The Tampa Bay Rays have dipped into free agency to solidify their rotation. The Rays and righty Zach Eflin have agreed to a three-year contract worth $40 million, report ESPN and the New York Post. The team has not yet confirmed the signing.
Eflin, 28, spent the first seven seasons of his MLB career with the Philadelphia Phillies. He has been a starter throughout his career, though he worked out of the bullpen late this past season and during the postseason because a September return from a knee injury did not allow enough time to get stretched all the way back out to start. Eflin is expected to join Tampa's rotation.
The $40 million guarantee is one of the largest in Rays franchise history and it is the largest they've ever given a free agent signed away from another team. Here are the biggest free agent signings in team history by total guarantee:
- Zach Eflin, Dec. 2022: 3 years, $40 million
- Wilson Alvarez, Dec. 1997: 5 years, $35 million
- Greg Vaughn, Dec. 1999: 4 years, $34 million
- Charlie Morton, Dec. 2018: 2 years, $30 million
Eflin will essentially replace veteran righty Corey Kluber in Tampa's rotation, slotting in alongside lefties Shane McClanahan and Jeffrey Springs, and righties Tyler Glasnow and Drew Rasmussen. Righties Luis Pátino and Yonny Chirinos, as well as lefty Josh Fleming, will serve as depth. Hard-throwing right-hander Shane Baz will miss the season with Tommy John surgery.
This past season, Eflin threw 75 2/3 innings with a 4.04 ERA around injuries. He has largely been a league average starter the last few seasons, though he has pitched at a higher level at times.. Here's his write-up:
Studies have found that individuals who endure near-death experiences often transform their lives in positive ways. Eflin's late-season move to the bullpen wasn't as traumatic as teetering between the corporal and ethereal realms, but you wonder if it'll nudge him in a better direction anyway. That doesn't necessarily have to lead to him becoming a full-time reliever; let's face it, there's still more money to be made in starting games, and teams have overlooked worse cases of durability problems. (He's thrown more than 130 innings in a big-league season just once.) It could mean, simply, that Eflin embraces the sinker-curve-cutter trio that led to his bullpen success rather than falling back on his old starter's arsenal. We'll see.
FanGraphs estimates Tampa's 2023 Opening Day payroll at $80.4 million with Eflin. They opened last season with a franchise record $83 million payroll. The Rays did reportedly touch base with Jacob deGrom recently, though that was very unlikely to happen given their budget, and they've apparently moved on to Eflin.
Tampa went 86-76 in 2022 and was swept in two games by the Cleveland Guardians in the Wild Card Series.