Monday, December 11, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Why Kevin Kiermaier makes his $66.1 million deal worth it for the Rays

PORT CHARLOTTE — The obstacles, biases and long odds Kevin Kiermaier overcame in rising from 31st-round draft pick to the reward of a six-year, $53.5-million deal will be forever considered a testament to hard work, determination and drive.

And now the Rays centerfielder extraordinaire is really ready to show you something.

"I still want to leave my legacy on the game, and I'm going to prove that with this contract," Kiermaier said Monday, during formal announcement of the deal, fittingly on the deck overlooking centerfield at the Charlotte Sports Park. "I'm not going to change my work ethic or anything like that. I'm still so hungry. I want to be great in this game, and play for as long as possible."

As dazzlingly impressive as Kiermaier, 27 in April, has been defensively in winning the first two of many Gold Gloves, as much promise as he has shown of becoming a disruptive offensive force with his combination of power and speed, as popular as he has become among their fans, the Rays don't make this size of an investment — worth potentially $66.15-million with incentives and a 2023 option — just on (considerable) good looks and talent.

"We're very careful and deliberate about the players we approach with these long-term contracts," Rays baseball operations president Matt Silverman said. "It does come down to character."

RELATED: PHOTOGRAPHER WILL VRAGOVIC'S FAVORITE IMAGES OF KEVIN KIERMAIER

Kiermaier is the third player the Rays under Stuart Sternberg's ownership have signed for at least six years, and they are comfortable enough to place him alongside Chris Archer and Evan Longoria as faces of their franchise.

"Kiermaier fits right into that category," Silverman said. "Someone who isn't going to change his style of play. He's going to work just as hard, maybe even harder to go and prove he's worth that contract. And more importantly, to help the team win."

Ultimately, of course, that's the idea. And how Kiermaier does that beyond the acrobatic catches and daring dashes around the bases is just as valuable.

"Character is off the charts, the positivity, the confidence," manager Kevin Cash said. "It's always a special quality to have when you're very self confident, but you don't come across as rubbing people the wrong way. I think KK really fits the mold about as well as anybody I've been around. ... He just has that infectious energy that can energize a dugout, a clubhouse. It really shows up when there's some difficult times during a season."

Archer raves with the rest of the pitchers of the confidence they have with Kiermaier behind them, knowing "if it's not caught then literally nobody on the planet would have caught the ball."

But, Archer said, "the most impressive part is he's continually trying to get better even though he is the best. And that's what the most successful people in the world do."

Laughing in telling how he shared news of the deal with his parents via Skype since his mom still has a flip phone and his dad won't carry one, Kiermaier remains very much rooted to his humble upbringing in Fort Wayne, Ind.

His relatively simple tastes (including the Impala he drives), his preference for the low-key nature of the Tampa Bay market he plans to call home forever, his "easy decision" to sign on once the Rays offered the security of the long-term deal provide further evidence.

"He actually reminds me a little bit of Torii Hunter in terms of the character, and the desire to go out and do what's right," agent Larry Reynolds said. "Kevin is special in that regard."

The chip from being the 941st player in the 2010 draft still sits on Kiermaier's shoulder and -— no matter how large his paycheck, no matter how comfortable his life becomes as recently bought his first house and got engaged — will continue to be a motivating force.

"This is a day that I can't say it's unbelievable because I've always dreamed of this and I've worked my butt off ever since I got to junior college to try and make this moment happen, and here it is," Kiermaier said.

"I couldn't be more thankful and grateful for this opportunity and everything else that comes along with it. A lot of hard work and dedication can make a lot of great things happen.

"I'm telling you, I'm the happiest man on the planet right now."

Marc Topkin can be reached at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @ TBTimes_Rays.

     
Comments
Live from Disney: Winter meetings update, day 1

Live from Disney: Winter meetings update, day 1

UPDATE, 10:30: In addition to the Cardinals, the Rockies and Mets are considered hot in pursuit of Rays closer Alex Colome. …. Keep hearing the Angels as a potential landing spot for 3B Evan Longoria if the Rays deal him. … Rays manager K...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Rays manager Kevin Cash on trade speculation, bullpen staffing, Yankees addition of Giancarlo Stanton

Rays manager Kevin Cash on trade speculation, bullpen staffing, Yankees addition of Giancarlo Stanton

Rays manager Kevin Cash was first up in the media room at the winter meetings today and here are a few up the more interesting things he said:* On trade speculation regarding their veterans such as Chris Archer and Evan Longoria: "I know there is a l...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Tampa Bay Rays cornerstone Evan Longoria “somewhere in limbo” due to trade speculation

Tampa Bay Rays cornerstone Evan Longoria “somewhere in limbo” due to trade speculation

Franchise cornerstone 3B Evan Longoria considers his future with the Rays "somewhere in limbo" based on speculation he could be traded as part of a cost-cutting and rebuilding movement."I don't know what to think, really,'' Longoria told the Tampa Ba...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Veteran 3B Evan Longoria as uncertain as anyone about Rays’ plans

Veteran 3B Evan Longoria as uncertain as anyone about Rays’ plans

LAKE BUENA VISTA — Uncertain with all the talk about potentially rebuilding if the Rays would go as far as trading franchise cornerstone 3B Evan Longoria?So is he."I don’t know what to think, really,’’ Longoria said via text message Sunday night as t...
Updated: 7 hours ago
AL East life gets even tougher for Rays with Yankees acquiring slugger Giancarlo Stanton from Marlins

AL East life gets even tougher for Rays with Yankees acquiring slugger Giancarlo Stanton from Marlins

The Marlins apparently found a trade to Giancarlo Stanton's liking, reportedly striking a deal early Saturday to send the slugging outfielder to the Yankees.That's bad news for the Rays and the other AL East teams, who will now have to face Stanton &...
Published: 12/09/17
Rays radio broadcaster Andy Freed takes part in event supporting fight against ALS

Rays radio broadcaster Andy Freed takes part in event supporting fight against ALS

Tampa Bay Rays radio broadcaster Andy Freed was up early Saturday to meet up with the Bladerunners team in Clearwater at the ALS Association Florida Chapter's annual Ride, Run, Roll to Defeat ALS, supporting Mike Leist, a former history teacher at St...
Published: 12/09/17
Winter Meetings Preview: Ranking the Rays most likely to be dealt

Winter Meetings Preview: Ranking the Rays most likely to be dealt

Rays officials head to Disney for this week’s winter meetings admitting they don’t know what they’re doing. Wait — that’s not exactly right. It’s more that they don’t know what they’re going to do.Having spent months collecting info and discussing op...
Published: 12/08/17
Updated: 12/09/17
Dwight Gooden dons Santa suit, but scene is hardly festive

Dwight Gooden dons Santa suit, but scene is hardly festive

NEW YORK — In one sense, there was nothing unusual about what Dwight Gooden was doing Tuesday night. In the spirit of the holiday season, he had been summoned to dress like Santa Claus and, as a result, was decked out in a red suit and hat, a curly w...
Published: 12/08/17

Rays sue outgoing concessionaire over "sad history" of failures

The Tampa Bay Rays sued outgoing concessionaire Centerplate in U.S. District Court on Friday, alleging the company harmed the team’s reputation, damaged its facilities and did not pay a fair share of revenue as part of a "sad history of failing to fu...
Published: 12/08/17
Ohtani makes surprising decision in picking Angels; will face Rays in July at the Trop

Ohtani makes surprising decision in picking Angels; will face Rays in July at the Trop

Japanese two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani decided on his team Friday, and it was something of a surprise as he opted to sign with the Angels.The Mariners and Padres had emerged as the favorites from the seven teams that were chosen, from the full fiel...
Published: 12/08/17