The Toronto Blue Jays snagged one of baseball’s best center fielders on Saturday by agreeing to a deal with free agent Kevin Kiermaier, a major-league source confirmed to The Athletic. Terms of the deal were not yet available Saturday afternoon.
Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi first reported news of the deal. Here’s what you need to know:
- Kiermaier is a three-time Gold Glove winner and earned the 2015 American League Platinum Glove.
- He hit free agency this fall after the Tampa Bay Rays declined his 2023 option. He spent 10 seasons with the Rays, who drafted him in 2010.
- The 32-year-old joins George Springer and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in Toronto’s outfield.
Kiermaier has struggled with injuries and missed significant time throughout his career. He played a career-high 151 games in 2015, his second full season with the Rays, and has not topped more than 129 games in a season since.
The Rays lost Kiermaier to a season-ending hip injury on July 9, and he underwent hip labrum surgery later that month. It marked the end of his Rays tenure since his six-year, $53.5 million contract expired at the end of the season and the franchise was not expected to pick up his option.
Despite his stellar defensive skills, Kiermaier often did not give the Rays league-average production at the plate. In 63 games in 2022, he hit .228 with a .649 OPS and 22 RBIs.
Why did the Blue Jays sign Kiermaier?
The Blue Jays had multiple openings in their outfield after trading Teoscar Hernández to the Seattle Mariners and non-tendering outfielders Raimel Tapia and Bradley Zimmer. Adding Kiermaier is the first major step this offseason to re-stock their outfield ahead of the 2023 season. Kiermaier is a left-handed bat, which is a need, but while his offense has declined in recent years, he remains an elite defensive center fielder, posting above-average defensive metrics since he became an MLB regular in 2014.
He’s spent his career in the AL East, after 10 seasons with the Rays, so he’ll be familiar with playing at the Rogers Centre. Although it’s worth mentioning Toronto’s outfield will look a little different next year after stadium renovations are completed, Kiermaier gives the Blue Jays options in the outfield and the club likes to have flexibility at as many positions as possible.
With Hernández gone, right field is open and it’s possible Springer will play the corner position more regularly now. Right field is less physically demanding than center field, which can only help the 33-year-old Springer, who has dealt with several injuries during his two seasons with Toronto. Kiermaier, meanwhile, gives the Blue Jays an elite defender to play center field, and as a complementary piece, he fits in well. His bat alone can’t replace the offense lost by moving on from Hernandez, though, so in all likelihood, the Blue Jays aren’t done re-building their outfield just yet. – McGrath
What’s next for the Blue Jays?
Even with Kiermaier in the mix, the Blue Jays could still target another left-handed outfielder. Free agents Andrew Benintendi, Michael Conforto and Michael Brantley are all reasonable fits and would bring more offense than Kiermaier. If the Blue Jays can’t find an outfielder via free agency, they still have the option of moving one of their three catchers in a trade that could send back a lefty outfielder. The Arizona Diamondbacks, Cleveland Guardians, Minnesota Twins and San Diego Padres are among the teams that could still be in the market for a catcher.
On the pitching front, the Blue Jays still have a hole to fill at the backend of their rotation. More starting depth would be an asset, too, as would another high-end reliever. Or, said another way, the Blue Jays still have much work to do this offseason. – McGrath
(Photo: Bruce Kluckhohn / USA Today)