Adames, Kiermaier 'thrilled' to still be Rays

February 24th, 2021

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- At different points during the offseason, and wondered if they’d still be around for the Rays’ first full-squad workout. Kiermaier and Adames, both key players and emotional leaders in the clubhouse, grew concerned that the trade rumors involving them would lead to something more.

But there they were on Tuesday morning, taking part in drills on Field 5 at Charlotte Sports Park and speaking to the media on Zoom, still important figures in the Rays’ lineup, up-the-middle defense and clubhouse culture.

“I'm thrilled. I'm thrilled to be here,” Kiermaier said. “I'm happy. I don't want to be anywhere else.”

Yet Kiermaier and Adames were uncertain enough about their future with the Rays over the offseason that they reached out to general manager Erik Neander to talk about it. Both said they came away reassured that they’d be back to start the season with the defending American League champions.

“I'm happy to be back here,” said Adames, who drew interest from the Reds early in the offseason, according to The Athletic. “When you see your name on the [rumor mill], it doesn't feel good, because obviously last year was a great year for us. We experienced the World Series, and it was great. I feel really good here with the team and with the guys, with the teammates, the staff, the clubhouse guys, everybody here. So obviously you worry a little bit. I even had a conversation with Erik about it, and everything was good.

“I'm still here. I'm just happy to be back.”

Of course, trading established players for prospects has become part of the way Tampa Bay operates -- and succeeds. The Rays bring in young talent and send out older (and often more highly paid) veterans, constantly turning over their roster. It’s the way Adames entered the organization, for example, as he came to the Rays in the July 2014 deal that sent David Price to Detroit. And it’s the way Blake Snell left the team in December, when he was shipped to San Diego for Luis Patiño, Francisco Mejía, Cole Wilcox and Blake Hunt.

Kiermaier, the Rays’ longest-tenured player, understands the club’s business model as well as anyone. Discussing the Snell trade, he went out of his way to note, “It's hard to go against Erik Neander and our front office and our management and what those guys have done.” Adames similarly said Tampa Bay’s front office executives are “the best at what they do.”

But the Rays have a ton of outfield depth, and Kiermaier is set to earn $11.5 million this year. So this offseason, he admitted, the possibility that he might be traded felt more real than ever. And on Tuesday, he was clearly relieved that it remained only a possibility.

“I got through another offseason. I'm here. I hope to stick around as long as possible, but once again, it's hard not to understand the business side of things,” Kiermaier said. “I'd be lying if I said some doubts didn't creep into my mind here or there. But after talking to Erik, you know, got a good sense of what he told me and that, if there was an offer that they couldn't refuse on, then something might happen. But just with how everything was working this offseason, as time went on, he said, 'We expect to have you in camp and expect you to help contribute to our team.’

“And here I am today with this beautiful logo on my chest. So hopefully, I can keep that on as long as possible.”

Around the horn
• Kiermaier said he took a little more time off than usual following the World Series, just giving his body extra time to rest after playing throughout October. He also felt like he learned a few things offensively during the Series as a result of, oddly enough, playing with an injured left hand. He went 7-for-19 with two homers in the Fall Classic, and he believes he can carry some of that progress into this year.

“I had to switch a few things up to just try to deal with the least amount of pain as possible going into that,” Kiermaier said. “What I learned about myself in the World Series is what I took into the offseason, with my setup and my stance and my approach, and I'm excited to display that for a full season. Experience is a great thing as a baseball player, and I learned a ton from the World Series.”

• Adames said he trained “harder than last year” over the offseason, going back and forth between Miami and Santiago in the Dominican Republic. The shortstop was incredible at the plate for the first part of the season, batting .322 with a .983 OPS over his first 36 games, and he was one of the Rays’ most valuable players overall. But the year ended on a sour note, as he batted just .149 the rest of the way and .136 in the postseason.

“Hopefully this year is a little bit different for me in a good way,” Adames said. “I'm just happy to be around, just happy to be back and can't wait to be on the field and show what we can do.”

• Asked where top prospect Wander Franco will start the season, Neander gave an admittedly “very vague answer” and noted that he should have a better idea later in Spring Training. The soon-to-be 20-year-old shortstop’s last affiliated game action came for Class A Advanced Charlotte in 2019, and then he spent last year at the Rays’ alternate training site before joining the team’s postseason player pool.

“Obviously an incredible talent with immense potential. Don’t want to put any undue pressure on him,” Neander said. “Want to just make sure that, when the time’s right for him to impact our Major League club, that he’s ready in all aspects of his development.”

• Cash acknowledged that the Rays have “a lot” of outfielders in the mix, with Kiermaier, Randy Arozarena, Austin Meadows, Manuel Margot, Yoshi Tsutsugo and Brett Phillips, but he said he didn’t have a great answer as to how they’ll divvy up playing time. For now, they view too much depth at the position as a good problem to have.

“Things will work themselves out, but it’s nice to have a lot of options. Hope that they’re all healthy,” Cash said. “To Erik’s point about the uncertainty with the lack of games played last year, it might really benefit us that we’re able to give an extra day off here early on to make sure guys have got their feet underneath them.”