It's rare for the Tampa Bay Rays to win a free-agent bidding war against the Boston Red Sox, but Zach Eflin's preference to play close to his home was a deciding factor in the race for his signature.
Per Alex Speier of the Boston Globe, the Red Sox were confident they had an agreement in place with Eflin for three years and $40 million.
Speier noted Eflin took that offer to the Rays, who were willing to match it. Joel Sherman of the New York Post and MLB Network first reported the right-hander agreed to a deal with Tampa.
Eflin was born in Orlando and continues to live in the area. The Athletic's Chad Jennings reported he wanted to give the Rays a chance to match Boston's offer so he could pitch close to home.
When the Rays decided to match, Eflin chose to take their deal.
ESPN's Jeff Passan noted this marks the largest free-agent contract the Rays have given out in franchise history.
The $40 million commitment to Eflin is also the fifth-largest deal in Rays history. Blake Snell (five years, $50 million), Kevin Kiermaier (six years, $53.5 million), Evan Longoria (six years, $100 million) and Wander Franco (11 years, $182 million) are the only players ahead of him.
Each of those four players were already with the Rays and signed extensions. Snell and Longoria were traded before the end of those deals.
Losing out on Eflin will only add to the frustration Red Sox fans have been feeling with the team's lack of free-agent activity in recent years. Some of it can be attributed to the residual effect of the front office's aggressive push when Dave Dombrowski was president of baseball operations.
The Red Sox still had the sixth-highest payroll in MLB at $225.7 million last season. But they have been "far apart" in extension talks with Rafael Devers this offseason, per Jon Heyman of the New York Post.
Xander Bogaerts, who opted out of his deal in November to become a free agent, is still talking with the Red Sox. The four-time All-Star is also on the radar for the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs, Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers, per ESPN's Jeff Passan.
Losing out on Eflin to a division rival also hurts Boston's attempt to get back into playoff contention. The Red Sox finished last in the American League East in 2022 with a 78-84 record.
The Yankees, Rays and Toronto Blue Jays all made the playoffs in the division. The Baltimore Orioles are improving and were in playoff contention until the final week of the season. They finished with a winning record (83-79) for the first time since 2016.