The Philadelphia Phillies could find themselves in the postseason once October rolls around. Over the weekend, however, they found themselves entangled in a controversy concerning a player and their pay.
The Phillies optioned starter Zach Eflin following his start on Friday night and activated infielder J.P. Crawford from the disabled list. The way the Phillies schedule is structured, Eflin won't miss a start. Instead, he'll be recalled to take part in a doubleheader as the 26th man before returning to the minors to complete the mandatory 10-day assignment. In the interim, the Phillies will benefit from having a five-man bench from which to pull from during late-and-close spots.
Nonetheless, the move isn't zero-sum for Eflin: He'll lose out on nine days of service time and $20,000. Here's what his agent, Tom O'Connell, told The Athletic's Matt Gelb about the move:
"While this transaction on the surface seems purely administrative, it caught us by surprise and is tremendously disappointing. Major-league starters have a strict routine that they adhere to that allows them to be successful; this roster move affects that. While the club may feel that they are doing what's best for the organization, they also lose sight of the human element and how it will affect the player."
In 16 starts, Eflin has posted a 3.57 ERA (117 ERA+) and has bumped his strikeout rate to a career-best 8.5 per nine. He wasn't on the bubble so far as being a Super Two qualifier goes, but that doesn't make it any easier to lose $20,000 -- not when the Phillies could have just farmed out an underperforming infielder like Scott Kingery (56 OPS+) or J.P. Crawford (73 OPS+). Rather than do that, the Phillies sought to keep as many position players on hand in case they wanted to pinch-run earlier in games. That's fine and dandy -- and it makes a certain sense on paper for the club -- but it stinks for Eflin, who has objectively done his job better than both Kingery and Crawford, yet has to report to the minors and take a financial haircut for his efforts.
There's another aspect to consider that makes the demotion rough on Eflin, and that's how his statements and performances will be viewed from here on. No matter how valid his comments, if he expresses displeasure with the demotion he'll be labeled selfish or greedy. And if he struggles upon his return, some will wonder if he's allowed his emotions to interfere with his work. Maybe he'll find the right answers and pitch well and put this all behind him in due time, but you can't help it other than to feel bad for him -- and to hope the Phillies make it up to him.