For day two of my Happy Smarty-days event, I shall discuss the newest member of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Yesterday, it was announced that Zach Eflin had agreed to contract terms with the Rays.
For those who need a refresher on their Zach Eflin history:
He was a first-round pick of the Padres in 2012, and made a steady progression through their system, despite some concerns about the long-term health of his knees. In December 2014, the Padres, Dodgers, and Phillies made a complicated three-team trade that essentially sent Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers in exchange for Eflin.
Eflin made his major league debut in June 2016, and it wasn’t a good one. He gave up eight earned runs - including three home runs - in just 2.2 innings against the Blue Jays.
Things soon got better. Over his next seven starts, he pitched into the sixth inning or later, giving up no more than three earned runs in any start. On July 22nd, he pitched a complete game shutout against the Pirates, and it looked like the Phillies had a young star on their hands.
Phillies starter Zach Eflin throws 2nd CG in last 4 starts; Tonight vs Pirates - CG Shutout!— Jeff Skversky (@JeffSkversky) July 23, 2016
Retires 20 of final 21 pic.twitter.com/fvrRnSWuK7
Unfortunately, the overarching themes of Eflin’s career have been injuries and inconsistency, with the two probably strongly correlated. Remember those concerns about the health of his knees? It turns out there was something to that. After that shutout, Eflin was rocked in his next two starts before being put on the Injured List with patellar tendinitis in both knees that would eventually require offseason surgery.
His 2017 season got off to a good start, but once again, he couldn’t sustain it, possibly due to injury, this time to his elbow. He showed improvement in 2018, but in 2019, new pitching coach Chris Young had Eflin change his approach. Young tried to make Eflin into a power pitcher who focused on high fastballs. Unfortunately, Eflin’s body was not capable of handling that type of repertoire, and he once more faltered and had to spend time on the Injured List.
Zach Eflin said his body has been feeling “heavy” recently. What does that mean? “There’s really no explanation for it. Sometimes you feel like you hit a brick wall, sometimes you wake up you don’t feel great.” He has a 9.38 ERA in his last five starts. https://t.co/jNJC2ylzbS— Matt Breen (@matt_breen) July 21, 2019
At the end of 2019 and into 2020, Eflin returned to a style he was more comfortable with, and on-field results improved. Heading into 2021, there was a lot of buzz around Eflin, prompted by new pitching coach Caleb Cotham.
Caleb Cotham says that his excitement level couldn't be any higher to work with the Phillies' starting rotation. He mentioned that he thinks they have three guys - presumably Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Zach Eflin - that he believes could win a Cy Young Award.— Tim Kelly (@TimKellySports) November 20, 2020
Eflin wasn’t anywhere near an All-Star level, but he was a fine mid-rotation starter, until his body failed him again. He suffered a tear in his right patellar tendon that ended his season in July. He returned in 2022, only to suffer another knee injury that put him on the 60-day IL. With not enough time to stretch him out to be an effective starter, the team opted to use him as a reliever upon his return.
He was used as the team’s closer during the Phillies’ playoff-clinching win against the Astros and continued in that role during the early rounds of the playoffs. His initial performances were shaky, and though he didn’t blow any saves, there were at least a couple of close calls. The team seemed to shy away from using him in the ninth inning after that, and he performed much better in a setup role, not allowing a run in his final seven appearances.
He seemed like a decent candidate to be re-signed, with the team in need of at least one more starter for 2023, although I haven’t seen any reports that the Phillies were ever in serious negotiations towards his return. Considering that they’ve been burned by his inability to stay healthy, the Phillies might have been wary of a multiple year deal or thought that the bullpen was his eventual destiny.
It says a lot about the starting pitching market that Eflin not only got a three-year deal to presumably remain a starter, but he got the largest free agent contract in Rays history. I guess they have a lot of faith in their training staff.
RHP Zach Eflin has reportedly agreed to the largest Free Agent contract in Rays franchise history! pic.twitter.com/6jdLKqbLeS— Victor Weiland (@Baseballvic42) December 2, 2022
Now that he’s in the American League, I can feel free to wish Eflin well. Hopefully he can finally put his injury woes behind him and find the consistency he lacked during his time with the Phillies.