The Detroit Tigers need a center fielder. It’s the last piece of the 2017 puzzle they have yet to fill, and they haven’t really presented any serious contenders for the position. For most fans, if asked to make a wish list of who they would like to see in the Comerica Park center field, Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier would be near the top. He’s young, he’s skilled, and he doesn’t currently cost too much.
While general manager Al Avila may have said there isn’t a requirement for him to cut payroll, it would be a good idea to do so. The reality of the situation is that the Tigers already have a lot of money invested in their current roster and can’t afford to bring on the kind of high-level, young players they might want the most. Kiermaier was always going to be a long-shot for the Tigers, and the Rays have little incentive to part with him. Let’s take a look at why he’s unlikely to be donning an old English D this season.
Why do we want him?
Kiermaier is a two-time Gold Glove winner who has spent his entire major league career with the Rays. He has hit .258/.313/.425 over his three major league seasons, and while none of his overall batting numbers are enough to merit cracking open the big Paws piggy-bank, they are not where Kiermaier’s strength lies.
At only 26 years old, he has led the league in defensive WAR the last two season, with 5.0 in 2015 and 3.0 in 2016. His center field DRS and UZR are mind-bogglingly good. With a +15 being considered Gold Glove worthy, Kiermaier has smashed all expectations. In 2015 his DRS in center was a staggering +42 runs, and that number was still well above average in 2016 with +25. His UZR in 2015 was +30, and in 2016 it was +12.3. His out of zone plays are remarkable as well, with 63 in 2016 and 100 in 2015. It’s important to note that he missed a significant portion of 2016 due to an injury, which makes his numbers all the more impressive for the absence.
Kiermaier is quite possibly one of the best center fielders in the game today. His numbers, even with the decline in 2016, are striking, and he has the Gold Glove awards to prove it. He’s precisely the kind of young, exciting player the Tigers should be looking to add to their outfield.
Why can’t we have him?
For starters, the Rays don’t seem interested in moving him. He just avoided arbitration with the team, signing a one-year $2.975 million contract. This is a huge leap from the $514,400 he earned last season. Kiermaier won’t reach free agency until 2021, which makes him an interesting trade target. Were he to move to a new team they could theoretically have him locked down for at least three seasons. It’s obvious, however, that the Rays are aware of Kiermaier’s value.
While the Rays have certainly added a lot of outfield depth this offseason by signing Colby Rasmus and acquiring Mallex Smith, this certainly doesn’t indicate there’s any less need for their existing center fielder. Kiermaier is young, he has rebounded to full health after last season’s injury, and he is exceptionally talented. Given his stats up to this point, he is certainly a future All-Star, and could be precisely the kind of franchise face the Rays are looking for.
It seems very unlikely the team would move him unless they were going to get a big reward in the process. In order for the Tigers to snag Kiermaier they would likely need to part with the bulk of their prospects, or send a few big name players down—think J.D. Martinez and Ian Kinsler. This sort of deal could involve a multi-team trade, especially if someone like the Dodgers were as hungry to get Kinsler as they seem to be. Even then, the Rays would have little reason to trade someone so young, cheap, and talented.
What makes it all the more unlikely is the direction the Tigers seem to be moving in. If the long-term goal is to shed bulky contracts in favor of a younger, leaner club next season, Kiermaier may be more of a hindrance than a help in the long run. He’s young and talented, but he will also get expensive quickly, especially if he remains as good as he currently is. The Tigers need to look at an inexpensive veteran available on a one-year contract to get them through the 2017 season, then assess their long-term goals.
As much as Kiermaier fits into the win-now narrative Tigers fans would love to see the team take, adding him to the roster would come at too high a cost both immediately and further down the road. And that’s only if the Rays are even remotely interested in moving him, which seems unlikely.