Will the Red Sox target Kevin Kiermaier if the Rays decline his club option for 2023?
Over the last decade, Kevin Kiermaier has been the exception to the rule that most players don’t last very long with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Since the Rays’ primary focuses are the farm system and keeping payroll low, Kiermaier has outlasted most of his teammates, who often get traded to the big market teams. He’s been in trade rumors for years, but it never came to fruition. But now, the rumor is that the Rays are going to decline his club option and buy out the final year of his contract, instead.
Since the Sox just got rid of their own Gold Glove outfielder, might they be interested?
Defensively, Kiermaier would be an upgrade from any of the current Sox outfield options; he has three Gold Gloves and one Platinum Glove on his resumé. He’s never made more than six errors in any of his 10 big-league seasons, and since Baseball Savant began tracking Outs Above Average in 2016, he’s worth +65 OAA in centerfield. By comparison, Jackie Bradley Jr., widely acknowledged as one of the best defensive outfielders in franchise history, compiled +49 OAA in center over that same span (and +6 in right). Though still early in his career, it’s hard to imagine Jarren Duran will ever turn into a defender remotely close to matching either of them and Kiké Hernández, who’s been on the Injured List for most of the season, will be a free agent this winter.
Offensively, Kiermaier isn’t much of a power-hitter, but he would be an upgrade over Bradley and Duran. Over the last two seasons, he’s hit .247/.311/.381 with a .692 OPS, 27 doubles, three triples, and 11 home runs in 185 games. The Sox have plenty of financial flexibility this offseason to add hitters who can compensate for Kiermaier, but they won’t find many defenders like him.
If the remainder of this season is truly a trial run for Duran and he doesn’t make the grade, it would make sense for the Sox to bring in a veteran like Kiermaier on a short-term deal. He would be the third Rays outfielder Chaim Bloom brings to Boston, following Hunter Renfroe in 2021 and Tommy Pham at the trade deadline last week.
One major sticking point is the reason the Rays are considering buying Kiermaier out: he just had season-ending hip surgery for impingement and labrum repair. Manager Kevin Cash described it as an “issue that he’s had for quite some time,” but it’s just one line on a long list of Kiermaier’s injuries over the year. He’s like an outfield version of Chris Sale, an unlucky injury magnet; the long list includes several fractures, ligament issues in each hand, sprains, and now this surgery. After playing 100+ games in the first three seasons of his career (excluding his one-game debut in 2013), he’s only exceeded the triple-digit mark twice since in the last five 162-game seasons (he played 49 of 60 games in 2020). Tropicana Field’s artificial turf hasn’t made it any easier on his body, but injuries should and will likely still give the Sox pause, especially after the avalanche of injuries they’ve been buried under this season.
Of course, one-year bounce-back deals with veterans are the Bloom specialty.