The Tampa Bay Rays are in the business of signing their young players to team friendly, long-term contract extensions. In the past the likes of Matt Moore, James Shields, and Chris Archer all received these types of deals. With Kevin Kiermaier‘s emergence this season, could he too be in line for a long-term deal?
Kiermaier came into this season with a reputation of playing some of the best outfield defense in all of baseball. He has stayed true to his reputation in regards to defense, as he has shown a plus range and plus arm en route to a 47.2 UZR/150 (small sample size does apply). He does need to work on being less reckless and making fewer mental mistakes, but Kiermaier is a true playmaker in the outfield.
2013 was really the only year he had done anything special with the bat in the minors, and thus people thought he might be more suited for a 4th outfielder role a la Sam Fuld. But this year, Kiermaier has put all the doubters of his bat to rest. In 34 games with Triple-A Durham, he hit .305/.362/.461 (127 wRC+). With the Rays he has been even better, slashing .310/.349/.576 (160 wRC+). His power is likely too good to be true, and his stats may be a bit inflated by a .345 BABIP (though in his career Kiermaier has almost always posted an above-average BABIP). However, Kiermaier has shown himself to be a good hitter even if he does regress some, and he has quickly turned himself from iffy starter to Rays outfielder of the future because of it.
Kiermaier will likely be arbitration eligible in 2017 via the Super Two clause, meaning he will be eligible for arbitration 4 times instead of 3 based on his service time. He will play at the league minimum through 2016, meaning the Rays don’t have to be too rushed in giving him an extension. But the longer they wait the more that the allure of arbitration and free agency gets a hold of Kiermaier, and the less likely he is to take below his value in order to have some financial security up front.
As far as the money that Kiermaier would receive, it is hard to find comparables. Players that have less than a year of service time, or even around a year of service time, rarely receive extensions, and those that do were more highly regarded than Kiermaier for a longer period of time. One similar player could be Yan Gomes, who was never ranked a top prospect or particularly highly regarded in the minors. But after bursting onto the scene with the Cleveland Indians last season, Gomes received a 6 year, $23 million deal with two options at $9 million and $11 million. Gomes’ value might be slightly higher because he plays catcher, but it is a decent comparison.
The Rays could offer Kiermaier a deal for 6 years at $19 million ($17 million if for some reason he did not become Super Two eligible) with two club options valued at $8 million and $10 million. This would cover all of Kiermaier’s pre-arbitration and arbitration years, and give the Rays control of two options for his first two free agent seasons. As with any extension, this is risky if Kiermaier sees injuries or poor performance down the road. But, it would be a bargain if Kiermaier stayed on his current track. As for Kiermaier, he would give up potential future earnings, but also be guaranteed financial security for the rest of his life. In the end, an extension makes sense, but only if the Rays and Kevin Kiermaier can reach the right deal.