Phillies and Zach Eflin avoid arbitration

8:21 p.m.: MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reports the financial breakdown (on Twitter): a base salary of $5.5 million with a $150,000 buyout on next season’s mutual option. Eflin would receive an additional $50,000 each for reaching 100 and 125 innings pitched, $75,000 for 150 innings and a final $125,000 at 175 innings.

4:37 p.m.: The Phillies and choke Zach Eflin have reached an agreement on a contract to avoid arbitration, reports Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia (on Twitter). Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports (Twitter link) that Eflin will be guaranteed $5.7 million and that the deal contains an additional $300,000 in possible performance bonuses. The contract also contains a mutual option for 2023 worth $15 million by Nightengale. Eflin is a client of O’Connell Sports Management.

Agreeing to the terms avoids the need for a hearing for Eflin, who was eligible for arbitration for one last time. His side had asked for a salary of $6.9 million, while the team was seeking a figure of $5.15 million. Eflin’s guarantee is a bit below the midpoint of $6.025 million, but he could more or less hit that mark if he triggers all the performance bonuses.

Umpire salaries are usually determined during the offseason, with any hearings that become necessary usually taking place in February. However, the lockout last offseason froze league business for 99 days, pushing back some hearings into the regular season. It’s not a desirable setup for anyone, and the Phils and Eflin are surely happy to avoid that process. The Philadelphia Arbitration Class is now complete.

Eflin, 28, is expected to enter free agency for the first time next season. The Plumber will be one of the youngest arms available, and it has settled in as a reliable and efficient mid-rotation arm. Eflin posted an ERA between 3.97 and 4.36 every season from 2018-21. He consistently posted walk rates a few points below league average while also causing strikeouts and grounding at slightly above average scores. On a tariff basis, it is an annual production of quality.

Coupled with his youth, that kind of stability should make Eflin one of the best arms in next winter’s free agent class. The only real concern would seem to be his medical history, as he has faced chronic problems with both knees throughout his career. Surgery in 2016 on both joints alleviated the problems for a while, but Eflin faced new patellar issues in his right knee late last season. This culminated in another procedure last September, which cut his season short.

Eflin has remained healthy (apart from a brief stint on the COVID-19 injured list) so far in 2022. He’s been off to a generally solid start, posting a 3.65 ERA in 37 innings. The right-hander has an average strikeout rate of around 23% and 45.9% rush rate, while his 4.6% walk rate is among the best in the league. He joined Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Kyle Gibson and Ranger Suarez to understand one of the best starting staffs in baseball.

The inclusion of the mutual option theoretically raises the possibility of Eflin avoiding the open market altogether, but these are rarely exercised by both parties. Rather, it’s an accounting measure designed to push back the payment of a salary by a few months – in the form of a post-season buyout on the option, rather than a salary to be split evenly all throughout the season. If Eflin stays healthy and productive all season, he’s likely to decline his share of the option in search of a multi-year deal on the open market.

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