Kiermaier returning to Toronto on 1-year deal

December 29th, 2023

TORONTO -- and the Blue Jays have agreed to a one-year deal worth $10.5 million, the club announced on Thursday.

A year ago, the Blue Jays got the best of Kiermaier on a similar deal after watching him dominate defensively for the rival Rays for nearly a decade. Kiermaier hit .265 with eight home runs after joking all Spring Training that he hoped to hit zero while being the game’s best No. 9 hitter. He held up that end of the bargain, at least, with a .741 OPS, which was comfortably above his career average, while earning his fourth career Gold Glove Award in center.

This is the Blue Jays’ first big move of the offseason, and while nothing can compare to their pursuit of Shohei Ohtani earlier in December, they had to start somewhere. Kiermaier was a central piece of the Blue Jays’ broader rebrand a year ago, when they pivoted toward pitching and defense, and the organization appears ready to run it back with an outfield of Kiermaier in center, Daulton Varsho in left and George Springer in right.

The Blue Jays are still trying to pivot back toward the middle offensively, reclaiming some of the firepower that they lost, but that now seems likelier to come at third base or DH, the two spots vacated by Matt Chapman and Brandon Belt. Given the term and dollars involved here, the Kiermaier deal looks like fine value for the Blue Jays in a vacuum, but there is still significant ground to cover if this club hopes to get past the Wild Card Round for the first time since 2016.

As a defender, Kiermaier speaks about fielding with the same passion with which great hitters discuss their swing. He led all AL center fielders in outs above average this past season with 13, and trailed only National League Gold Glove Award winner Brenton Doyle (15) of the Rockies in MLB this past season.

What makes Kiermaier truly special is his initial jump. An outfielder’s “jump” is defined as the first three seconds after the batter makes contact, and in that three-second span, Kiermaier covers 3.3 feet more than the average fielder. That’s the best in baseball, and has catapulted Kiermaier into the conversation of the best defenders of this generation.

The Blue Jays need to find a better offense -- and a timelier one -- in the coming months, but there’s time for that, particularly if this club is aggressive on the trade market.

The most interesting wrinkle of this reunion could be the impact on Varsho, who is an elite defender in his own right but spent most of 2023 in left field. Varsho came over in a holiday deal of his own one year ago when the Blue Jays traded Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Gabriel Moreno to the D-backs, a steep price that came with expectations he would be the center-fielder long term. There may be no team in baseball capable of fielding a better defensive duo, but with Varsho presumably remaining in left field, that adds another layer to a blockbuster deal that was already difficult to stomach for some fans following the D-backs’ run to the World Series.

Toronto’s fourth-outfielder job is still open, and the club could add another player via free agency or trade, but there are several internal options. Nathan Lukes spent more time on the roster in 2023 than his games played and at-bats would suggest, while Davis Schneider, Cavan Biggio and several other members of the infield depth group can moonlight in a corner-outfield spot. Coming from the pipeline by mid-season could be Alan Roden, the Blue Jays’ No. 7 prospect and an on-base machine who posted a .431 OBP between High-A and Double-A a year ago.