Keep or Walk: Kevin Kiermaier heads back into free agency after rebuilding his value with the Blue Jays
Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro/USA Today
By Evan Stack1 month ago
It’s no secret that the Blue Jays offence didn’t accomplish what it needed in 2023, but one guy seemingly outperformed his expectations.
Enter Kevin Kiermaier, a supreme defender who finished the season with a higher WAR in 2023 (3.9) than George Springer (2.1) and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (2.0). We’ll dive into his season below, but he has probably made himself more money for next year than the $9 million he made a year ago.
The case to keep Kiermaier
Much like how we began the Matt Chapman case, Kiermaier’s claim to fame has been his defence. It always the case was during his tenure with the Rays, and he brought his high-level, near-impossible catches to Toronto last year. Arguably, Kiermaier’s most impressive play with the Blue Jays was made during their home opener on April 11th against the Detroit Tigers when he robbed Kerry Carpenter of a surefire home run with a leaping catch at the wall.
Kiermaier ranked 13th in the MLB, second among center fielders in Outs Above Average with 13, and 8th in the MLB (second among center fielders as well) in Defensive Runs Saved with 18. Kiermaier is a nominee for the AL center fielder Gold Glove Award, which would be the fourth of his career if he ends up winning. In other words, he was the perfect outfielder for Ross Atkins’ dream defensive juggernaut.
Kiermaier was solid at the plate this season, posting his lowest strikeout rate since his 2016 season and his best batting average since his 2017 season. He slashed .265/.322/.419 with 8 home runs, 36 RBIs, 21 doubles, and 6 triples. He was even responsible for Toronto’s only postseason run, part of his 2-for-6 series against the Twins.
Fresh off hip surgery in the back half of the 2022 season, Kiermaier played in 129 games this season, tied for the second-most games he has played in a single season for his career. Kiermaier’s health was a concern entering the 2023 season, but he only made one appearance on the Injured List, a 10-day stint due to a right elbow laceration he obtained when he made an impressive catch against the wire on the Fenway Park outfield wall.
The case to let Kiermaier walk
The Blue Jays had two elite defensive outfielders last year, so it would make a lot of sense for them to move Daulton Varsho to center field next year and look to provide an offensive upgrade to the left field position. That fixes two problems with one decision.
After proving he can still play an A-list center field at age 33 coupled with his impressive offensive output for a 9-hole hitter, Kiermaier has likely played himself into a contract worth more than what he made last year, and he may also be able to secure a multi-year deal for a team looking for some stability. Sure, the $9 million he was paid last year didn’t break the bank for Toronto, but it’s money that can be better utilized elsewhere if his replacement is already on the team.
Under the Atkins regime, the Blue Jays have had a tendency to sign veteran guys at age 30 or over to one-year deals, be it stopgap players like Travis Shaw and Clay Buchholz or impact players like Brandon Belt and Marcus Semien. The biggest thing in common with those names is that they were not re-signed no matter how well they played.
As I mentioned earlier, Kiermaier gave the Blue Jays a great showing at the plate for their 9-hole hitter; he was like a second leadoff man. However, relative to the rest of his career, those offensive stats, 129 games, and only one IL stint is likely the ceiling that Kiermaier has to offer at this point. The Blue Jays got their money’s worth out of him – let someone else pay more.
Lastly, Kiermaier expressed towards the end of the season how much he likes playing on a grass field given that his entire career has mainly been played on turf (in Toronto and in Tampa Bay). A lot of the media tried to portray this as an inevitable surefire departure from the Blue Jays, but Kiermaier would later deny those notions and reiterated how much he’s enjoyed his time in Toronto. Perhaps there is some truth to the grass part of it though – a guy with a good deal of injury history just wants to take care of himself, and if he wants to play mainly on grass, then good for him.
Kiermaier gave a lot to Toronto in the only year he played there. I mean come on, this is a dude who was legging out a double on a weak single center field. He was hyping up the crowd, promising October baseball after a mid-September win over the Royals. Amidst a season of disappointment, an enemy for many years as a division rival turned into a beloved member of the 2023 Blue Jays.
Much love to Kiermaier, but I don’t think his next paycheck will come from the Blue Jays.
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