mark for the 12th time this season by beating Miami 5-2 Saturday.

Trout's first-inning homer into the beer garden in left field was estimated at 443 feet, which pleased a fair portion of the crowd at Marlins Park.

"Hate Fish Love Trout," read a sign held by an Angels fans.

J.C. Ramirez (5-3) limited Miami to an unearned run in seven innings and benefited from excellent defense. Bud Norris, who tweaked his right knee and left Friday's game after throwing only three pitches, gave up a homer to Marcell Ozuna in the ninth (see full recap).

Strasburg K's career-high 15, Nats down Padres 3-0
WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg dominated San Diego with a career-high 15 strikeouts while allowing three hits over seven innings as the Washington Nationals beat the Padres 3-0 on Saturday.

Strasburg (6-1) singled and scored Washington's first run on Bryce Harper's RBI grounder in the third inning. Michael A. Taylor hit a two-run homer for the second consecutive game.

San Diego's lineup offered little resistance against Strasburg the day after Max Scherzer dominated the Padres with 13 strikeouts in Washington's 5-1 win.

Strasburg struck out the side in the third and sixth and had at least two in the first six innings.

The right-hander previously struck out 14 batters twice including his Major League debut on June 8, 2010. He set a personal best by setting down Franchy Cordero in the seventh (see full recap).

Yankees held hitless into 6th by Cotton, but beat A's 3-2
NEW YORK -- Oakland rookie Jharel Cotton held the Yankees hitless until Matt Holliday launched a two-run homer with two outs in the sixth inning that sent resurgent CC Sabathia and New York to a 3-2 victory Saturday.

Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge was in the right spot for a pair of key catches to boost the AL East leaders, who won with just two hits.

Sabathia (5-2) has won three straight starts for the first time since April 2013. The 36-year-old lefty pitched into the seventh and struck out nine.

Dellin Betances escaped a second-and-third, one-out jam in the eighth, an inning that included the ejections of A's hitter Jed Lowrie and manager Bob Melvin for arguing strike three calls. Betances closed for his fifth save.

Cotton (3-5) was promoted from Triple-A Nashville before the game. He began the season in the Athletics' rotation but was sent down to the minors May 11 to refine his game (see full recap).

Bautista hits 3-run HR, Blue Jays beat Rangers 3-1
TORONTO -- Jose Bautista hit a three-run homer that backed Marco Estrada, and the Toronto Blue Bays beat the Texas Rangers 3-1 Saturday and matched their longest winning streak this season at five.

Shin-soo Choo homered into the center-field party deck on the first pitch of the game from Marco Estrada, but Bautista hit a two-out drive in the fifth, his eighth home run in May after one in April.

Estrada (4-2) allowed four hits in six innings to win for the third time in four starts. Aaron Loup got one out in the seventh, Ryan Tepera finished the inning and Joe Smith worked the eighth. Roberto Osuna threw a perfect ninth for his ninth save, completing a six-hitter.

Darvish (5-3) gave up three runs and five hits in six innings. He had been 4-0 with a 2.54 ERA in six starts since losing April 18 at Oakland. Texas has lost five in a row for the first time this year (see full recap).

Reliever Joaquin Benoit gives manager Mackanin a thumbs-up for calling team meeting

Reliever Joaquin Benoit gives manager Mackanin a thumbs-up for calling team meeting

Pete Mackanin gave his team an earful after it lost for the 21st time in 26 games Friday night.
 
Reliever Joaquin Benoit thought it was a good idea.
 
And he believes it had an impact.
 
The Phillies reported for work on Saturday and beat the Cincinnati Reds, 4-3, on Tommy Joseph's walk-off hit in the ninth (see game story).
 
"It always helps when the manager comes and talks about different situations and the things we need to do," said Benoit, a 39-year-old veteran in his 17th big-league season. "It always helps. It shows that everybody cares on the whole team and it's a wake-up call for everybody."
 
While Joseph was the ultimate hero for the Phillies on Saturday, Benoit and his mates in the bullpen weren't far behind. Edubray Ramos, Pat Neshek, Benoit and Hector Neris combined on 3 2/3 scoreless innings to help put Joseph in a position to win it in the ninth.
 
Not long ago, the Phillies' bullpen was having big problems, giving up big hits and posting big ERA numbers.
 
But over the last five games, the bullpen has racked up a string of scoreless innings that numbers 19 2/3. That scoreless streak has lowered the bullpen's overall ERA from 4.82 to 4.23, not great, but better and moving in the right direction.
 
"I believe that we are going good, taking advantage of the situation," Benoit said. "I think we are being more consistent in the strike zone and getting ahead. That translates to zeroes."
 
Benoit had been critical of Mackanin for not having his relievers in set roles. The manager responded by saying it was difficult to give guys set roles when they were pitching poorly.
 
Performances are improving.

And roles are now emerging.
 
"I believe everything is going well for us and I believe everyone is where they are supposed to be," Benoit said.
 
Benoit took some pride in Saturday's win. He has pitched seven straight scoreless innings.
 
"Every win is a step forward," he said.
 
No matter how many steps this Phillies team takes forward, it will not be a contender this season. It has dug itself a huge hole and it wasn't expected to contend anyway. It is a rebuilding team.
 
But Benoit will likely pitch for a contender later this season. He is expected to be dealt to a contender in July. Who knows what he will bring back, but his value will only go up if he can keep putting up zeroes.
 
Neshek, too. He has allowed just two runs in 18 2/3 innings. He has 15 strikeouts and just three walks.
 
While it's not clear how long Benoit will be here, he believes this Phillies team has weathered the worst and is ready for a turnaround.
 
"It's tough when you are losing," he said. "When you start winning and you do the little things, I believe everything can change.
 
"I'm the kind of guy who likes to start over from zero so everything that happens is in the past and you start over from scratch and let's see where everything goes from now on."