As first reported by the Tampa Bay Times, Kevin Kiermaier and the Tampa Bay Rays are finalizing a deal that will keep the stud center fielder in the Sunshine State for foreseeable future. Here’s everything you need to know about the contract:
The basic deal is for $53.5-million over 6 years. The benefits for the contract have not yet been released by Kiermaier or the team’s representatives, but given the Rays’ past contract history the deal will likely include a team-option for the last season or two. Even without benefits, Kiermaier’s new contract will make him the highest-paid player on the Rays not named Evan Longoria.
What are the Rays getting by keeping Kiermaier?
In short, more of this:
A 2-time Gold Glove winner in center, Kiermaier has led the American League in Defensive WAR the past two seasons (5.0 in 2015, 3.0 in 2016, per Baseball Reference) – beating out Mike Trout. His RoF/9 (determined by dividing the sum of a fielder’s putouts and assists by total games played) in 2016 was 2.80 – the highest of any AL centerfielder who played over 100 games at the position. His speed is unmatched by any other big-league outfielder.
He’s no slouch with the bat either. In 105 games last season, Kiermaier slashed .246/.410/.741 while increasing his walks and decreasing strikeouts. Per Baseball Reference’s WAR system, Kiermaier posted a 2.7 oWAR (offensive WAR) in 2015 and a 2.8 oWAR in 2016. He boosted his power last year as well, hitting 2 more home runs in 139 fewer plate appearances due to an injury-shortened season.
In short, Kiermaier pairs a decent bat with superb defending. If you needed any more proof:
What does this deal mean for the Rays’ front office?
The Kiermaier contract isn’t the steal the Rays got with the extensions of starting pitcher Chris Archer and 3B Evan Longoria, but it represents a transition for this team towards a new, winning identity. Since the departure of Andrew Friedman in 2014, the front office has struggled to find themselves. For a team usually strapped for cash that routinely trades pending free agents for cost controllable prospects, this move signifies a step in the right direction towards contention.
Financially, the 53.5 million owed to Kevin Kiermaier represents the second largest contract in franchise history, trailing only the 6-year $100 million deal given to Evan Longoria to keep him in Tampa Bay until 2023. This meant that ownership had to step out of its comfort zone and open its wallet. For an organization that has been rumored to be moving to Montreal and has been engulfed in a battle with the city government about breaking its stadium lease for Tropicana Field, this is a sign that the team is staying in the region. What this move does is builds trust between the fan base and the organization.
How does this deal compares to other outfielders of similar skill and service time?
This deal is very comparable to the deal the Pittsburgh Pirates struck with Andrew McCutchen in 2012 for 6 years $51.5 million and the Cincinnati Reds deal with Jay Bruce for 6 years $51 million. Both of these players were bought out of both their arbitration and several free agent years, which is why the Rays did not have to pay Kiermaier the kind of money Jacoby Ellsbury got from the Yankees or Jason Heyward from the Cubs. While both McCutchen and Bruce were more proven hitters when they signed their extensions, the Rays are paying for Kiermaier’s defense and betting on his bat to continue improving.
The honeymoon period between the Rays and Kiermaier has definitely begun. When asked about the contract today, he responded, “I feel very blessed and thankful to be rewarded for how I’ve handled myself ever since I really set baseball as a goal for myself, which was in junior college after the first scout, a Tampa Bay scout, saw me and I said, okay, this could happen. And ever since then is when I started setting expectations for myself. So it’s a very rewarding, humbling feeling for me that all my hard work is kind of taking shape right now. I’m very grateful for the Rays to do this for me.”
The Rays have an ace, a stud third baseman, and now their center fielder locked up for the foreseeable future. They won’t contend for a wildcard spot this year and definitely won’t have the financial flexibility to sign bigger named players until they can renegotiate their TV deal and get out of the concrete coffin known as Tropicana Field, but they are trending in the right direction.