With Eflin said to be gone, Phils' rotation plans adjust

December 2nd, 2022

PHILADELPHIA -- Zach Eflin stood next to his good friend Aaron Nola in a quiet Phillies clubhouse at Minute Maid Park on Nov. 5.

The Phillies had just lost the World Series to the Astros, and the two longtime teammates tried to sum up the club’s unexpected run to a National League pennant.

“I’ve been so blessed and happy to be part of all of it,” Eflin said. “I’m happy for everybody in this clubhouse to experience playoff baseball. To be able to go on that ride in front of all these fans in different spots, we’ve got a lot to be proud of.”

Eflin pitched a scoreless inning in Game 6 of the World Series. He knew then it might be his final appearance for the Phillies. He was eligible to be a free agent, and it seemed more likely than not that he would be pitching elsewhere in 2023. Sure enough, a source told MLB.com’s Adam Berry on Thursday night that Eflin and the Rays agreed to a three-year, $40 million contract, which is pending a physical. The teams have not yet confirmed the deal, which is set to be the largest guaranteed free agent contract in Rays history.

Just like that, the Phillies’ second-longest-tenured player only to Nola is gone.

Philadelphia entered the offseason with three free agent starters: Eflin, Kyle Gibson and Noah Syndergaard. They threw a combined 288 1/3 innings as starters during the regular season. The Phillies must find a way to replace those innings.

They have talked to everybody at this point, but they are not expected to dive deep into the starting pitching market, according to a source. That means free agent starters like Carlos Rodón and Justin Verlander are expected to sign elsewhere.

The Phillies already like what they have atop the rotation with Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola, and they consider Ranger Suárez to be a solid No. 2/3. They also believe their resources are better spent signing an elite free agent shortstop like Trea Turner, and instead finding a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter to slot behind Wheeler, Nola and Suárez.

The team already said it will hold one rotation job for Bailey Falter, Cristopher Sánchez or a top prospect like Andrew Painter. MLB Pipeline named Painter its 2022 Minor League Pitcher of the Year. He is the real deal, and he is the best bet next spring to challenge Falter and Sánchez for a job.

Fellow pitching prospects Mick Abel and Griff McGarry will get a shot at a starting role, but they are probably behind those three in the potential rotation pecking order. Expect the Phillies to also search through that next pool of free agent starters to fill that fifth spot, which includes starters like Taijuan Walker and José Quintana.

Eflin could have filled that role again, but he wanted security and the Phillies were unwilling to offer it. He bet on himself, which was why he declined his half of a $15 million 2023 mutual option just two days after the World Series.

He made the right call.

Eflin left his mark on the organization long before that. He joined the Phillies in December 2014 in a trade that sent Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers. Eflin grinded through many losing seasons, multiple managers and pitching coaches and chronic knee issues and surgeries during his Philly tenure. He missed nearly three months in 2022 because of an injured right knee and did not have time to build up enough arm strength to rejoin the rotation, so he joined the bullpen.

Eflin immediately thrived in the ‘pen role. He got the save on Oct. 3 in Houston, when the Phillies clinched the third NL Wild Card to punch their first ticket to the postseason since 2011. He made 10 appearances in the postseason, saving Game 2 of the NL Wild Card Series in St. Louis. Eflin’s final seven playoff appearances were scoreless.

“We just watched the Astros celebrate and do what we wanted to do,” Eflin said after Game 6 of the World Series. “We just watched people live out our dream. But there’s not a doubt in my mind that this clubhouse is going to be back and fully ready to compete on the biggest stage in the world.”

The Phillies play the Rays July 4-6 at Tropicana Field. Perhaps Eflin will start one of those games and face off against his former club.