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Rays officially say goodbye to Kevin Kiermaier

“What a heck of a ride it’s been,’' the veteran centerfielder said after the team declined a $13 million option, making him a free agent.
Kevin Kiermaier tips his hat following a video presentation during a game against the Toronto Blue Jays in September at Tropicana Field.
Kevin Kiermaier tips his hat following a video presentation during a game against the Toronto Blue Jays in September at Tropicana Field. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Nov. 10|Updated Nov. 11

ST. PETERSBURG — Centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier had known for weeks that the Rays weren’t going to pick up his $13 million option for 2023, ending his run with the organization he had been with since being drafted in 2010.

A 10-minute conversation Tuesday night with baseball operations president Erik Neander ensured they split with clear communication and on good terms. Formal notification Thursday morning via Kiermaier’s agent made it official.

“I’m more happy and grateful and thankful over being sad,” Kiermaier said from his Tampa home. “Now I’ve got to turn the page and move on. That’s how great of an experience it was for me the last 12 years.

“I’ve got nothing to hang my head about. I’m proud of everything that’s come my way and what we’ve accomplished with many different guys over the years. It’s made me a better player, a better person. And I’m one lucky man. That’s the best way I can describe it.”

Kiermaier, 32, said he is “feeling great” as he recovers from August left hip surgery. He said he understands it may be best for both sides that he head elsewhere.

“I’m OK with that,” he said. “I gave it everything I had. I went ‘til the wheels fell off. And I think it’s OK to close this Rays book for me and move on. I think personnel change is good at times. I’ve been out there for so long. And maybe it’ll be good for the team as well. ... It’s time to maybe let my talents and what I can offer to a team and try that elsewhere.”

Kiermaier is looking for the chance to play every day, and for another two-three years. The Rays, having acquired Jose Siri, another defensively strong centerfielder, after Kiermaier was sidelined, can’t offer that. Plus, Kiermaier would prefer a new home on a grass field, thinking getting off the Tropicana Field turf will keep him feeling better.

“Life goes on. Erik’s got to do what he’s got to do to help the team, and I’m just gonna sit here and do my best to get healthy and see what’s out there,” Kiermaier said. “I’m focused on what’s next. And my body’s feeling great. So the unknown is very exciting for me moving forward.”

Kiermaier said he couldn’t be more proud of what he and the team accomplished since he made his debut in Game 163 of the 2013 season. He became a regular in 2014, battling injuries and offensive inconsistency while playing elite defense, including winning three Gold Gloves and making the postseason five times, throughout his career.

“I was damn proud to wear that jersey every single day,” he posted on Twitter.

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Neander said the Rays appreciated everything Kiermaier did for them.

“We’re grateful for all that KK has given the Rays and our fans since 2010,” he said via text message. “As good of a centerfielder as we’ll ever see. We wish him nothing but the best as he returns to health and finds the right opportunity for 2023.”

In declining the option, the Rays will pay Kiermaier a $2.5 million buyout to complete the six-year, $53.5 million contract he signed in spring 2017. He made $12 million in 2022 in the last guaranteed year of the deal.

Kiermaier will leave having the second-longest service time in the organization at eight years and 131 days, trailing only Evan Longoria, who was with the Rays for nine years and 170 days.

Kiermaier, who also enjoyed being part of the Tampa Bay community, relished it all.

“I sit here, and I’m a happy man,” he said. “What a heck of a ride it’s been. And I’m going out with my head held high.”

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