Blue Jays: How will Kevin Kiermaier impact the Jays locker room?

Andy Moore
Toronto Blue Jays v Tampa Bay Rays
Toronto Blue Jays v Tampa Bay Rays / Douglas P. DeFelice/GettyImages
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There was a mixed reaction to Shi Davidi’s tweet announcing that Kevin Kiermaier would be joining the Toronto Blue Jays.

Many scrambled to point out the irony that the Jays had snapped up the man that drew the ire of seemingly an entire city, after the fleet footed center fielder took Alejandro Kirk’s lineup card during a game in the 2021 season. Others bemoaned a recent injury history and less than stellar batting stats.

However, there were those that saw the positive side of the nine million dollar deal. Kiermaier’s excellent defensive ability was the most touted positive, something that Jays’ GM, Ross Atkins, later reiterated. Some people simply remembered specific games that the former Rays outfielder had been a thorn in the side of his new team, whether at the plate or in the outfield.

The deal received further praise following the acquisition of Dalton Varsho, with analysts and fans rushing to point out that the new look Toronto outfield is defensively superior to any of its recent predecessors. But with the Jays losing both Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Teoscar Hernández, there remains a question around how the culture of the team will shift going into 2023.

That question could be answered by taking a deeper look at the new starting (according to the man himself) center fielder.

In 2011, Kiermaier was playing in the Midwest League when an opposition coordinator was particularly enthralled by his defensive play. The unnamed admirer said the young outfielder was like an outlaw, doing his own thing to get the job done. Not one to be shy about his locker room persona, the Indiana native seized the comment and branded himself ‘The Outlaw’ according to MLB.com, a name that the Rays would later help him to push in the big leagues.

Many would associate a nickname like ‘The Outlaw’ with a player who is perhaps overconfident or has the odd disciplinary issue. That isn’t how Kiermaier sees it. Instead, he has chosen to wear the moniker as a tribute to his steadfast commitment to being himself on and off the field. 

‘Being yourself’ is often a bit of a cliche in the current world of LinkedIn and other social media posts, but Kiermaier clearly believes in his ability as a player and even more so as a leader and an example to the younger players in the locker room. The Jays have surely taken notice of this, and all the glowing reports on the charisma of the three time Gold Glove winner, when going about their business.

Back in 2019, Kiermaier was the darling of the Tampa media, with the local beat writer describing him as:

‘...A leader in the clubhouse, from addressing his teammates when needed, to heading up the post-game dance-party celebrations for each win, to being readily available to the media in good times and bad.’

The average player isn’t always talked about with such enthusiasm, and at the time Kiermaier was five years into his career as a Ray and was at the heart of the team’s resurgence. However, the piece goes on to describe the charity work he and his wife do, particularly their work with local children in Florida, along with his willingness to provide coaching at the University of Tampa during the offseason. Not all professional sportsmen have that attitude towards community and giving back, and this certainly wasn’t a one off for Kiermaier - when he first entered the league, Fox Sports reported that he went back to his former college to help over the winter period.

The most used word that is used to describe one of the newest Blue Jays acquisitions is ‘confident’. Not many will disagree with that assertion, and the fiery response to criticism from the Jays camp after the lineup card incident showed that Kiermaier believed in himself, and that he was willing to do what it takes to win. 

That same self belief also showed itself in Kiermaier’s introductory press confidence. It takes a strong character to step outside the non-answers that sports stars are trained to give and assert that they will be a crucial cog for their team. But that is exactly what Kiermaier did when he said that center field was his job to lose.

‘They want me manning center field. There were no platoon talks. It seems like it’s my job to lose.’ - Kiermaier on his playing time prospects in 2023.

All of this points to a change in the culture of the Jays locker room this offseason. With a lot of young star players, the presence of a veteran that not only knows the AL East, but knows what it takes to succeed in the playoffs is a lot more valuable than some may think. Even if Kiermaier’s recent run of injuries rears its head again in 2023, his leadership may prove invaluable for the Jays. Add in his defensive ability, and this may turn into one of the better pieces of business that Atkins does this offseason.

Next. MLB.com's latest has Blue Jays making it to 2023 World Series. dark

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