ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier expects to be ready for Opening Day next year following season-ending left hip surgery, but what team he will be with is yet to be determined.
The 32-year-old Kiermaier is in the final season of a $53.5 million, six-year contract agreed to in March 2017. The Rays have a team option for 2023, which they will likely decline.
While Kiermaier is focused on his rehab program, he also understands that this time with Tampa Bay that dates to his major league debut in 2013 could be over. He is open to staying with the Rays.
« I’m driven, I’m motivated, this is like, for me, chasing something again, » Kiermaier said on Saturday. « I’m going to do everything in my power to try to look like the player I was a couple years ago, and hopefully a team, several teams will be wanting me. That’s what I plan, and I’m very excited. »
The three-time AL Gold Glove winner was using crutches when he appeared in the Rays clubhouse for the first time since surgery before Tampa Bay played the Baltimore Orioles. He will use the crutches for three more weeks.
Kiermaier hit .228 with seven home runs and 22 RBI in 63 games this season.
One issue Kiermaier faces when looking ahead is that the Rays’ Tropicana Field has an artificial turf playing surface.
« Part of me is like, would I benefit from playing on grass everyday, maybe, » Kiermaier said. « I’ve got so accustomed to everything here. There’s so many pros and cons, way more pros, but the turf that’s definitely a big issue. »
« For me, there’s no better feeling than running out on Tropicana Field from the dugout to start a game, » he said. « That will forever be the thing that I think of. It will be interesting to see what happens moving forward. »
Kiermaier said he was in « really rough shape » over the last 1 1/2 years because of labrum issues. He last played on July 9.
« My labrum was in terrible shape, » Kiermaier said. « Looked awful. [The doctor] showed me pictures on before and after, and it was incredible I played as long as what I did. »
Kiermaier feels way better than expected 1 1/2 weeks after surgery and called the procedure « a complete win. »
« Throughout this month that I’ve been down, I’ve reflected a lot on a lot of things, » Kiermaier said. « A lot of memories here, I’m going to try and not tear up, but I’ve learned that the things that can make me tear and cry pretty easily are my kids and Tampa Bay Rays. »