Blue Jays improve run prevention by bringing back Kiermaier

MLB Network's FastCast discusses Kevin Kiermaier reportedly signing a one-year deal to return to the Toronto Blue Jays, how the signing impacts free agent Cody Bellinger, and more.

TORONTO — The Blue Jays made their first free agent move of the off-season on Boxing Day, agreeing to bring back centre fielder Kevin Kiermaier on a one-year, $10.5-million contract, according to two industry sources.

The deal, which is still pending a physical, includes some additional incentives for the 33-year-old winner of four Gold Gloves.

By bringing Kiermaier back, the Blue Jays improve their run prevention for 2024. Not only does he offer elite defence — advanced metrics at Baseball Savant placed him in the 96th percentile of fielders last year — his presence nudges Daulton Varsho into left field, where his range plays up as well.

Those two are slated to join George Springer in the Toronto outfield next year, which may take the Blue Jays out of the running for Cody Bellinger and Michael A. Taylor, two free agents who generate a significant part of their value as defenders. Now Bellinger would be an awkward fit for the Blue Jays barring a significant trade, leaving the Cubs and Giants as more likely suitors for the 28-year-old.

On days Kiermaier is out of the lineup, Varsho can move over to centre field, giving the Blue Jays elite defence at that position on a consistent basis. In 2023, Kiermaier successfully navigated back issues on his way to his second-highest games-played total in 11 big-league seasons. Yet playing on turf poses a challenge for some players, so there’s no guarantee Kiermaier takes the field for another 129 games in 2024.

It’s still imaginable that the Blue Jays could pursue a bat-first outfielder, as their designated hitter spot isn’t spoken for. The likes of Joc Pederson and Jorge Soler fit the description of players who appeared in the outfield last year, but may be better suited to DH roles moving forward.

One way or another, the Blue Jays will still be looking for offence after adding Kiermaier. Third base looks like a need, with Matt Chapman and Justin Turner still of interest to the Blue Jays, and there are lots of DH at-bats to go around as well. Plus, under the right circumstances, the Blue Jays could pursue a utility player such as Amed Rosario or Isiah Kiner-Falefa, both of whom are on the team’s radar.

In that sense, Kiermaier is one piece of a bigger puzzle, but he’s an important one, given his impact on the pitching staff that ranked second in the American League with a 3.78 ERA last year. And though he’s best known for his glove, Kiermaier also helped the Blue Jays offensively last season, batting .265/.322/.419 with eight home runs and 14 stolen bases from the ninth spot in the batting order.

As anyone who watched the 2023 Blue Jays knows, Kiermaier’s impact can be significant. With 3.9 wins above replacement last year, the numbers back that story up. At the same time, there still lots more work ahead for a front office that must add offence, too.

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