Looking for a match in a Kevin Kiermaier trade

Back in March 2017, the Rays signed Kevin Kiermaier to a six-year, $53.5M contract extension with the intention of locking in the Gold Glover as a fixture in the Tampa Bay outfield.  As that contract enters its final guaranteed year, the team’s plan came to fruition…sort of.  Kiermaier’s bat never took the expected leap forward, as he has hit .243/.307/.399 with 43 homers over 1817 plate appearances since the start of the 2017 season, translating to below-average (93 wRC+, 94 OPS+) offensive production.  He has also played in only 486 of a possible 708 games in that five-season stretch due to a multitude of injuries.

And yet despite the missed time and the lack of consistent hitting, Kiermaier has still been worth 10.3 fWAR over the last five seasons, in large part because he remains arguably the sport’s best defensive outfielder.  As per Fangraphs’ value metrics, Kiermaier has been worth $82.5M from 2017-21, more than twice as much as his real-world earnings over the same period.

So in that sense, the Kiermaier extension has worked out for the Rays, and his presence (or lack thereof, when on the injured list) certainly hasn’t kept the team from enjoying quite a bit of on-field success.  But for a team with such a limited payroll as Tampa Bay, any player making an eight-figure salary who is providing anything less than superstar-level production might not be a fit in the Rays’ financial framework.  Indeed, it can be argued that if Kiermaier had been healthier over the last five years, the Rays might well have traded him long ago, given how often Kiermaier’s name has been whispered in trade rumors.

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