For Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier, Port Charlotte is a great place to be

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PORT CHARLOTTE — For 99 days, Kevin Kiermaier lived with anxiety — and that’s a sweet description — about whether he would be traded by the Rays soon after the lockout ended.

Once the teams were cleared to return to action around 7 p.m. Thursday, he knew he would have to get “some feel” and give Rays officials time to “let the dust settle” and settle their affairs. more urgent.

He couldn’t even last two hours.

Before 9, Kiermaier asked his representatives to reach out to the Rays. Late that night, Agent Larry Reynolds spoke with President of Baseball Operations, Erik Neander. And on Friday morning, Kiermaier got the message he was hoping for:

No deal brewing, book accommodation in Port Charlotte and come for the spring training opening.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Kiermaier said Sunday. “Erik is like, ‘You can find a spot, you’ll be here.’ So I’m happy. I know these things could still happen throughout the season. Who knows? But I like it here.

“I wear that ‘Tampa Bay’ on my chest and I’m proud of it. I’ve been proud since I’ve been here. This organization has given me the world, and I am eternally grateful for every opportunity that comes my way. I’m so happy to be back.

Still, Neander’s commitment isn’t necessarily binding, as things can change quickly with an injury or renewed interest from another team at any time up to the July 31 trade deadline.

Kevin Kiermaier talks to members of the media during the first day of spring training at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

And while the Rays would rather avoid a repeat of 2018, when there was hard feelings at the club after they traded key players in spring training, that doesn’t mean they won’t close a deal yet. deal in March if it works for them.

Besides, there are reasons why Kiermaier’s name keeps coming up in trade talks.

He’ll be 32 in April, makes relatively big money ($12m for the team this year, plus a $2.5m buyout or $13m option for 2023), has a track record injuries and is not the only defensive defender on the field. listing.

But the Rays value his defense too much — or haven’t found anyone willing to compensate them for it — to let him go.

And Kiermaier loves staying with the Rays, who drafted him in 2010, so much that he doesn’t want to think about being with the Cubs, or the Phillies (who talked about him with the Rays just before the lockout) or any other team.

“If I had a way, that’s how I want it to be,” he said. “I think I was very adamant about it, and I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it. This organization has given me everything. You create opportunities for yourself and all that, but I’m so happy to to be here and I will try to do everything I can to stay as long as possible.

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Kevin Kiermaier and his son wave to fans as the Rays celebrate the AL East championship title at Tropicana Field last September.  Kiermaier thinks the Rays are on the verge of winning it all.
Kevin Kiermaier and his son wave to fans as the Rays celebrate the AL East championship title at Tropicana Field last September. Kiermaier thinks the Rays are on the verge of winning it all.
[ IVY CEBALLO | Times (2021) ]

Plus, he doesn’t want to miss out on what he hopes will be another great season for the Rays, with a legit shot — doubters be damned — to not only make the playoffs for a fourth straight season, but to finally everything. to earn.

“I don’t think we’re the underdogs anymore,” Kiermaier said. “There may still be people who don’t expect much from us and say, ‘Okay, I don’t know if this team can sustain that.’ But I think these people are wrong.

“The winning path will continue here. There’s just too much talent. Our cultural environment is exceptional. I hear that too from guys who come to see us – little things like that mean a lot. I expect great things from this group.

And he doesn’t need computer analysis or media predictions to validate his thoughts.

“The ‘Kiermaier Index’ says the Rays have all the pieces to make a run and we can lift that trophy,” he said. “I know it’s very hard. It’s difficult for all teams to do that. But you see what kind of team we have been for the last three years.

“We’ve had a bit of the same core, a few additions every year and we have experience now and guys who are really picking up their pace. … We just have to go now.

And Kiermaier just wants to be part of it.

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