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Why is the Kevin Kiermaier extension so important?

ST. PETERSBURG, FL – The first thing we need to go back to when talking about why this extension with CF Kevin Kiermaier needed to happen is the early part of the 2016 season. Remember when the Rays were 20-19 before that fateful game in Detroit when the now two-time Gold Glove winner broke his hand? Sure it was .500 baseball. Nothing to throw a parade over. However, Rays started a historic spiral into an abyss that saw them post a 14-35 record, including a 3-22 stretch pre-All Star Break, which proved to be a far too deep a hole.

Is that, alone, worth a $53.5M contract over six years?

Of course not. So let’s dig deeper, shall we?

Kiermaier also, for the second straight year, led the American League in defensive WAR and his 25 “defensive runs saved” was best among MLB center fielders and second to Boston’s Mookie Betts for best among all players in baseball.

Now is he worth the extension? Maybe.

Let’s take a look at one more point pertaining to Kiermaier, himself.

The biggest “knock” on KK has been his offense. He’s been an average player at best throughout most of his time at the MLB level. Looking at other high-paid players at his position (not named Trout because that’s just not fair), Kiermaier is probably going to post numbers closer to the Cubs Dexter Fowler . Fowler, who will make $16.5M in 2017, played in 125 games last season and hit 13 HR, 48 RBI, and a slash of .276/.393/.447 with an OPS of .840. Fowler has also been in the league since 2008 but never hit more than 17 HR and is a career .268 hitter. Kiermaier hit a career-high 12 HR in 2016 and saw his on-base % rise from .298 in 2015 to .331 in 2016. He was also 21-for-24 on the bases, a career high as well.

Convinced, yet?

Here’s one more point that is worth noting not having to do directly with Kiermaier but more the Rays organization.

Name all the players in the 20 years of this franchise that the Rays front office has locked into contracts that could potentially have them start and end their careers in Tampa Bay. I’m talking contract extensions that see them in a Rays (or Devil Rays) uniform for 10+ years.

If your guess was one player – you’d be absolutely correct. His name, as if you didn’t know, is Evan Longoria who is about to begin his six-year extension that he actually signed back in 2012. That deal keeps Longo under contract with the Rays until 2023 when he’ll be 37 years old. Sure there have been guys like Carl Crawford, James Shields, and Ben Zobrist who spent a majority of their careers in a Rays jersey. However none of them reached the 10-year milestone and none were ever truly labeled the “face” of the franchise before Longoria.

Kevin Kiermaier, already entering his fourth season with the team, could now be number two. He was slated to make $2.975M in 2017 after his first year of arbitration. This extension will begin immediately and give him a bump in salary that will most likely exceed the $9M mark.

Kiermaier is a fan favorite. Rays fans for years have been very vocal about this team not keeping these types of players around once their free agency years loomed. David Price being the most recent example of that as far as tenured players that fans really took to.

Has a precedent now been set with this Kiermaier extension? One would think so. Does that mean another player or two could be shown the same type of deal in the near future? Despite all the heated trade rumors this past off season about Chris Archer being shopped – the ace of this staff for the last two years remains. Could the Rays maybe make him the next player that gets locked up?

Time will tell.

Congrats, Kevin Kiermaier. You’ve earned it.

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