The last mid-tier free agent this past offseason was Zach Eflin. While he may not be as much of a household name compared to players like Nathan Eovaldi and Noah Syndergaard, Eflin can surely measure up to them in career success.
Eflin was the youngest of this group of pitchers, as he just turned 29 in early April. Formerly a first-round draft pick, Eflin has pitched solely for the Philadelphia Phillies. He has seen time as both a reliever and starter, but primarily as a starter. This past offseason, the Tampa Bay Rays signed him to a contract worth $40 million over three years. At an AAV of $11 million, this would have put him in line with players such as Steven Matz and Jordan Montgomery. This very reasonable salary would not have been a stretch for the front office.
For his career, Eflin touts a 4.37 ERA, 4.25 FIP, 1.266 WHIP, and strikes out nearly eight batters every nine innings. These numbers scream middle rotation arm. While he may not be overpowering, Eflin provides relatively strong innings and will absolutely not put a team out of contention after his turn on the mound. However, he has only pitched more than 130 innings once in his career, and that was back in 2019 when he pitched 32 games. Various knee and back injuries have hampered his ability to pitch many innings in a season.
Many teams avoided Eflin for his injury history and over questions regarding his role — was he a pure starter, a swingman, or strictly a middle-relief pitcher? When the Tampa Bay Rays signed Eflin, it appeared to be a bit of a steal. Eflin had just pitched admirably in the postseason, the Rays would have him from ages 29 to 32, and the dollar value was less than any other strong starter signed up to this point in the offseason.
In 2023, Eflin has pitched 71.1 innings with an ERA of 3.28, a WHIP of 0.995 (!!!), a FIP of 3.22, and he strikes out one batter per inning (9.1 Ks/9). These numbers, excluding his total innings, would automatically place him as the best pitcher in the Cardinals' rotation at the moment. His ERA+ of 122 is a very strong number that I'm sure the loyal fans of the Cardinals would love to see.
Zach Eflin, at his price and for his performances this season, is a clear miss by the Front Office. While he wasn't as publicly discussed as the other pitchers mentioned in this article, he was still a pitcher that should have been on teams' radars, particularly the Cardinals. This contract would have given them an affordable, near-ace-level starter for this year and fortified the rotation for the next two years, while the major league team waits on prospects such as Tink Hence, Cooper Hjerpe, and Gordan Graceffo.