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Isiah Kiner-Falefa has done his job for the Yankees

The Yankees needed IKF to be “good enough,” and he has done just that so far this season.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at New York Yankees Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

When the Yankees acquired Isiah Kiner-Falefa as part of the blockbuster March with the Minnesota Twins, they were demonstrating their faith in the trio of shortstop prospects: Anthony Volpe, Oswald Peraza, and Oswaldo Cabrera. Not surprisingly, given the loaded shortstop free agent market this past winter, many fans weren’t exactly thrilled with the decision to go with a stopgap. Many, including myself, hoped that one of the two infielders at Triple-A, Peraza and Cabrera, would catch fire at the plate and force their way into the Yankees starting lineup this summer.

While it’s impossible to rule anything out when it comes to baseball — doubly so when we’re dealing with prospects — it seems unlikely that this outcome will come to pass. Peraza has not exactly been tearing the cover off the ball in Scranton, slashing just .211/.287/.348 (71 wRC+) with 12 extra-base hits in 42 games. Cabrera got off to an even worse start, posting a .186/.255/.337 slash line of his own (57 wRC+) and striking out more than 30 percent of the time; additionally, he has not played since May 8th due to a shoulder injury. Although there’s plenty of time to turn things around — Cabrera is 3.5 years younger than the average player in Triple-A, and Peraza a year younger than that — it’s not a good sign for their ability to impact the major league club in 2022.

Fortunately for the Yankees, that isn’t quite as big a concern as it could be, because Isiah Kiner-Falefa has been exactly what the Yankees needed him to be: good enough.

Now, at first glance, that might seem like damning with faint praise — after all, everybody wants to be “good,” not “good enough.” But for the Yankees, that actually represents a major improvement at the shortstop position. Last season, Yankees shortstops (Gleyber Torres with a bit of Gio Urshela, Andrew Velazquez, and Tyler Wade) combined for just 1.5 fWAR, tied for 23rd in the league with the Baltimore Orioles. Their 90 wRC+ at the position ranked 20th, and defensively they were even worse, ranking 27th in Defensive Runs Saved (-15) and Outs Above Average (-14) and 22nd in UZR/150 (-2.1).

2022, however, has been a very different story. Headed into action last night, Yankees shortstops have accrued 1.0 fWAR, tied for 14th in the league. While they have been slightly below-average at the plate (their 88 wRC+ is tied for 17th), their defense has ranged from slightly above-average to decisively above-average depending on which metrics you’re looking at: their combined 1 DRS is 13th in the league at short and their -1 OAA is 14th, while their 6.9 UZR/150 is fourth-best (behind only Miami, San Diego, and Oakland). Unlike last season, shortstop is no longer a major hole for the Yankees.

A large part of this improvement has been due to Kiner-Falefa’s performance, as he has manned the position roughly 90 percent of the time (436.2 of the team’s total 485.1 innings headed into last night’s game). At this point, while I doubt anybody would complain about an upgrade if one were to become available, the team isn’t exactly desperate for one. And for a team that could probably use one in the outfield, that’s more than good enough for now.