Kevin Kiermaier has had an uneasy offseason.
The longest-tenured Ray was sad to see pitcher Charlie Morton leave as a free agent and surprised when Blake Snell, another of the top starters on their World Series team, was traded.
Worse, personally, was dealing with the speculation he could also be dealt, based primarily on his team-high $11.5 million salary (plus $14.5 million in future guarantees).
“Selfishly speaking, I’m glad I’m still a Ray,” the speedy centerfielder said. “Even to be brought up in trade rumors, it’s one of those things you have to accept it, but it’s not easy by any means. Because for a guy like me, the Rays are all I know. I’ve enjoyed being a part of this community since day one.
“But you have to be realistic in these situations and see the business side of things. I totally understand it. But if I had it my way, I would never put on a different uniform in my career. It just doesn’t always work like that. It’s very rare to see nowadays.
“That being said, I’m still a Ray,” Kiermaier continued. “And I’m as happy as can be about that. And so is my wife (Marisa, who is set to deliver their second child in March). Hopefully, we can keep it that way for as long as possible.”
Kiermaier, though, knows better than to relax. With George Springer signing with Toronto, Jackie Bradley Jr. is the next-best free-agent centerfielder available. It’s possible that whichever teams miss out on Bradley will circle back to the Rays about a trade.
Kiermaier, 31 in April, said it helped greatly that general manager Erik Neander was communicative and candid with him about where things stood.
“I figured he’d reach out to me, because I got curious at times and wanted to hear what the team had to say,” Kiermaier said. “So we had a couple conversations, and he pretty much explained, ‘Hey, we have to listen to everything. But at the same time, we like having you on the team as well, and we value you a ton’ for what I do in the clubhouse and what I’m able to do on the field.
“Very basic stuff. He said, ‘Nothing’s guaranteed. I can’t say that. But we-plan-on-having-you-until-further-notice’ type of thing, ‘unless someone comes calling and they have a deal we can’t refuse.’ As the offseason got a little bit later, he said I had a more realistic chance of sticking around. But in the baseball world, something can happen any day. All these guys are signing now, and so many things come into play.’
Assuming he stays, Kiermaier remains confident, even with the changes, the Rays are good enough to defend their American League championship.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “I always tell the guys, just look around and see how much talent we have in our clubhouse year after year. I sit here and think about the guys we still have and the guys waiting for their callup, there’s a lot to be excited about. I’ve got all the confidence in the world in our guys.”
Spring training camps are still slated to open in 2-1/2 weeks, even though considerable important details have yet to be finalized, such as roster and staff limits, scheduling and myriad health and safety protocols. “There’s a lot of unanswered questions, and we’re still waiting,” said Yankees GM Brian Cashman, with the key issues being discussed between the league and players union. In the interim, he said, “all 30 clubs right now are operating on a little bit of a vague general framework. … It’s a challenge in terms of organizing it. We’re ready to go, doing as much planning and prep as we possibly can.” … Per The Athletic, a Major League Baseball rep encouraged leaders of Arizona host cities to write the letter asking for a delay in opening camps, as the owners prefer. MLB said that wasn’t true. Reps of multiple Florida sites told the Tampa Bay Times they are okay with teams opening camps on schedule.
The Rays had eight prospects, the most of any team, on mlbpipeline.com’s top 100. Shortstop Wander Franco was No. 1, with pitcher Luis Patino 19, outfielder Randy Arozarena 34, infielder Vidal Brujan 50, injured pitcher Brendan McKay 72, pitcher Shane McClanahan 84, infielder Xavier Edwards 85 and pitcher Shane Baz 90. … The Rays also topped Keith Law’s top 100 for The Athletic with eight: Franco No. 1, Patino 16, McKay 33, Brujan 35, Arozarena 45, Edwards 52, outfielder Josh Lowe 59, Baz 69. … Fangraph.com’s ranking of top Rays prospects had a surprise, with infielder Taylor Walls, an extraordinary defender who doesn’t get much list love, at No. 8. The top seven: Franco, Arozarena, Patino, Brujan, Lowe, Edwards, Baz.
Information on tickets to regular-season games at Tropicana Field, with limited seating, is expected in the days after the Super Bowl. No decision has been made yet on allowing fans for spring games in Port Charlotte. … Close doesn’t help fill innings, but the Rays were in on trying to get Jameson Taillon before the Pirates traded him to the Yankees. That after being runnersup to the Yanks for Corey Kluber. … Brett Phillips switched to uniform number 35, Josh Fleming to 31. Among new Rays, Francisco Mejia will wear 28, Patino 61 and Michael Wacha 52. … Snell is selling his waterfront St. Pete home, including a customized pool with his “Zilla” nickname in the tiles, for $1.4 million. … Equipment trucks will be packed for Port Charlotte on Wednesday under the direction of Tyler Wall, who takes over as home clubhouse manager. … Reliever Aaron Loup did well, turning last year’s minor-league contract with the Rays for a $1.65 million salary (before pro-rating) into a $3 million big-league deal with the Mets. ... After calling out the Rays’ negotiating position on the Trop site redevelopment, St. Petersburg mayor Rick Kriseman tweeted he wants them “to make St. Pete their forever home. If not St. Pete, then Tampa Bay.” Principal owner Stuart Sternberg said their request was just a starting point in talks for a new open-air stadium they’d use in the season-sharing plan with Montreal. He also said the Rays feel “as strong as we ever have about the split-season concept.” … Four-time Rays All-Star Carl Crawford will be among the players eligible next year for the Hall of Fame for the first time. … In a survey of 23 agents by The Athletic, Neander got some support as most trusted general manager, with ex-Ray/current Dodgers boss Andrew Friedman the leader.