PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. (AP) — The drive from 31st-round draft choice to one of baseball’s best defensive players paid off for Kevin Kiermaier.
The Tampa Bay Rays rewarded their center fielder with a six-year, $53.5 million contract that ranks among the largest financial commitments the team has ever given a player.
“I can’t say it’s unbelievable because I’ve always dreamed of this, and I’ve worked … ever since I got to junior college to try to make this moment happen,” the two-time AL Gold Glove winner said Monday.
“I couldn’t be more thankful and grateful,” said Kiermaier, who turns 27 next month. “A lot of hard work and dedication can make a lot of great things happen.”
The deal could keep him in a Tampa Bay uniform through 2022 and includes a club option for a seventh season which — including incentives — could boost the total value of the contract to $66.15 million.
Not bad for a defensive whiz who continues to draw motivation from being overlooked when he was drafted coming out of Parkland College in Illinois.
“I was the 941st pick of the 2010 draft. I’ll never forget that,” Kiermaier said.
“At the time, I was pretty bitter about that because I knew I was better than that,” he added. “But at the same time, I wouldn’t change that for anything. I always use it as a chip on my shoulder.”
Kiermaier joins Evan Longoria and Chris Archer as the only players to sign contracts guaranteed for at least six years by the Rays since principal owner Stuart Sternberg took control of the budget-minded franchise in 2005.
Longoria signed a six-year, $17.5 million deal as a rookie in 2008, then agreed to a six-year, $100 million extension in November 2012. Archer agreed to a six-year, $25.5 million contract after the 2014 season.
Rays president of baseball operations Matt Silverman called Kiermaier’s contract a “classic win-win” for an organization.
“You’re talking about the faces of our franchise right now, and guys who have made a commitment to the Tampa Bay Rays,” Silverman said.
“We don’t have the opportunity often to make these types of commitments — even to have the initial conversations, much less actually consummate a deal,” Silverman added. “But if you look at those three guys, you look at Kevin in the outfield, Longo at third base and Chris Archer on the mound, those are cornerstones of a franchise.”
Kiermaier made his major league debut in 2013 as a late-inning replacement during Tampa Bay’s Game 163 tiebreaker win over Texas. By the end of the following season, he was the Rays’ regular center fielder.
Kiermaier missed 48 games with a broken left hand in 2016. He batted .246 with 12 homers, 37 RBIs and a career-best 21 stolen bases.
And while he welcomes the financial security of a new contract, Kiermaier vowed big money won’t change him or the way he approaches the game.
“I’m never content with anything I’m doing. I always want to be the best player I can possibly be,” the native of Fort Wayne, Indiana, said. “I don’t think I’ve scratched the surface yet. I know I can be a lot more well-rounded player. I hope to prove that this year and many more to come.”
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