Another starting pitcher is off the market for the Chicago Cubs. This time, Zach Eflin signs for 3 years/40MM with the Tampa Bay Rays. Eflin hasn't particularly been super dominant in the past. A 4.04 ERA this year, 4.17 in 2021, coupled with a career mark of 4.49 could back up this theory, but I will point out that his FIP seems to routinely be lower than his actual ERA. At 28 years old, there's still presumably a lot left in the tank. I'm not so upset with the number of years but more so surprised that for his production, the Rays, a team notorious for cutting payroll, are willing to take on this salary as a small market team.
Outside of Wander Franco, Eflin becomes the most expensive contract that the Rays have committed to a player. Tyler Glasnow will receive 25.0M this season, but he is on a 2-year/30MM deal in total. After signing Eflin, you may wonder if the Rays are finally willing to move Glasnow, though that's another thought for another day. Meanwhile, the fact remains, after Clevinger signed for 12.0MM and now Eflin at an AAV of 13+, it goes to show that the middle-tier starting pitchers are already getting paid quite handsomely.
Clevinger in itself spoke volumes to the increase of spending in today's game. 12.0MM for a season from a guy who when healthy has fantastic stuff. The problem is, due to injuries, the last time he pitched over 120 innings was back in 2019. It will be interesting to see how he performs another year removed from Tommy John surgery. He has boasted fantastic stuff in the past. After a down season in his first year back from Tommy John, he is a risk. But one that the White Sox are willing to roll the dice on to bounce back in a division that is typically only competitive between three teams. There seemed to be quite a few options in this tier, but the Sox got aggressive and got their guy.
The Chicago Cubs may have to pay a steep price to bolster their pitching rotation.
Perhaps this is because several teams out there know for sure they aren't in the top tier of free agents and they'd rather scoop up players while they can in a flurry of under-the-radar moves before there's nothing left for teams to do except focus on this caliber of pitchers. Eflin has never really been terrible, but he also hasn't pitched over 105 innings in three years now. 13+ a season when you also factor in his numbers overall seems somewhat steep for that level of production unless the Rays are confident enough in their pitching infrastructure that they can stretch him out further.
Nevertheless, this is what the Cubs will need to be mindful of. However, I do tend to believe the Cubs see the market for what it is and know how valuable pitching can be. Signing a middle-of-the-rotation arm is not something the Cubs have shied away from recently. Just last season, the Cubs went and signed Marcus Stroman. Stroman was never meant to be the team's ace but rather a strong #2 or #3. They spent over 50.0M for two guaranteed years from Stroman. Whether or not he picks up his player option for 2024 for 21.0MM will depend on his production in 2023.
More and more, my best guess is that the Cubs head to the trade market and could look to strike a deal as soon as the winter meetings commence. The fact is, Chicago already has a rotation full of middle-of-the-rotation arms and desperately needs an ace. As I'm sure Jed Hoyer is aware, if you want to be competitive in 2023, now is not the time to throw darts at guys and hope they have a breakout season. It's time for a new Jon Lester or Yu Darvish. That caliber of signing. No, they won't get Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, or Carlos Rodon. That is why, if you can't land Senga, Tampa may be the perfect team to contact in regards to Tyler Glasnow. Now that the Rays have Eflin, they may be looking to shed salary again and Chicago needs to win that bidding war if so.