Kevin Kiermaier wants to show up all the teams that passed him over in free agency, and he wants the Toronto Blue Jays to prove all their doubters wrong too.
“A motivated Kevin Kiermaier is the most dangerous Kevin Kiermaier and that’s what I’ve had throughout this whole off-season,” he said on Wednesday in a video conference with reporters. “Free agency fuelled me and the opportunity right now at the Blue Jays is fuelling me as well.
“I know I get to take that field with an awesome group of guys, with a great coaching staff, great city, great organization.”
Kiermaier decided to test free agency after his first season in Toronto but said he and his agents were disappointed in the offers they received from other teams. He hit .265 with 36 runs batted in, 58 runs, 14 stolen bases and eight home runs last year and earned a Gold Glove in his first season patrolling the outfield at Rogers Centre
The 33-year-old centre-fielder re-signed with the Blue Jays on Dec. 28, agreeing to a one-year contract worth US$10.5 million. Even though Toronto (89-73) finished third in the American League East and was swept out of the wild-card series by the Minnesota Twins, Kiermaier feels that the Blue Jays have all the parts to be a contender.
“I knew the whole time, too, ‘There’s no way if I do go to another team, there’s no way I’m going to go to a more talented team,’” said Kiermaier. “But we can just forget those conversations because I’m going back to the Jays, a super talented team, guys that I love and organization that has been great to me.
“I’m more than thrilled to be back. I’m so excited and 2024 is going to be a huge year for us.”
Kiermaier had hip surgery before signing with Toronto in 2022 and he figured that after a solid showing in a Blue Jays uniform for a year he’d be a highly prized free agent. The market didn’t meet those expectations, so he has worked this off-season to be healthier and more fluid in his movements to prove opposing general managers wrong.
“I’ve been working my butt off, I’m ready to go,” said Kiermaier. “I’m ready to have a better year than what I did last year.
“The Blue Jays were the team that called and made me the best offer and was more than thrilled to come back.”
Utility man Isiah Kiner-Falefa signed with Toronto a day after Kiermaier decided to return to the Blue Jays. Although he was offered deals to be a full-time shortstop, he agreed to a two-year, $15 million contract with Toronto.
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His role on the team is not yet known but, with Toronto third baseman Matt Chapman testing free agency, general manager Ross Atkins said it’s likely Kiner-Falefa will be in the hot corner.
“It’ll depend on the rest of our off-season really,” said Atkins. “There could be a pathway for him to get a lot of third base, if that’s the way we’re currently constructed, but that could change.”
Kiner-Falefa hit .242 last season with 37 RBIs, 39 runs, 14 stolen bases and six home runs for the New York Yankees. Atkins said that Kiner-Falefa’s defensive ability, base running, versatility, and contact rates made him an attractive signing.
But the 28-year-old Kiner-Falefa, who spent four seasons with the Texas Rangers before joining the Yankees in 2022, said his decision to sign with the Blue Jays was more about the team’s potential than what position he might play this year.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about winning for me,” he said. “I really want to win. I have the most fun when I’m winning, I feel like guys bond more and I just want to be a part of something special.
“I feel like playing in Toronto is special because you get to play in front of a whole country.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 3, 2024.
&© 2024 The Canadian Press
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