ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays went into the offseason looking to improve their offense, but their first big move was to add to their already-strong rotation, agreeing to a three-year, $40 million deal with Zach Eflin.
The 28-year-old right-hander from Orlando has spent his entire big-league career with the Phillies, compiling a 36-45 record and 4.49 ERA over seven seasons.
The deal, pending a physical, is the largest the Rays ever have given to a free-agent player.
The previous high in terms of total dollars was the $35 million, five-year deal they gave pitcher Wilson Alvarez, prior to their 1998 inaugural season. By annual average value, the two-year, $30 million contract to Charlie Morton for 2019-20 is their largest. They have given larger deals to several of their own players with contract extensions.
Eflin will get $11 million in 2023, $11 million in 2024 and $18 million in 2025. He became a free agent by declining a $15 million mutual option with the Phillies for 2023.
Signing Eflin seems like a pivot for the Rays, given their stated desire to add offense. But it may be a situation where they saw a chance to be opportunistic in adding a starter they are confident has his best years to come. In that way, they add to a strength by improving their run prevention. Plus, it doesn’t preclude them from acquiring a hitter or two via free agency or trade.
Eflin was 3-5 with a 4.04 ERA in 20 games in 2022. He made 13 starts before being sidelined two-plus months with a right knee injury, then returned to pitch out of the bullpen. He made 10 relief appearances in the postseason, posting a 3.38 ERA.
Knee injuries have been an issue for Eflin, who underwent surgery on the patellar tendons in both knees in 2016 and again on the right knee in September 2021. He has pitched more than 128 innings in the majors only once, in 2019.
Eflin’s success comes from throwing strikes from a broad repertoire that includes a 92-93 mph fastball, a curve he threw more frequently last season, a cutter, a changeup and a slider he went away from in 2022. He doesn’t walk many batters and gets a lot of ground balls and soft contact.
Eflin will join a rotation that, barring a trade, includes Tyler Glasnow, Shane McClanahan, Jeffrey Springs and Drew Rasmussen. Yonny Chirinos, Josh Fleming, Luis Patino and top prospect Taj Bradley provide depth.
The Rays will have to make room on the 40-man roster for Eflin when the deal is official following the physical exam, which likely won’t happen until after next week’s winter meetings in San Diego due to logistical issues. Team officials won’t comment on his signing until then.
NOTE: Single-game tickets to Rays 2023 games will go on sale to the general public Friday at 2 p.m. They are available via the MLB Ballpark app and raysbaseball.com.
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