2023 Free Agent Profile: Zach Eflin

Not long ago, 2022 seemed to be a lost year for Zach Eflin, but he made his return from injury to become a strong reliever down the stretch.

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - NOVEMBER 03: Zach Eflin #56 of the Philadelphia Phillies delivers a pitch against the Houston Astros during the ninth inning in Game Five of the 2022 World Series at Citizens Bank Park on November 03, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Position: SP/RP
Throws: R
Age: April 8th, 1994 (28 years old)

2022 Stats: 75.2 IP, 4.04 ERA, 65 K, 3.56 FIP, 3.27 xERA, 7.73 K/9, 1.78 BB/9, 1.4 fWAR

Zach Eflin is a great arm in search of better knees. When he can stay on the mound, he’s a solid mid-rotation pitcher, but knee injuries have severely limited his playing time in the past two seasons.

Since 2018, Eflin has pitched 105 games with a 4.16 ERA. At his best, he’s flashed signs of dominance. He has thrown three complete games, including two shutouts. In his most impressive performance of the 2022 campaign, he went seven innings against the Dodgers and struck out 12 of the 27 batters he faced.

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Unfortunately, he made just 13 starts this past season and 18 the year before. He has the potential to be a tremendous asset to a major league rotation, but he needs to find a team willing to take a chance on his creaky knees.

Zach Eflin’s Path to Free Agency

Big League Development

Eflin first reached the big leagues in 2016, pitching 11 games for a rebuilding Phillies team. His debut start was dreadful, but he looked quite good in his next seven outings until knee pain began to bother him. He was shut down for the season in August and had surgery performed on both knees. Upon his return in 2017, he struggled, splitting time between the majors, the minors, and the injured list.

In 2018, finally, Eflin pitched a full big league season. He made 24 starts and went 11-8, posting a 4.36 ERA. It was enough to earn him a spot on the Opening Day roster the following year. Then he threw 163.1 innings in 2019, qualifying for the ERA title for the first time in his career. He improved again the year after that, pitching another full season (albeit in the truncated 60-game schedule) with a 3.97 ERA.

2021, unfortunately, brought more knee problems, and Eflin’s season ended in mid-July. He had been having another solid year and was on pace to surpass his career-high in innings pitched before the chronic knee problems shut him down for good.

Zach Eflin’s Walk Year

The Phillies tendered Eflin a contract that offseason for his final year of arbitration eligibility. He came back to Philadelphia hoping to prove himself with a full, healthy season before entering free agency. Alas, the knee pain reared its ugly head once again, keeping Eflin off the mound for nearly three months in the middle of the season.

While the Phillies remained hopeful Eflin could return, fans weren’t so optimistic. Another season-ending surgery felt almost inevitable. But miraculously enough the 28-year-old, with knees of a man twice his age, made his triumphant return. He pitched out of the bullpen for the final weeks of the season and into the playoffs. He performed well in his brand-new role – he even threw four scoreless innings in the World Series.

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While his health will always be a matter of concern, he helped his case by returning this year before season’s end. The skills he showed as a reliever should make him slightly more appealing to teams worried about his injury history and durability.

Contract Projection for Zach Eflin

One might have thought Eflin would be inclined to sign a one-year contract this offseason, with the goal of increasing his value before hitting the market again at age 29. However, when he declined his half of a $15 million mutual option with the Phillies, it signaled that he might be looking for a multi-year deal instead.

If that is indeed the case, he would probably have to take a lower annual average salary in exchange for those extra years. A three-year deal worth $35 to $40 million sounds about right.

Top Five Landing Spots for Zach Eflin

San Diego Padres

The Padres are losing both Mike Clevinger and Sean Manaea to free agency, so they will have spots to fill. Plus, with such a solid top-three in Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, and Joe Musgrove, they should feel more comfortable signing a slightly risky starter like Eflin. The Padres drafted Eflin in the first round back in 2012, so it would make for a fun reunion.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays have spots to fill in their rotation and will be looking to sign another mid-rotation starter. Re-signing Ross Stripling should be their first choice, but if Stripling doesn’t return, Eflin could make for a solid backup.

Tampa Bay Rays

Eflin is a talented pitcher who has yet to live up to his potential. The Tampa Bay Rays like a pitching project, and they’ll have room for Eflin when Corey Kluber leaves in free agency.

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Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies are still a good landing spot for Eflin if he decides to sign a one-year deal, but if he’s looking for multiple seasons he’ll have to look elsewhere than his former team. If he cannot find the three or four-year offers he’s looking for, however, don’t rule out a return to red pinstripes.

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers, like the Rays, are good at taking on projects. Helping Eflin stay healthy for a full season could be their next trick. If Tyler Anderson signs elsewhere this offseason, the Dodgers will have an opening for Eflin to filll. And although Eflin never played for the Dodgers, he was in the organization for one day back in 2014, as part of a flurry of trades between the Dodgers, Padres, and Phillies.

Final Prediction for Zach Eflin

Zach Eflin signs a three-year, $40 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays are going to be one of the biggest players for starting pitching this winter, and Eflin meets their needs quite well. He could probably earn a higher AAV on a shorter deal, but it seems like he would prefer the security of a longer-term contract.

As an added bonus for Eflin, he was shelled by the Blue Jays in his first career start (9 runs in 2.2 IP) so this could be a nice chance for him to redeem himself seven years later.