As free agency opens, remember the Eagles are not one player away

As free agency opens, remember the Eagles are not one player away

General manager Howie Roseman has spent much of the offseason preparing Philadelphia Eagles fans for a cautious approach to free agency. He stressed the organization is not going to overpay for talent and was even caught dropping an S-bomb—“stop-gap.” I feel dirty just repeating it.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped fans from clamoring for both Jairus Byrd AND T.J. Ward, or analysts from projecting the Eagles as the best fit for Darrelle Revis. It’s as if people want them to build another Dream Team or something.

That’s not to say Philadelphia can’t or won’t spend money on a superstar player now that the new league year has finally begun and free agency officially gets underway at 4 p.m. on Tuesday. Then again, it wouldn’t necessarily be in the team’s best interest, either.

I get it. People are stoked for the Birds coming off of an improbable 10-6 season and division championship, and rightfully view this as a franchise on the rise. Nuts to building painstakingly through the draft over multiple years. The future is already here.

Only it would be a massive overestimation on everybody’s part to view this roster as a quick fix or two away from competing in the Super Bowl. That’s simply not the case. Doesn’t mean Philly couldn’t find itself in the big game next February, but dropping an expensive Pro Bowl player into the defense won’t suddenly solve all of the club’s problems.

The Eagle needs at least one, probably two starters at safety. They could use upgrades at cornerback and outside linebacker, but are already financially committed to Cary Williams and Trent Cole for 2014. The entire defensive line is still very much a work in progress. Oh, and they need to seriously improve depth across the board.

Management can’t do all of that with an estimated $24 million in salary cap space no matter how much you may want them to.

$24 million isn’t even what’s actually available to spend. Set aside a couple million to sign draft picks. As of now, there’s no punter on the roster, and assuming Donnie Jones returns, that could be another $2-3 million. A kicker other than Alex Henery wouldn’t hurt, either—that might take some coin.

Philadelphia could stand to sign backups at quarterback, wide receiver, defensive line, outside linebacker, cornerback and safety this offseason as well.

Plus, because the salary cap is a fluid number, you must also take into account how money will be spent in the years ahead. Next offseason, Nick Foles, Fletcher Cox, Michael Kendricks and Brandon Boykin are all up for extensions—Foles alone could cost nearly $20 million. Any unspent cap space from ’14 can be rolled into the future, which could go a long way toward getting deals done.

Sure, expensive contracts such as Williams’ and Cole’s could come off the books next year and offset some of those costs. But then, there’s no telling exactly what the new costs will be.

Aside from the potential short- and long-term ramifications, there’s one more far, simpler point to consider. Not only are the Eagles not just one player away.

Nobody is ever really just one player away.

That’s just not the way this works. There are too many moving parts. People get injured. Their performance declines inexplicably and unexpectedly. Draft picks bust. Free agents don’t fit new schemes. Everything can and probably will change on a dime.

The only way to truly prepare a team for a championship run is to build a strong 53-man roster from top to bottom, not one that’s top-heavy on stars.

The Eagles have a plan. Williams and Cole could be upgraded, but it would force the team to eat a bunch of dead money when it can get by with that for now. Bringing in a stop-gap at safety wouldn’t be the sexiest move, but it gives the defense a competent starter at least. In the meantime, the front office continues drafting talent behind all of them, behind everybody.

Maybe the Birds make a splash in free agency, maybe they don’t. They certainly don’t have to though. Other than acquiring a starting-caliber safety, they really don’t need to make any big moves in free agency at all—and that certainly is not something to be disappointed about.

Seth Smith would be a logical, low-cost trade target for Phillies

Seth Smith would be a logical, low-cost trade target for Phillies

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said Tuesday night he'd still like another veteran bat in addition to Howie Kendrick, though he understands the front office is conscious of not blocking young prospects.

The Phillies need offense and the clearest area to upgrade is an outfield corner. But don't expect to see the Phils go after Jose Bautista, Michael Saunders or anyone of that ilk, because those players will require multi-year guarantees and everyday playing time. If you sign one of them, you're basically telling two of Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr that they won't be needed much the next three years. 

That would be unwise. The whole point of rebuilding is filling a roster with young, inexpensive talent and then eventually supplementing that core with established players who fit. Look at what the Cubs did. Look at what the Astros are doing now, adding older players like Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Nori Aoki and Josh Reddick to fill in the holes around Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman.

For that reason, a player like Seth Smith would be a worthwhile addition for the Phillies.

Smith, 34, makes $7 million in 2017, the final year of his contract with the Mariners. When Mackanin discusses "professional hitters," Smith is the type. He has one of the better batting eyes in baseball, chasing about eight percent fewer pitches outside the strike zone the last three years than the league average.

He's a career .261/.344/.447 hitter who averages 29 doubles, 16 homers, 56 walks and 102 strikeouts per 162 games.

The left-handed Smith can play both outfield corners, and he's always been very effective against right-handed pitching. He has a .272 career batting average with an .827 OPS against righties compared to .202 with a .594 OPS vs. lefties. 

Smith is a fit for the Phillies for several reasons. They need more offense from the corner outfield. Logically, that outfielder should be a left-handed hitter because the Phillies' projected middle of the order has four right-handed bats in Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp and Kendrick.

Furthermore, Smith, unlike Saunders, for example, does not require everyday playing time. Smith shouldn't start against lefties. That would provide opportunities to Altherr and Quinn in 2017, while protecting against ineffectiveness from Altherr and another injury to Quinn.

And lastly, Smith is not going to cost anything meaningful via trade. He's a 34-year-old platoon player in the final year of his deal. The Phillies could likely land him for an insignificant prospect, perhaps a pitcher who had a high strikeout rate last season in the low levels of the minor leagues. 

For Seattle, it would be more of a salary dump. The Mariners' 2016 payroll is already $20 million more than it was last year, and per reports, they seem willing to spend to improve their starting rotation.

Smith is not a game-changer, that's not the argument here. He's not J.D. Martinez, a much bigger name and better player. Martinez would also fit the Phillies as a one-year option, and they'd likely be interested in keeping him around longer if they could acquire him. But any trade with the Tigers for Martinez wouldn't be nearly as painless for the Phils as acquiring Smith. 

So perhaps more than other available outfielders, Smith would be an offensive upgrade and a player who fits the Phillies' goal of improving without stunting a top prospect's growth.

Connor McDavid, Oilers' speed, skill present Flyers with 'real good challenge'

Connor McDavid, Oilers' speed, skill present Flyers with 'real good challenge'

VOORHEES, N.J. — They are among the very best – and highest scoring — lines in the NHL this season.
 
And they’re gunning for the Flyers on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
Connor McDavid’s unit with Milan Lucic and Leon Draisaitl have a combined 30 goals and 78 points worth of offense. 
 
Among them, the lightning quick McDavid leads the NHL with 36 points. All 11 of his goals are even strength. 
 
He doesn’t have a single power-play goal, but is tied for the league lead with several players, including Claude Giroux, with 10 power-play assists.
 
You can expect to see Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s unit with Chris VandeVelde and Dale Weise against this line with defenseman Ivan Provorov drawing McDavid for the first time this season.
 
“Speed and skill that Edmonton has up front presents a real good challenge for our team,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “We have to be better with the puck tomorrow. 
 
“We didn’t do enough when we had the puck. Gave it up a little too easily and because of that, you end up playing defense a lot of the night and that’s what happened last night to us.”
 
Bellemare, who had his share of forward battles with Jaromir Jagr in Tuesday, likes to analyze the matchups against McDavid.
 
“He’s one of the best players in the world,” Bellemare said of the 19-year-old McDavid. “It’s tough not to be excited when playing against a guy who plays like this. He competes every second he is on the ice. That line is an impressive line.”
 
The Flyers better have some bad, choppy ice to slow McDavid down. Edmonton has some of the fastest ice in the league and the Oilers use it to their full advantage. 
 
Asked of McDavid’s tendencies, Bellemare said, “Is that a tendency? To be super fast?”
 
Yes it is. 
 
“When you play against them, he is a kid who is freaky fast right from the start,” Bellemare said. “Against that line, you saw [against Buffalo] that everyone knows how fast he is and he still had two breakaways.”
 
Which means the Flyers need to watch their turnovers, especially in the neutral zone where McDavid can go 60 feet in a flash.
 
“Even blue line to the top of the circle, you can’t turn the puck over,” Bellemare said. “Or he’s gone. This is a tendency we have to be careful of. All of the ice, you can’t give him any time or space. The less time you give him, the bigger chance you have to frustrate a player like this.”
 
Bellemare did some talking with Jagr a couple times in Tuesday’s game. So did Provorov. Bellemare says it helps to add psychology to the mix.
 
“You try to be in his face,” Bellemare said. “If you can win that battle against that line and our first line can win the battle against their fourth line, then it’s a win-win situation. I was trying to be in [Jagr’s] face.”
 
Jagr actually got angrier at Provorov and it showed with his hooking calls. But when Bellemare and Jagr went into the corner, Jagr got testy with his stick there as well.
 
“He was trying to give it to me a little harder,” Bellemare said. “Exactly what I need. If he is less focused on the puck, then maybe I have a chance to win that puck.”
 
McDavid’s focus will be solely on the puck.
 
“McDavid has been playing some pretty good hockey,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “They’re a high-tempo team. A smart team. We’ve got to be ready.”
 
Loose pucks
Boyd Gordon came off long term injured reserve onto the active roster to give the Flyers 13 forwards. In doing that, Matt Read (oblique pull) went on injured reserve. … Defenseman Michael Del Zotto will sit against the Oilers while Radko Gudas returns from an illness. Gudas will be paired with Mark Streit, as Ivan Provorov remains with Andrew MacDonald for now. … Steve Mason, who did not practice Wednesday, will start in goal.