Zach Eflin agrees with Rays (source)

ST. PETERSBURG — While their top priority this offseason is improving their lineup, the Rays’ first major addition was a move designed to improve their already impressive starting rotation.

The Rays have agreed on a three-year, $40 million contract with right-hander Zach Eflin — the first high-profile strike in the free-agent pitching market this offseason — a source told MLB.com Thursday night. The club has not confirmed the deal, which is pending a physical.

If completed, it would surpass the five-year, $35 million contract signed by Wilson Alvarez in 1997 as the largest guaranteed free agent contract in franchise history. The largest average annual value given to a free agent by the Rays remains $15 million, which Charlie Morton earned on a two-year deal in 2019-20.

Eflin, who turns 29 in April, spent seven seasons with the Phillies, going 36-45 with a 4.49 ERA in 127 games, including 115 starts. Last year, the Orlando native posted a 4.04 ERA with 65 strikeouts and only 15 walks in 75 2/3 innings over 20 appearances (13 starts) for Philadelphia.

After starting the year in the Phillies’ rotation, Eflin – who was dealing with chronic knee issues – missed nearly three months last season due to a right knee injury. Without enough time to rebuild as a starter, he returned as a weapon from the bullpen in September. The right-hander compiled a 2.45 ERA with 21 strikeouts and two walks in 18 1/3 innings, including the postseason.

Eflin doesn’t have a history of missing many bats, but the sinker-heavy starter posted some intriguing numbers this year. His career-best average outflow rate of 85.3 mph was in the 96th percentile of the Majors, and his career-lowest percentage of 31.1 percent was in the top 10 percentile. He also doesn’t give up free passes, averaging fewer than two walks per nine innings over the past three years.

Eflin also made an interesting change to his pitch mix this year, which may have intrigued the analytically inclined Rays. After years of using his slider as his main secondary offering, he almost shelved that roll in favor of his curveball. Opponents hit just .155 with a .241 slugging percentage against Eflin’s curve, which he threw 20.1 percent of the time (up from 10.8 percent in 2021) while generating a 43.5 percent whiff rate with it .

The Padres selected Eflin in the first round of the 2012 Draft (33rd overall) out of Paul J. Hagerty High School in Oviedo, Florida. He was traded to the Dodgers in December 2014 and dealt long time to the Phillies a day later. Philadelphia shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

Barring a trade, this signing would solidify a strong starting five of Glasnow, McClanahan, Rasmussen, Springs and Eflin. The Rays have more depth behind that group in Luis Patiño, Yonny Chirinos, Josh Fleming and top prospect Taj Bradley.

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