In the words of ILoveMakonnen, the Rays are gaining, gaining, regaining, so they spend, they spend, they spend. Tampa Bay He threw his hat into the free agency ring on Thursday tonight by signing right-handed Zach Eflin to a three-year, $40 million contract. It comes as a slight surprise, at least, that one of baseball’s tight-knit teams dedicates its eight-figure a year to a free agent, and every time the Rays pulls out his checkbook, some fun historical facts come to the surface.
sure enough, the honorable Marc Topkin Tampa Bay Times reached into his bag and took a real stunner: Eflin’s $40 million deal is the biggest free agent signed in franchise history by total value. Apparently the previous record holder was Wilson Alvarez, who signed on for $35 million over the five years of the franchise’s first year of existence, and you might want to sit down.
A $40 million contract isn’t that much by modern baseball standards; hence, the second matching defensive coin for Tampa Bay. Lightning. The signing, however, might surprise viewers who see Eflin as his last third-best sidekick, while his reputation isn’t as bad as he’s still in a Phillies arena that isn’t quite the 1990 Reds. Let’s see what Zach Eflin is worth for 40 million dollars these days.
Of course, Eflin wasn’t always comforting; He wrote this summer to speed up his return after hurting the fat pad on his knee in June. (Incidentally, that’s how I learned that there is a piece of fat in the human knee called a fat pad.) The Rays will almost certainly get him back into the rotation in Philadelphia where he’s been shooting well for seven seasons. Since 2018, his first full season in rotation, Eflin has averaged 19 starts and 106 hits per year with an ERA of 4.16. His best season was the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign, where he made 11 starts (including a full game close), posted a 3.39 FIP, and scored more than a hitter in one hit for the first (and only) time. in his career. But all things considered, it was a pretty reliable start in the league average.
If that’s the only thing he’s going to move forward with, that’s good for Tampa Bay; Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen and Tyler Glasnow are capable of doing great things, but three good shooters don’t rotate. And Eflin is a big upgrade as Josh Fleming is behind the rotation.
But when it comes to league average shooters, Eflin is pretty interesting. As mentioned earlier, strikethrough numbers are not something to write home about; K% of his career is 19.7% and despite 2020, he was just a few clicks away from that figure throughout his entire career. His most common shot is a sinker and can take a ground ball, but he’s not exactly Framber Valdez; Eflin’s GB% ranked 69th out of 188 courts that scored at least 70 innings last year.
But while it is easy to contact Eflin, hard contact is difficult. Check out the patriotic lollipops on the Baseball Savant page; those in fire engine red are for average ascent speed, HardHit % and walking speed. Eflin also scores very well in overtime compared to the rest of the league, which is not surprising because he’s 1.80 meters tall and has arms like a spider crab. However, he doesn’t shoot very hard and his shots don’t turn very fast.
Eflin has a wide and constantly evolving field repertoire. After dominating four seas early in his career, 2020 was a heavyweight to coincide with his best season. This year it introduced a cutter and made more use of its curved ball. Until this season, the slider was his most common secondary field, rarely throwing a few twisty balls per game. One out of every five shots he took this year was curveball, and he took six corners for every slider. He also stopped throwing his change after he moved into the arena, but this step 1) was never a big part of his game in the beginning, and 2) now he will have to hand over a lineup so he can come back anyway anyway.
A knee injury prevented Eflin from gaining any momentum with his overhauled arsenal this season, but he shot well when he shot in 2022. The Rays could probably count on some advantage to take a man who made contact from the field and put them in front of a better defense than Philadelphia’s. Eflin is also the youngest starting pitcher in this free agency class by eight months, which means the Rays could sign him to a fairly long-term contract and still not buy any of the down tier; Eflin will be only 31 years old when this deal expires, which greatly reduces the downside risk for the team. And if Mike Clevinger can make $12 million on the open market, it’s a steal for $13.3 million a year for Eflin, who declined half of the $15 million mutual option with the Phillies.
However, since these are the Rays, it feels like there is another angle. While the Rays have a reputation as one of the most resourceful player development organizations in baseball, their track record of getting extra gear from established pitchers is a mixed bag. They’ve been very successful in developing claw arms, and after several tough years in terms of injury, they did well with 31 starts from Corey Kluber. And that might be important to Eflin, who isn’t exactly injury-prone but has a long list of nagging minor ailments—knees, back, obliques, blisters, you name it.
The man I see as a major development achievement is Rasmussen, whom the Rays drafted in the first round in 2017, did not sign due to injury concerns, and then bought anyway in a Willy Adames trade in 2021. 2.72 ERA in 205 hits since joining Tampa Bay last year, mostly out of rotation. And while you won’t find a pitcher less similar to the Eflin in terms of body type or movement profile, the two have some things in common. So, both have low kick and walking rates, and both – as Ben Clemens wrote in August – have recently added a cutter while removing the highlight of their sliders. Maybe there is something in Isinlar Eflin that they think they can develop and turn this contract into a bargain rather than a good deal for both parties.
But even if it doesn’t, that’s okay for Tampa Bay. Eflin is a solid mid-return start and the Rays locked him in for decent odds and reasonable time. Would teams like the Rays make more transfers like this?