Seeing their sport headed toward a lockout the night of Dec. 1 was concerning for just about every big-league player. But Kevin Kiermaier was dealing with his own drama.
The Rays centerfielder, his wife Marisa and some friends were enjoying a getaway in Sarasota when Kiermaier got a call from Erik Neander. The Rays’ baseball operations president told Kiermaier some teams were interested in trading for him. Nothing seemed likely to happen before the lockout started at midnight, Neander said, but things could change as talks continued.
Kiermaier had an anxious evening, especially when word of talks with the Phillies leaked and more so when he saw teammate Joey Wendle, whose future also was the source of speculation by the media, traded to the Marlins.
“I couldn’t believe that he got traded,” Kiermaier said. “Then I’m like, Well, if he got traded and this article is saying the discussions are heating up, I’m for sure getting traded now.”
Neander called back a few hours later to tell Kiermaier, the team’s longest-tenured player, that he wasn’t going anywhere. For now, anyway.
Kiermaier, who turns 32 in April, has dealt with trade rumors the past several years. But he acknowledges the possibility seems much more likely now, with the potential for something to happen quickly after the lockout ends.
He’s right, and for several reasons.
Start with his salary, a team-high $12 million in 2022, plus at least a $2.5 million buyout on a $13 million 2023 option. Given the Rays’ usual self-imposed payroll limits, their pre-lockout expenditures (signing Corey Kluber and Brooks Raley, committing $182 million long-term to Wander Franco), the potential financial ramifications of the new labor deal (or abbreviated season) and the unexpected death of their Montreal split-city stadium plan, they may prefer to dump that money.
Plus, they have legitimate options to replace Kiermaier in center, starting with platooning Manuel Margot and Brett Phillips (with more potential offense) and eventually including prospect Josh Lowe and/or Vidal Brujan.
The decision will be complicated. Upon previous inquiries, the Rays ultimately decided they valued Kiermaier, a three-time Gold Glover, more than other teams and weren’t offered enough for him. But now that he’s at the end of his contract, the calculus is different.
Do the Rays have to get something of value back? Is getting a team to take Kiermaier’s whole salary enough? Would the Rays attach a prospect to get out from under the money and sweeten the return?
“I know the business side of the game and my future here is real, now more than ever. I will say that,” Kiermaier said. “With what’s going on with me personally, it’s going to be very interesting to see what happens moving forward.
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“If and when the lockout gets lifted, I think the 24 to 72 hours after that are going to be absolutely nuts for baseball in general. And I’m over here wondering myself what’s going to happen. So, wild times right now.”
Kiermaier, drafted by the Rays in 2010, wants nothing more than to stay in Tampa Bay his whole career. But since lockout rules bar contact with team officials — even updates on the November arthroscopic right knee surgery from which he is fully recovered — he can only wait and wonder.
“It’s crept in my mind quite a bit throughout the course of this offseason,” Kiermaier said. “It’s weird, because usually you can have those convos and I could call Erik and just get an idea of what they’re thinking. But ever since everything’s been put on halt, it’s just kind of a weird situation all around.
“I’ll just sit here, and the anticipation, it’s real. I mean, there’s no doubt about that. Just anxious to see what will happen.”
Chances for Tampa natives and one-time Rays Fred McGriff and Lou Piniella to get voted into the Hall of Fame are about to get entangled with the Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens controversy. That’s because all four — plus Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa, Bruce Bochy and others — now are in the hands of the Today’s Game Era Committee, a 16-member group including current Hall of Famers (who are not likely to welcome steroids-tainted candidates), team owners/executives and veteran media members that votes in December. Just making the 10-candidate ballot of players, managers and executives, which is chosen by a separate committee of media/historians, will be tough. Then, election requires 12 votes (Piniella got 11 in 2018), with voters allowed to only pick four. Once the voting committee is named, politicking is rampant, which is how Harold Baines got elected in 2018.
Rays officials have yet to decide whether there will be a FanFest this year. … Top post-lockout priority seems to be a right-handed hitter who can play first base, and not necessarily a proven big-leaguer. … Top bonuses among the latest international signees were $1,075,000 to outfielder Jose Lazaro Contreras and $975,000 to shortstop Miguel Tamares. ... Minor-league right-hander David Hess, who was being treated for a cancerous tumor in his chest, tweeted he had “been ‘cured’ and cleared for all activity!” hoping to get back on the mound soon. ... With major-leaguers locked out, the Rays have run minicamps for minor-leaguers in Port Charlotte, grouped for pitching velocity, hitting, injury rehabs and international signees coming state-side. Among more advanced prospects participating were Taj Bradley, Carlos Colmenarez, Xavier Edwards, Heriberto Hernandez, recently acquired Kam Misner, Ian Seymour and Austin Shenton. Also, top pick Carson Williams and most of the 2021 draft class. … Failed 2010 Rays first-round pick Josh Sale, 30, is back in organized ball, signing a minor-league deal with Texas as a result of an impressive 2021 independent league showing after five years out of the game following multiple suspensions and other issues. … Consider this: Bonds drew more intentional walks in his 22 seasons than all Rays hitters combined in their 24 seasons, 688-650. … Some team online job postings feature a “Why work for the Rays?” section where some creative answers include low-cost healthy meal options, weekly yoga sessions during the work day and that “Your office is in a baseball stadium!’’
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