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Kevin Kiermaier, Rays agree to extension that’s good for everyone

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A 31st-round pick gets a big payday, while the Rays lock up one of their best players.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays
Kevin Kiermaier and the Rays agreed to an extension on Tuesday.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays and outfielder Kevin Kiermaier reportedly agreed to a six-year, $53.5 million extension on Tuesday. With the deal, the Rays are able to lock up one of their most promising young players, while Kiermaier gets some financial (and likely team) security over the next six seasons.

Kiermaier has been featured a lot here at Beyond The Box Score, often for his outstanding defense. I’ll sum his career up quickly before going into the extensive details of what his contract means in context.

After he spent two years attending Parkland College in Illinois, the Rays picked Kiermaier in the 2010 MLB Draft with the 941st overall pick in the 31st round. They offered the outfielder a $75,000 signing bonus to bring him on board, and by that summer, he began his professional career.

Kiermaier made his MLB debut in 2013, but it was not until 2014 that he got his first plate appearance. That season, he took the baseball community by surprise after never cracking any top prospect lists. Kiermaier slashed .263/.315/.450, posted a 117 wRC+ and was worth 3.9 fWAR due to a ridiculous 36.3 UZR/150 and 14 defensive runs saved.

Since then, he’s done more of the same — he’s accumulated 13.1 fWAR to this point, mainly because of defensive numbers that continually rank at the top of the major leagues. Plus, his offensive abilities aren’t terrible (career 105 wRC+) and his baserunning has only gotten better, in both stolen bases and advancement.

So, the Rays have themselves a complete package in Kiermaier. He's a budding star player who truly epitomizes their franchise. Tampa is known as an analytically heavy team, with ESPN ranking them in 2015 as the fourth-most analytically-inclined sports franchise among all four major sports. And few (if any) players are looked upon more favorably by advanced analytics than Kiermaier, even though they might not necessarily pass the “eye test.”

That’s what makes this extension so positive for the team. Tampa Bay is able to lock up a player that has gained increasing importance in its lineup — and, of course, in its outfield. Instead of potentially having to go to arbitration with him four times because he’s a Super Two player, the Rays know what implications he will have on their payroll year in and year out. Additionally, the contract delays his free agency by at least one year, a huge plus. And, while details are not fully reported, the contract is thought to include an option that could make it two.

Kiermaier, meanwhile, gains financial security, job security and a huge payday, especially after he signed for just a $75,000 bonus back in 2010. Here’s how his contract stacks up with other outfielder extensions of players between two and three years of service time since 2010. The players’ WAR values are at time of signing:

Outfielder extensions since 2010

Player Years Options Amount (MM) Super Two Service Time Career WAR
Player Years Options Amount (MM) Super Two Service Time Career WAR
Kevin Kiermaier 6 1 53.5 Yes 2.131 13.1
Ender Inciarte 5 1 30.525 Yes 2.157 9.5
Odubel Herrera 5 2 30.5 No 2.000 7.8
Adam Eaton 5 2 23.5 No 2.030 3.2
Bryce Harper 2 0 7.5 Yes 2.159 10
Mike Trout 6 0 144.5 No 2.070 21.5
Allen Craig 5 1 31 No 2.077 4.7
Andrew McCutchen 6 1 51.5 No 2.123 12.4
Cameron Maybin 5 1 25 No 2.073 6.3
Carlos Gonzalez 7 0 80 No 2.059 8.7
Jay Bruce 6 1 51 Yes 2.125 7.8
Ben Zobrist 4 2 18 No 2.152 8.2
Adam Lind 4 3 18 No 2.085 4.1
Justin Upton 6 0 51.25 No 2.060 4.9
All data from MLBTradeRumors.com’s extension tracker.

Kiermaier’s closest comparison, interestingly enough, is Andrew McCutchen. At the time of his extension, the Pirates outfielder had been worth 12.4 fWAR (about a win less than Kiermaier) and was entering his age-25 season (Kiermaier turns 27 next month). That Kiermaier was actually able to out-earn McCutchen shows how far baseball has come analytically (and monetarily).

McCutchen’s extension has worked out quite well for the Pirates. Even with a tough 2016 season, he’s earned 21.7 fWAR over the life of his current deal. The Rays hope that Kiermaier is on a similar path to that of McCutchen. If they didn’t think that it was possible, then they wouldn’t have taken a risk of this caliber. Extensions early in a players’ arbitration years have proven to be quite valuable, and Tampa Bay knows that. While a risk, it’s a calculated one.

And Kiermaier may not have hit his prime yet. At a deal just shy of $9 million per season, Kiermaier would have to be worth around 1-2 WAR per year (1 fWAR was worth $7.92 million in 2016, although that figure increases every year) to pay it back. In theory, he could pay off the deal in two years, or even just a single superb season.

To simplify it all, the Rays are betting on Kiermaier’s production over the next six years. He, on the other hand, makes a pretty penny, more than every outfielder with between two and three years of service time, except some guy named Mike Trout. In this deal, everyone wins.

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Devan Fink is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @DevanFink.