Kiermaier agrees to deal with Blue Jays
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays on Thursday announced the signing of Kevin Kiermaier, adding the longtime Rays cornerstone to their new-look outfield.
Kiermaier’s deal is for one year and $9 million.
“Kevin is a terrific addition to our already strong roster. As we focus on improving our team heading into this offseason, Kevin checked a lot of those boxes,” said GM Ross Atkins. “His handedness, defense, elite baserunning, and clubhouse presence make him a great fit for our team and we are excited about his contributions next season.”
The 32-year-old played 10 seasons with the Rays, and the Blue Jays became all too familiar with his defensive excellence as he collected three Gold Glove Awards with the American League East rival. That glove is at the core of Toronto’s attraction to Kiermaier, but his exact role could depend on whether another outfield addition is coming.
Last season, Kiermaier was limited to 63 games with the Rays, batting .228 with a .649 OPS in a down year. He battled hip inflammation throughout the year, though, receiving cortisone shots beginning in Spring Training, and he eventually underwent surgery on that hip to address an impingement and repair a torn labrum.
Following the season, the Rays declined Kiermaier’s $13 million club option for a $2.5 million buyout, making him a free agent. At the time, Kiermaier was still expected to return to full activity early in the new year and be ready to go for Opening Day.
What the Blue Jays are hoping for here is something closer to Kiermaier’s ’21 season, his last healthy stretch of strong play when he hit .259 with a .716 OPS. In the field, Kiermaier was worth 12 outs above average during that season, the third-highest among MLB center fielders behind only Michael A. Taylor and Harrison Bader. Kiermaier brings some legitimate speed, too, and while it doesn’t show in stolen base totals, he could step in as one of the fastest players on this roster from Day 1.
Outfield defense could be even more important next season, too. As the Blue Jays renovate Rogers Centre, they’ll also be changing the outfield wall’s dimension and shape. It’s not expected to drastically tilt the stadium in favor of pitchers or hitters, but club president Mark Shapiro recently hinted that it will “create some uniqueness” and add some “interesting outcomes with balls in play." That arrow points to a need for improved outfield defense.
Kiermaier also brings a sturdy reputation in the clubhouse, which will be welcomed by a club that’s looking to bounce back from a heartbreaking Wild Card Series loss to the Mariners and get over the hump in ’23.
The fascination is in the fit, though.
Kiermaier has almost exclusively played center field in the big leagues, a position currently occupied by George Springer in Toronto. Kiermaier has the defensive talent to move around at this stage of his career, of course, and we’ll continue to see more of Springer in right field as the years go on, but this creates an interesting positional dynamic.
The likely answer is that we won’t have the full picture yet. After dealing Teoscar Hernández to the Mariners earlier this offseason, the Blue Jays were left with Springer and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. as their clear starting outfielders, with Whit Merrifield, Cavan Biggio and others available as depth. Instead of viewing Kiermaier as a starter, it’s very possible that the Blue Jays will make another more offensive-minded addition to the outfield alongside him.