In the same week Jasson Dominguez underwent Tommy John surgery, it is possible the Yankees witnessed their 2024 Opening Day center fielder patrol the outfield in The Bronx.
Kevin Kiermaier sure sounds open to trading jerseys this offseason and donning pinstripes.
The three-time Gold Glover is enjoying what might be his strongest offensive season in his first year with the Blue Jays.
Kiermaier spent his first 10 seasons with the Rays, with whom he was a middling hitter and game-changing outfielder.
The soon-to-be free agent could continue his tour through the division with a third AL East club — and one that notably does not play its home games on turf, as the Rays and Jays do.
“I like the AL East. I’ve played in the division my entire career. I especially like here and Fenway,” Kiermaier said this week, when his Blue Jays won the first two of three games against the Yankees but lost Thursday’s finale, 5-3. “Feel like I’m always hitting homers here or playing well.
“Being on the turf my entire career, I enjoy being on the grass. My body feels so much better being on grass.”
The lefty-hitting Kiermaier entered Thursday with a strong .850 OPS in his career at the Stadium, a persistent contact-hitting and smooth-fielding annoyance to the Yankees for a lot of good Rays clubs.
The thin center-field market this offseason will include Cody Bellinger, Harrison Bader, Kiermaier and not much else.
The Yankees figure to be interested especially after losing Dominguez, who underwent surgery Wednesday and is expected to need nine to 10 months of recovery.
If the Yankees are looking for a stopgap at the position, the 33-year-old Kiermaier would be an appealing option.
He underwent hip surgery in 2022, signed with the Blue Jays last offseason for one year and $9 million and has rebounded by asserting himself as back among the strongest defensive outfielders in the game.
Kiermaier entered play as the top-rated center fielder by Defensive Runs Saved and the third-best when measured by Outs Above Average.
“I feel like I’ve put myself in a good position [entering free agency], coming off hip surgery and being 33, but still feel like I’m holding my own out there in center,” said Kiermaier, who is outstanding defensively, but would come with injury risks. “It always comes down to hitting. I can run the bases and play great defense every year.
“For me, I wanted to prove to myself and everyone else I can handle the bat, and I’m really happy with how things have gone.”
Kiermaier brought a .269 average and .757 OPS into play that would represent his best numbers since 2017.
For his offensive uptick he credited several factors, including contacts and a contact-based approach.
Kiermaier said he recently realized that his vision had been declining.
He got his eyes checked out and was fitted for contacts, which he has worn for the first time this season.
“My vision was way worse than I thought in years past,” Kiermaier said. “I feel like I’ve just seen the ball a lot better.”
With better vision and a rehabbed hip, he refined his approach as well.
He has hit as many as 15 home runs in a season, but has never been known for his power.
Kiermaier, who went 1-for-3 with a run scored in the Blue Jays’ loss on Thursday, has just eight home runs in 2023, though that is eight more than he aspired to hit this season.
“I just wanted to have a simplified approach with everything. I had a goal where I said I’m not going to hit any home runs this year,” said Kiermaier, whose 21.2 percent strikeout rate this year was his best since 2016. “I just want to use the whole field and not try to hit for power. I’ve been a guy who can hit for occasional power, and there’s times where I’ve tried to make it more of a tool for me. And those times it usually doesn’t work out.
“So just honing in on a middle-away approach for the first time ever. … The results were there.”
The righty-heavy, strikeout-heavy and defensively spotty Yankees could be a fit.
Kiermaier did not want to look too far ahead and said he is having “a blast” during a playoff chase with the Blue Jays, but he is aware that he has set himself up nicely for this offseason.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there, but I’m motivated,” he said about his free agency. “I know I got a lot left in the tank.”