Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier underwent season-ending hip surgery last month, and the outfielder took to Twitter to send a video updating on his recovery and thank fans for the support this week (video link). Within, Kiermaier indicated that the hip issues which ultimately required the surgery have plagued him for the past year and a half. The Rays described the surgery as a procedure to address an impingement and repair a torn labrum, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.
Of course, for many Rays fans, the broader question is whether Kiermaier will suit up in Tampa Bay or with another club next year. Unsurprisingly, both Topkin and Bob Nightengale of USA Today wrote this weekend that the Rays are planning to pay the $2.5MM buyout on Kiermaier’s $13MM club option rather than commit to that weighty guarantee. That was obvious from the moment Kiermaier underwent surgery; it was worth wondering whether the low-payroll Rays would’ve picked up that option even in the event of a generally healthy and productive season.
Kiermaier didn’t address the contract specifically but made sure to mention his fondness for the Tampa area, the Rays organization, the community and the fans who’ve reached out to offer him support as he’s gone through this latest injury. Whether he’ll return to the Rays next year is likely dependent on how several of the organization’s younger options play over the next few months.
Randy Arozarena and Manuel Margot — on the shelf himself due to a knee injury — seem likely to return regardless. Arozarena has not yet even reached arbitration (though could do so as a Super Two player this winter) and thus remains quite affordable. Margot inked a two-year extension spanning the 2023-24 seasons (plus a 2025 team option) not long before Opening Day. Elsewhere on the roster, the Rays have the just-acquired Jose Siri and top prospect Josh Lowe, both of whom have struggled against big league pitching this season. Siri could fill a similar backup role to that of the since-traded Brett Phillips, whereas Lowe entered the season widely viewed as a potential long-term option in the outfield.
From a financial perspective, there ought to be room on the books for Kiermaier, particularly if he’s signing at a reduced rate. The Rays only have about $22MM in guaranteed salary on next year’s ledger, although that does not include a massive arbitration class featuring Tyler Glasnow, Ji-Man Choi, Ryan Yarbrough, Yandy Diaz, Andrew Kittredge, Francisco Mejia, Yonny Chirinos, Jeffrey Springs, Nick Anderson, Jalen Beeks, Harold Ramirez, Pete Fairbanks, JT Chargois, Colin Poche, Ryan Thompson and perhaps, depending on the Super Two cutoff, both Arozarena and Jason Adam. Not all of that group will be tendered a contract — Yarbrough, for instance, could be cut loose or traded elsewhere — but it has the potential to be a pricey group by the Rays’ standards, especially if Arozarena indeed reaches arbitration eligibility.
The 32-year-old Kiermaier has spent parts of ten seasons in the Majors, batting a combined .248/.308/.407 with some of the best glovework of any player in the Majors, regardless of position. The fearless manner in which Kiermaier patrols the outfield (and, presumably, the artificial surface on which he plays half his games) has taken its toll on his body over the years and regularly left Kiermaier sidelined for lengthy stints on the injured list.
Dating back to 2016 (and excluding the shortened 2020 season), Kiermaier has averaged 86 games played per year, missing time along the way with a fractured left hand, a fractured right hip, a torn ligament in his right thumb, a damaged ligament in his other thumb, a sprained left wrist and now this most recent left hip surgery. Even in spite of that huge list of injuries, Kiermaier has the fourth-most Defensive Runs Saved of the 5511 players who’ve stepped onto a Major League field in that span.