Right-hander Zach Eflin has declined his end of a $15MM mutual option for the 2023 season, as per The New York Post’s Jon Heyman (via Twitter). Eflin will receive a $150K buyout and become a free agent for the first time in his career.
Since mutual options are almost never exercised by both player and team, Eflin’s decision isn’t surprising, even if his 2022 numbers were underwhelming. He tossed only 75 2/3 innings last season, as a right knee contusion led to a stint on the 60-day injured list, and Eflin’s move to the bullpen after his return in September. Building up to a full starter’s workload would have delayed Eflin’s return even longer, and he was able to contribute down the stretch (1.17 ERA in 7 2/3 IP) during the Phillies’ successful chase of a wild card berth, and then in the postseason. Eflin had a 3.38 ERA over 10 2/3 playoff innings, appearing in 10 games, and earning a save in the Phillies’ series-clinching win over the Cardinals in Game 2 of the NL Wild Card Series.
While the bullpen stint was a nice silver lining to an injury-shortened year, Eflin and his reps at O’Connell Sports Management will certainly still market the right-hander as a solid starter. Eflin doesn’t turn 29 until April, and he has a 4.16 ERA over 531 2/3 innings with Philadelphia since the start of the 2018 season. While not a big strikeout pitcher, Eflin has posted consistently strong walk and hard-contact rates during his career, with particularly elite numbers in both categories in 2022.
Eflin’s age and track record line up well for a nice multi-year payday, though teams will also surely have some concerns about his injury history. Eflin’s IL stint this season represented the latest in a series of knee-related issues, as he previously had surgery on his right knee in 2021, and on both knees in 2016. It’s possible teams might look to include opt-out clauses, club options, or innings-based incentives clauses in any Eflin contract, but by that same token, an interested suitor might be able to full ahead by offering Eflin a more straight-forward deal with fewer conditional elements.
Depending on how the Phillies themselves feel about Eflin’s knee, a reunion could be possible. Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, and Ranger Suarez are slated as the top three in the Philadelphia rotation, with Bailey Falter penciled in for a larger role in 2023, and the likes of Hans Crouse and Michael Plassmeyer perhaps favored for innings until top prospects Andrew Painter and/or Mick Abel are ready for their MLB debuts. A Phillies team that looks to contend for another pennant might prefer more veteran stability in the starting mix, which could lead to some talks with Eflin, fellow free agent Kyle Gibson, or perhaps some bigger-name free agents or trade targets.