Kiermaier talks future with Rays, 'This is someplace I love'

August 14th, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG -- After undergoing season-ending surgery on his left hip last week, Kevin Kiermaier said Saturday he’ll do “everything in my power” to get healthy and return to Gold Glove Award-winning form.

He can already envision his offseason workout showcase at the University of Tampa, running and throwing and hitting to prove his health. There’s an obvious end goal to plan around, as he said he’s been told he could be ready for Opening Day next year if everything goes well.

But where will he be playing at that point? And for which team? For the first time in his career, it’s a question Kiermaier can’t answer.

The veteran center fielder has been a Ray since they selected him in the 31st round of the 2010 Draft. He’s played parts of 10 seasons with Tampa Bay. This is the only organization he’s ever known. Yet the Rays are expected to decline his $13 million club option for next season, instead paying a $2.5 million buyout, which would make him a free agent for the first time.

Speaking with reporters about his future for the first time since undergoing surgery, Kiermaier admitted the thought crossed his mind that he might have played his last game in a Rays uniform on July 9 in Cincinnati.

“Throughout this month that I've been down, I've reflected on a lot of things, a lot of memories here,” Kiermaier said, leaning on crutches in front of his locker in the Rays’ clubhouse. “I'm going to try not to tear up, but I've learned that the things that can make me tear up and cry pretty easily are my kids and the Tampa Bay Rays. It's been incredible.

“I don't know right now what the future holds. But right now, my job, my focus [is,] go get healthy and let's see what happens, and I can answer certain things at a later date. But right now, I want to get healthy and go from there.”

Kiermaier, 32, said he feels “about as good as I can feel,” calling his surgery “a complete win.” His torn labrum had been in terrible shape, doctors told him, making it a surprise he was able to play through pain as long as he did. Kiermaier admitted he knew surgery was inevitable, but he hoped cortisone shots would postpone the procedure until the offseason.

But his last injection only kept the pain at bay for about a week, at which point it became clear he couldn’t wait any longer.

“I'm proud of that, in a sense, because I literally went until the wheels fell off,” Kiermaier said. “I've got no regrets as far as how I chose to play the game these last 8-9 years. It's all I knew.”

Kiermaier said he’ll be on crutches for three more weeks. This stretch will present the biggest challenge of his rehab: boredom. (“I’m happiest when I’m running around and doing things,” he said, “and right now, I’m on that couch a lot.”) After that, the clubhouse leader hopes to spend more time around the team. He said his first trip to the ballpark in a while, on Saturday, was like “therapy for me.”

But are these Kiermaier’s final months in the familiar Rays’ clubhouse? It’s possible, perhaps even likely. Tampa Bay seemingly acquired its center fielder of the present and future at the Trade Deadline in fleet-footed Jose Siri, and Kiermaier acknowledged it could be better for his long-term health to play fewer games on Tropicana Field’s punishing turf surface.

Still, the longest-tenured Ray said president of baseball operations Erik Neander told him recently, “We’re going to have a conversation at some point. Just get through rehab, get healthy, and we’ll go from there.”

Kiermaier would, of course, be interested in returning if the right opportunity presented itself.

“If July 9 were to be my last game with the Rays, it's not the way I envisioned going out. Finishing the season and making a playoff run with these guys is what I envisioned,” he said. “I want to be employed by someone. These guys know how I feel about them. But at the same time, I've been given every opportunity. And if there was still interest, we'd have to listen.

“I know one thing and one thing only, and this is someplace I love. So I'd be lying to you if I said I wouldn't listen to anything. It'll be interesting to see what happens moving forward, but for sure, I have interest.”