Fixing the Flyers, Step Two: Amnesty Briere, Keep Bryzgalov (For Now)

Fixing the Flyers, Step Two: Amnesty Briere, Keep Bryzgalov (For Now)

Beyond missing the playoffs and having some obvious needs to
fill, the Flyers have a problem. The salary cap is set to decrease from $70.2
million to $64.3 once the new league year begins, and according to one
projection, as of today they would be over the threshold by about $3 mil.

It should be noted that this is only an estimate. Capgeek’s
current numbers
are showing some two-way contracts for young players who
finished this season in Philly, but may or in some cases are likely to be back
with Adirondack come October. There will also be some additional relief once Chris
Pronger (and just a guess, but perhaps Max Talbot as well) is placed on
long-term injured reserve, although that will be minimal.

Of course Erik Gustafsson and Oliver Lauridsen are both
restricted free agents who will re-sign, both of whom have earned the
opportunity to compete for a spot on the club next season if one is not already assured. The team may also be
interested in bringing back Simon Gagne at a reduced figure, as well as one or
two other unrestricted free agents – Ruslan Fedotenko, Adam Hall, or Kent
Huskins possibly?

The main point is the Flyers are already up against next year’s cap. That’s where compliance buyouts come in.

To the uninitiated, the buyouts – commonly referred to
as amnesty – were put in place with the new collective bargaining agreement to
assist teams in getting below the reduced cap. Sarah Baicker shares the details,
but in brief NHL teams have a total of two buyouts to be used over the next two
offseasons, and those players will no longer be counted toward the payroll.

Due to the nature of their finances, the Flyers basically must use one this offseason, and in my
opinion, it’s a no-brainer.

Victim No. 1

While Danny Briere is great in the locker room, great during
the playoffs, and seemingly a great guy, the organization has to move on this
summer. His $6.5 million cap hit is easily the largest on the team, and the
production nowhere near matches that any longer. One way or another, his departure is very much expected at this stage.

Briere was a complete non-factor this season, scoring six
goals and 10 assists with a -13 in 34 games. His 6.9 shot percentage was less
than half its career mark (14.4). Yes, he battled a wrist injury at the
beginning of the year and later missed time with a concussion, but the writing
was on the wall already last season when Briere posted 49 points in 70 games
with a 9.2 shot percentage, among the lowest totals in his career.

Fan favorite or not, Briere will turn 36 before next season
begins, so even if he rebounds somewhat the expectation is his best days are behind him.
It makes sense from a business standpoint as well – the team still has to pay
two-thirds of an amnestied player’s contract, but Briere only has two years
left on his deal anyway, so it’s not an excessive amount of money the
organization would be “throwing away” so to speak.

The Flyers could also attempt to trade Briere if he agreed, perhaps to a team that could use his salary to boost their payroll above the floor and could use some veteran leadership, or one searching for the final piece. Either way, the fact is his $6.5 million would give Philly's front
office some breathing room this summer, even a little money to play with, while based on what he’s done over the past
two seasons and in 2013 in particular they wouldn’t lose too much production on
the ice. It’s a little sad, but it’s Briere’s time.

Not so fast…

On the other hand, while using a buyout on
Ilya Bryzgalov merits consideration, I would hold off on that for another year at least. Bryz’s
$5.67 million cap hit by itself is not outlandish – that currently ranks ninth
among NHL goaltenders for the upcoming 2013-14 season – not to mention getting
rid of him puts the Flyers right back in the same bind the franchise has been
in seemingly forever.

Yes, Bryzgalov’s numbers were abysmal this year. He managed
to post a .900 save percentage to go with an ugly 2.79 goals against average,
the latter being among the worst in the league. Yet simply looking at statistics
doesn’t tell the whole story. For much of the season, defensive breakdowns plus
ill-timed turnovers left Bryz hanging out to dry, often numerous times per
game. And while he’s not alone in being overworked this season, and some
goalies handled it better than others, overusage couldn’t have helped.

The debate basically hinges on whether or not he is a good netminder,
and while many Flyers fans think no, it’s not necessarily a view shared around
hockey. He’s previously been named an All Star and has finished as runner-up for the
Vezina Trophy. It was even reported recently that Bryz will be Russia’s number
one goalie in the World Championships, ahead of… Sergei Bobrovsky.

It’s not about whether he can play or not – he can, at least
in the right situation. The real issue is contractual. While Bryzgalov’s salary
is not out of line with what veteran starting goaltenders are paid around the
league, the fact that his contract lasts until he turns 40 is a bit unsettling,
especially given how things have gone so far.

Of course, that’s another reason why the organization might
want to wait. While the contract comes off the books as far as the salary cap
is concerned, the Flyers still have to pay two-thirds of $34.5
million they owe Bryzgalov on the last seven years of his deal. Do the math. That’s a lot of
cash to pay somebody to go away.

They might as well keep Bryz for another year and give
him one more chance to prove himself, because even if they did use amnesty,
what are the Flyers going to do in goal? Steve Mason’s numbers for his entire
career are just as bad as what Bryzgalov posted this one season, and unless
they went out and paid another number one goaltender they will be right back in
the mess that landed the cosmonaut in Philly in the first place – a goalie
carousel.

Let Bryzgalov battle it out for Mason for a full season, let 2012
second-round prospect Anthony Stolarz develop for another season at the lower levels,
and make a determination next offseason. What’s the rush to give Bryz the boot?

Previously: Step One: Don't Panic Over a Shortened Season

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Darren Sproles signs 1-year extension with Eagles

Darren Sproles signs 1-year extension with Eagles

The Eagles signed veteran running back and punt returner Darren Sproles to a one-year contract extension Friday morning.

Terms of the deal were not immediately available, but Sproles is due to earn $3.5 million in base salary in 2016. Sproles, a Pro Bowler in each of his two seasons with the Eagles, is now signed through 2017. He was due to become a free agent after this season.

Sproles skipped the Eagles’ voluntary organized offseason workouts and the given reason was to spend more time with his family in San Diego. But Sproles’ contract status certainly could have played a role in his reason to stay away.

Sproles, 33, is tied for seventh in NFL history with Dave Meggett with seven career punt returns for touchdowns.

After five years with the Chargers and three with the Saints, he has enjoyed a career resurgence with the Eagles, making his first two Pro Bowl teams and becoming only the second player in NFL history with four or more punt return TDs after his 30th birthday. The other is Hall of Famer Deion Sanders.

In his career, Sproles has 2,867 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns with a 5.0 average rushing and 473 receptions for 4,156 yards and 28 more touchdowns.

With 133 more rushing yards and 27 more receptions, Sproles will become only the 12th player in NFL history with 3,000 rushing yards and 500 receptions.

Sproles' 5.0 career rushing average is 14th-highest in NFL history among non-quarterbacks with at least 500 rushing attempts.

In two seasons with the Eagles, he has 646 rushing yards and 95 receptions, although his 3.8 rushing average last year was well below his career average.

He has two punt return TDs in each of his seasons with the Eagles and is one of only seven NFL players in history with consecutive seasons with multiple punt return touchdowns.

Sproles entered the league as the Chargers’ fourth-round draft pick in 2005. The Eagles acquired him – or stole him – from the Saints in March 2014 in exchange for a fifth-round pick.

That pick turned out to be Ronald Powell, a linebacker who played in just 14 career games and is not currently in the league.

Aaron Altherr provides major spark in season debut to lead Phillies past Braves

Aaron Altherr provides major spark in season debut to lead Phillies past Braves

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies are still looking for the real Aaron Nola, but they may have found a useful bat Thursday night.

Aaron Altherr had the kind of season debut he’d dreamed about for the four months he was on the disabled list as he helped the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-5, at Turner Field (see Instant Replay).

Altherr was one of three Phillies to hit home runs on a night when the offense awakened after generating just one run the previous two days in Miami. Altherr, who came off the disabled list earlier in the day after missing four months with a wrist injury that required surgery (see story), drove a two-run homer to left in the fifth inning. Earlier in the game, Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph had back-to-back homers to headline a five-run first inning.

Franco leads the team with 19 homers and Joseph, hitting .375 with six homers in his last 17 games, has 14 in just 57 games with the club.

Altherr, who batted fifth behind Franco and Joseph, also had two hard singles in the game.

“He had a really good night in his debut,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He provided a spark for us. He added to the offense. So I'm happy for that. It's good to get a win. We scored some runs, finally.”

Altherr was projected to be a starter in the Phillies’ opening day outfield until he suffered the wrist injury in spring training. He spent the last four months in Clearwater, rehabbing and, well, dreaming of a night like this.

“Definitely, especially sitting around thinking about how that first game's going to be being back,” he said. “For it to be like this, it was definitely special and I have to thank the Lord above for getting me back here as fast as He could.

“I was hoping to get a home run in the first game, but I definitely wasn't expecting it. Just hopeful. To have it happen like that was definitely awesome.

“It definitely surprised me a little bit because I hadn't really been driving the ball like I had wanted to down in my rehab stints. I'm just glad to know I've got [the power] in there somewhere.”

The Phillies hit all three of their home runs and scored all their runs against Atlanta right-hander Matt Wisler. He received a ticket to Triple A after the game.

The Phillies batted around against Wisler and scored five runs in the first inning. That was a welcome cushion for Nola, who desperately needed a win after failing to get one in his previous seven starts. The right-hander did manage to earn his first win since June 5, but it wasn’t exactly pretty. He lasted just five innings and threw a whopping 95 pitches as he continued to experience command issues that have been plaguing him in recent weeks.

Nola gave up eight hits and three runs. He walked three and hit a batter. That’s not Aaron Nola’s game. At least it wasn’t in his first 12 starts this season. He recorded a 2.65 ERA over that span and walked just 15 while striking out 85. He has walked 14 in his last eight starts.

“He's not the same guy,” Mackanin said. “He's just struggling with command once again. He's not dotting his fastball like he normally does. His curveball is erratic. He needs to get back on track.

“Sometimes it's harder to pitch when you have a big lead. You know you don't want to blow it. That can affect a pitcher as well. You have to have that mental toughness either way, whether it's a one-run game or an 8-0 game. You don't want to pitch poorly. There's a tendency, well, you have a five-run lead, should I throw more fastballs and challenge? But it was good to see he got a win. I'm happy for that. That should help him. He just needs to get to where he was. He's not there yet.”

Nola described his outing as “fairly OK,” which was probably right on. He got the win, but overall was not sharp. He allowed three runs in the fifth inning.

“I ran into some jams there,” he said. “I left some balls over the plate for them to hit. They took them the other way. The plan was to try to hit the outside part of the plate and they took it away.

“I feel like I have the command for the most part, but there’s some areas I still need to get better at and work to get better at.”

The Phillies used four relievers to close out the game. Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris pitched well. David Hernandez and Jeanmar Gomez did not. Gomez allowed three base runners and a run, but still managed to get the save. Hernandez allowed a hit and a pair of two-out walks before giving up an RBI double. A number of scouts from teams looking for bullpen help were on hand. Hernandez and Gomez probably did not help their trade value. Four days before the deadline, starter Jeremy Hellickson is still the Phillie most likely to be dealt.

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

CHICAGO -- Chris Sale returned from his jersey-trashing suspension and threw six effective innings, but John Lackey outpitched him and Aroldis Chapman got the final four outs to save the Cubs' 3-1 victory over the White Sox in Chicago's rivalry series Thursday night.

Sale (14-4) was greeted with smiles and hugs from his teammates following a five-day ban for tearing up 1976-style uniforms he didn't want to wear before his previous scheduled start. He had command issues, but worked out of trouble while allowing two runs and six hits.

Lackey (8-7) allowed one run in six innings for his first win since June 8. Chapman, in his second appearance since being acquired from the Yankees, struck out two and consistently hit 102 mph in his first save for his new team.

Kris Bryant, who homered against Sale in the All-Star Game, hit an RBI double off the center field wall in the first inning (see full recap). 

Diaz's homer helps Cardinals beat Marlins and Fernandez, 5-4
MIAMI -- Aledmys Diaz homered, doubled and drove in three runs against childhood pal Jose Fernandez, helping the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Miami Marlins 5-4 Thursday.

Fernandez gave up five runs in five innings and fell to 26-2 at Marlins Park.

Miami's Dee Gordon, the 2015 NL batting and stolen bases champion, returned from an 80-game suspension for failing a drug test and went 0 for 4. Ichiro Suzuki doubled as a pinch hitter in the seventh for Miami and needs two hits for 3,000.

Diaz and Matt Holliday homered in the third inning against Fernandez (12-5), who had never previously given up more than one homer in a home game. His only other loss at Marlins Park came on opening day this year against Detroit.

Michael Wacha (6-7) allowed three runs in six innings, and three relievers completed an eight-hitter. Seung Hwan Oh pitched around a one-out single in the ninth for his seventh save (see full recap). 

Familia falters again, Rockies rally for 2-1 win over Mets
NEW YORK -- Mets steady closer Jeurys Familia stumbled for a second straight game, allowing two runs in the ninth inning as the Colorado Rockies beat New York 2-1 Thursday for their seventh win in eight games.

Less than 24 hours after Familia's streak of 52 consecutive regular-season saves was snapped, the right-hander entered in the top of the ninth with a 1-0 lead, and couldn't hold it.

Trevor Story had a leadoff single and stole second. After fellow rookie David Dahl walked, Daniel Descalso bunted up the first base line. Mets catcher Rene Rivera watched as the ball spun toward foul territory but it stopped fair, loading the bases with no out.

With one out, Familia (2-3) got pinch-hitter Cristhian Adames to hit a slow grounder to the right side. First baseman James Loney booted the ball and Story scored to make it 1-all. Familia then threw a wild pitch, allowing Dahl to cross the plate with the go-ahead run (see full recap).