By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — The Tampa Bay Rays made a big investment in their future Monday morning with the announcement that Kevin Kiermaier had signed a new contract.
Kiermaier’s new deal begins this season and is worth $53.5 million over the next six years. There’s a club option for the 2023 season, which could raise the value to $66.15 million with incentives.
“I can’t say it’s unbelievable because I’ve always dreamed about this,” the 26-year-old center fielder said. “A lot of hard work and dedication can make a lot of great things happen. I’m the happiest man on the planet right now.”
The former 31st-round draft pick became the third Ray to sign a contract of at least six years under the ownership group of Stuart Sternberg. They previously gave a lengthy deal to Chris Archer (in 2014) and two six-year deals for Evan Longoria (in 2008 and then extended in 2012).
“You’re talking about the faces of our franchise right now,” said Matt Silverman, president of baseball operations. “(They are) guys who have made a commitment to the Tampa Bay Rays. We don’t have the opportunity often to make these kinds of commitments. Even to have the initial conversations, much less actually consummate the deal. But if you look at those three guys … those are the cornerstones of our franchise.”
Kiermaier has been one of the best defensive outfielders in the game over the last few seasons. Since 2015, no player in baseball — regardless of position — has more defensive runs saved than Kiermaier’s 67.
Despite injuries last year, he still managed 25 DRS, which was second to Boston’s Mookie Betts. Kiermaier played 509.1 fewer innings than the Red Sox outfielder.
Selected in the 2010 draft, Kiermaier is one of only five players from that class to earn a Gold Glove Award. The others are Baltimore’s Manny Machado, Miami’s Christian Yelich, Andrelton Simmons when he was with Atlanta, and Los Angeles Angel Kole Calhoun.
Kiermaier’s two Gold Gloves place him with joining Longoria (2009-10) as the only players in franchise history to win the prestigious award multiple times.
“I get a lot of feedback from the pitchers. Archer being at this press conference right now is not a surprise at all. He’s always supported me along with other guys,” Kiermaier said. “I always tell them I want to be your favorite center fielder throughout your whole career. I want you to remember my name and what I do for you.”
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Kiermaier’s contract is broken down as follows, 2017: $3 million; 2018: $5.5 million; 2019: $8 million; 2020: $10 million; 2021: $11.5 million; 2022: $12 million; 2023: $2.5 million buyout or $13 million team option with additional incentives.
Manager Kevin Cash was pleased to see Kiermaier earn the security.
“He’s put himself in an elite category as far as the guy he is on the field,” Cash said. “Obviously, his defense gets a ton of recognition, but we feel very confident that the offense is going to continue to get better and he’ll be an elite status in that regard soon.”
Kiermaier also had a message for all the players who, like him, weren’t highly-touted draft picks when entering professional baseball.
“I was the 941st pick of the 2010 draft and I’ll never forget that,” Kiermaier said. “At the time, I was pretty bitter about that because I knew I was better. At the same time, I wouldn’t change that for anything. I always use that as a chip on my shoulder.
“I’m very grateful I was a 31st-rounder because I think it’ll inspire a lot of other people, where it’s like, ‘hey, you might not be a prospect, but if you play and perform, you’re going to get a chance sooner or later.’”
In three major league seasons, Kiermaier is a career .258 hitter with a .352 on-base percentage, 61 doubles, 22 triples, 32 home runs and 112 RBI. He’s also committed just 13 errors to go with a .990 fielding percentage in center and 24 assists.
The contract caps an exciting few months for Kiermaier. Included were vacations, an engagement to his girlfriend, Marisa, and the purchase of a new house.
PORT CHARLOTTE — It appears as if Brad Boxberger’s continued lat issue means he won’t be ready to pitch on Opening Day.
Manager Kevin Cash left some wiggle room for a possibility, but essentially ruled him out at this point in the spring.
“I just don’t see how it’s going to happen,” said of Boxberger’s chances for Opening Day. “Not saying it won’t, but it’s very tough for me to – where are we, the 20th? – realistically, key piece in our bullpen, we’re going to want to do right by him and want to get him his innings and reps. It’s going to be very difficult to do that.”
Boxberger was the team’s closer in 2015 where he had 41 saves, but made just 27 appearances in an injury-filled 2016.
This opens the door for another spot in the bullpen on the opening roster. Possible fringe names who could fill that role are Tommy Hunter and Jumbo Diaz.
Hunter is with the Rays as a non-roster invitee on a minor-league deal. Diaz was recently acquired by the Rays, but has yet to join camp as he’s still making his way back from the World Baseball Classic.
“We’re anxious to see him simply because we have decisions to make,” Cash said of Diaz. “Especially with some of the bullpen question marks, he’s going to come in and put himself right in contention for those last couple of spots. We need to get him here and get him pitching.”
Blake Snell continued to not impress with his fifth outing of the spring.
In five innings of work, Snell allowed four runs on seven hits with two walks and two strikeouts. The four runs came on a pair of two-run homers.
“I’m happy with five innings,” Snell said. “I’m happy I started to compete in the zone more. I’m still not happy with the walks. I feel like I can limit that by getting ahead in counts more.”
The 24-year-old said he threw only fastballs for a good portion of his outing as a way to force himself to throw more strikes after a five-walk outing last time out.
Snell has now allowed a run in each of his five appearances, and yesterday was the first time he made it through the third inning. He’s allowed nine runs, 18 hits and eight walks in 14.1 innings of work.
“I thought Blake was a little bit batter today,” Cash said. “There’s still some stuff he could clean up. Too many walks again. I like the way he tried to simplify the approach. We just have to keep him in the zone a little more.”
ON THE BACK FIELD
Jake Odorizzi was on one of the back fields in a minor league game against the Baltimore Orioles’ single-A affiliate while the Rays faced the Pirates.
Odorizzi had a strong appearance with six innings pitched, allowing just one earned run on three hits with no walks and seven strikeouts. He threw 68 pitches, 49 for strikes.
“The first two innings I was kind of rusty, just trying to get my mechanics down, but the last four were really good,” Odorizzi said. “It was a good back-field work day today. … Today was a big determiner. Once you get past the five-inning mark it signifies spring is getting close to being done.”
Next time out, Odorizzi will be scheduled to throw seven innings and 105 pitches.
Monday was the second day in a row Colby Rasmus was on the field for the Rays. As a DH again, Rasmus went 0-for-1 with a walk. He grounded out the first at-bat, which was at least an improvement from three strikeouts on Sunday.
Prior to the game, the Rays recognized a few different community groups with an on-field presentation. They also donated $10,000 from the Rays Baseball Foundation to the Charlotte County community groups.
PIRATES 5, RAYS 4
HITTER OF THE GAME
Kevin Kiermaier, Rays: Fresh off the announcement of his new contract, Kiermaier reached base three times on Monday. He had a pair of singles with a walk mixed in. He scored a run on the first single and drove in a run with the second single.
PITCHER OF THE GAME
Shawn Tolleson, Rays: Monday was another good improvement for Shawn Tolleson as he continues to work back to being 100 percent healthy. Tolleson allowed just one hit in a scoreless inning and struck out a batter.
Bottom 7th: The Rays put together a nice rally in the seventh, scoring a pair of runs to tie the game at 7-7. Luke Maile started things by being hit by a pitch. He scored on a double by Mallex Smith. Patrick Leonard scored Smith with another double.
Jake Bauers, Rays: Bauers had an 11-game on-base streak snapped with an 0-for-3 performance on Monday. He had a pair of strikeouts in the loss. It’s only the third game he’s played in this spring in which he didn’t reach base.
THEY SAID IT
“Is down the middle bad?”
— Rays pitcher Blake Snell on if the home runs he allowed were a location issue.
TAMPA BAY (11-10-2) at PITTSBURGH (15-7-1)
WHEN: Today, 1:05 p.m.
WHERE: LECOM Park, Bradenton
SCHEDULED STARTERS: RH Alex Cobb vs. RH Chad Kuhl
RAYS: RH Alex Cobb (start), RH Erasmo Ramirez, RH Jaime Schultz
PIRATES: RH Chad Kuhl (start), RH A.J. Schugel, RH Josh Lindblom
WEDNESDAY: at Baltimore, 6:05 p.m. THURSDAY: vs. New York (AL), 1:07 p.m. FRIDAY: at Pittsburgh, 1:05 p.m. SATURDAY: vs. Boston, 1:05 p.m. SUNDAY: at New York (AL), 1:05 p.m.