After whiffing on the two biggest names on the market, the Toronto Blue Jays have finally made their first big foray into free agency — although it’s likely not the one most fans were hoping for. Per multiple reports, the team is set to bring back center fielder Kevin Kiermaier on a one-year, $10.5 million deal.
On its face, it’s hard to find too much fault with this move. Kiermaier, 33, spent the first 11 years of his career with the Rays before signing with the Blue Jays last winter. He enjoyed one of his best seasons in Toronto, slashing .265/.322/.419 (104 OPS+) with eight homers, 21 doubles, six triples and 14 steals in 129 games — all while playing his typically excellent defense in center and earning his fourth Gold Glove.
While Kiermaier’s age is a concern as he pushes into his mid-30s, he shows no signs of losing his freaky athleticism and should likely continue to be a big plus on defense and on the bases. It’s even possible he can sustain the gains he made on offense in 2023 to be a productive lower-order hitter. The big issue with Kiermaier’s game is his injury history: Befitting his high-flying style in center, he’s played at least 130 games just once in his career, and has played fewer than 100 games three times.
In the bigger picture, however, this does raise some questions about where this Jays team is headed. With Kiermaier hitting free agency this winter, it was widely expected that Toronto would slide the younger Daulton Varsho to center, opening up the left-field job for a bigger left-handed that would compliment righty-hitting stars like George Springer, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. That seemed to make Cody Bellinger a perfect fit, but while Bellinger remains on the market, signing Kiermaier at this price would seem to indicate that the Jays’ outfield is now full — especially considering that they still have needs to fill at third base and DH with Matt Chapman and Brandon Belt also hitting free agency.
Maybe a deal for Bellinger is still in the cards. Or maybe they’ll manage a trade for someone like Jonathan India to plug their infield holes. As things stand, though — with a free-agent market largely barren of offensive difference-makers — it sure seems like Toronto is trending towards running things back in 2024. That’s a dangerous game, considering how in need of a jolt this group seemed after getting swept by the Twins in their AL Wild Card series — and considering that Bichette and Guerrero Jr. are now just two years away from hitting the market themselves.