The Rays are exploring the trade markets for both infielder Joey Wendle and center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, tweets Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. Earlier today, Matt Gelb of The Athletic reported that the Phillies have had trade talks surrounding Kiermaier as they continue to search for an option in center field.
Wendle, 31, was one of the Rays’ whopping 19 arbitration-eligible players entering the offseason, and teams have until 8pm ET tonight to determine whether to tender contracts to those players. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projects a $4MM salary for Wendle next season, but the Rays are deep in infield talent with the likes of Wander Franco, Brandon Lowe, Yandy Diaz and prospects Vidal Brujan and Taylor Walls.
There’s little chance the Rays would simply non-tender Wendle. He’s coming off a solid .265/.319/.422 batting line (106 wRC+) through 501 plate appearances in 2021, and beyond his contribution with the bat, he played above-average defense at each of second base, third base and shortstop. He’s also controlled another two seasons via arbitration, so a team in need of help at second and/or third base would surely be intrigued by the possibility of swinging a deal with the Rays.
Kiermaier is in an entirely different situation. The 31-year-old is entering the final guaranteed season of a six-year, $53.5MM contract extension and is due to earn $12MM next season (plus at least a $2.5MM buyout on a $13MM option for the 2023 campaign). His name has been kicked about the rumor mill for years now, largely on account of his salary naturally increasing in the latter stages of that extension.
Though Kiermaier has struggled to remain healthy throughout his MLB career, it’s obvious why a Phillies club that has been defensively inept for several years would have interest in adding him to the mix. When healthy, Kiermaier is among the best defensive players on the planet, regardless of position. And while he’s been inconsistent with the bat, his composite .243/.321/.401 batting line dating back to 2016 is only about five percent below average, by measure of wRC+. Kiermaier also provides ample value on the basepaths, evidenced in part by a 77% success rate in stolen-base attempts during that time.
The Phillies have about $171MM in payroll commitments for the 2022 season and a near identical mark in luxury-tax obligations, per Roster Resource’s Jason Martinez. Kiermaier would add $12MM to their bottom-line payroll but only about $8.91MM to their luxury ledger, thanks to the backloaded nature of his contract extension.
Philadelphia has been seeking an upgrade in center field for several years now and has already missed out on top free agent Starling Marte this winter. The Phils also held interest in Minnesota’s Byron Buxton, but the Twins signed him to a seven-year extension with a full no-trade clause, firmly closing the book on any such possibility.
It’s at least plausible that the Phils could have interest in a combo deal with the Rays that would send both Kiermaier and Wendle to the City of Brotherly Love. The Phillies have been loosely tied to infield upgrades, and while it’s not reported to be a top priority for them, Wendle would give them some cover on the left side of the infield where both Didi Gregorius and Alec Bohm are coming off lackluster seasons.
The Rays have a full 40-man roster and still need to make room for the formal addition of right-hander Corey Kluber, who agreed to a one-year, $8MM deal with Tampa Bay on Sunday.