Kevin Kiermeier ended his 2022 season on the IL after undergoing surgery for a torn acetabular labrum (hip injury). The Rays declined his $13M team option for 2023. That was not a surprise. His production had fallen prior to the injury. The Rays might have tried a sign and trade deal if he were healthy and playing better, but it was a near certainty he would not be a Ray next year regardless—he would have earned 10/5 rights if he started next season in Tampa Bay—unless he were still an All Star caliber player and willing to extend with a Tampa Bay discount. However, that’s all moot. He hasn’t been healthy. He put up 1.1 WAR in half a season because he is still a plus defender when healthy, but he is a below average hitter now (89 OPS+ in 2022). He’s already been replaced in St Pete by a younger, cheaper, more productive player. Younger and cheaper is the Rays’ MO, so there you go.
The Blue Jays had an opening in their OF, having traded away Teoscar Hernandez earlier this offseason. Hernandez, for his part, is two years younger than Kiermeier, was worth 2.8 WAR, and slugged 25 home runs. He’s not as good a defender as Kiermeier but a much better hitter (127 OPS+ in 2022). Even if Kiermeier comes back fully recovered and stays healthy, his overall productivity isn’t as good as Hernandez’, so the Jays still need to make up for that elsewhere. The outfield at the Rogers Center is supposedly being reconfigured somewhat—not to make it more friendly to pitchers or hitters per se, but to make it more “unique.” Perhaps that means the front office was concerned Hernandez’ glove would become more of a liability…and Kiermeier’s more of an asset.
Setting all that aside, is this good for Kiermeier? I haven’t seen how much the deal is worth, or how long, so can’t comment on that. The Jays already have George Springer in CF, so one of them moves to a corner OF spot. A corner might be better for Kiermeier’s health, but would also perhaps make his defense slightly less valuable. I do not think I’d have picked a team whose home games are on artificial turf were I him at this point in his career. Of course, I also do not know how robust the market for his services was.