Kevin Kiermaier's $13M Contract Option Declined by Rays; Will Hit MLB Free Agency

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVNovember 10, 2022

Tampa Bay Rays' Kevin Kiermaier during a baseball game against the Kansas City Royals Thursday, May 27, 2021, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
AP Photo/Chris O'Meara

The Tampa Bay Rays have declined their $13 million option for veteran center fielder Kevin Kiermaier.

USA Today's Bob Nightengale noted the St. Louis Cardinals showed interest in Kiermaier in the past and could make a run at him.

The 32-year-old becomes a free agent and is bound to have a market thanks to his defensive record. He's a three-time Gold Glove winner and one of MLB's top defenders at any position.


Kevin Kiermaier got UP! 😱 <a href="https://t.co/2jhnVAiIrq">pic.twitter.com/2jhnVAiIrq</a>

"I'm in a unique position with what my defensive skill set is, and I'll never shy away from that," he told reporters in 2021. "I believe I'm the best defensive outfielder in the game. I'd put my talents up with anyone, and I'm very confident in saying that."

Kiermaier's durability and offense—or lack thereof—have lowered his value, though.

He has crossed the 150-game threshold just once and averaged 108 appearances per season since 2014—excluding the 2020 campaign shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2021, he was sidelined with a quad strain and then again because of a sprained left wrist. Last season, a hip injury required season-ending surgery in August.

Even if Kiermaier logs a full 162-game schedule in 2023, his contributions at the plate could be limited. For his career, he has a .715 OPS and a 98 OPS+, per Baseball Reference. Among qualified hitters since 2014, he's 343rd in wOBA (.308) on FanGraphs.

Sometimes players discover a new level offensively thanks to a swing change or adapting their approach in the batter's box. Josh Donaldson is a prime example of the former, while Marcus Semien falls in the latter category.

For Kiermaier, it would seem the ship has sailed to be a radically different hitter. Any breakthrough that might have happened would have come by now.

Despite his glaring flaws, Kiermaier figures to be an attractive target for a contender in need of a defensive upgrade in the outfield.