Isiah Kiner-Falefa came to the Yankees in a bit of a no-win position. He wasn’t the biggest name acquired or moved in the trade with the Twins that brought him and Josh Donaldson to New York, but he was brought in for a purpose. With the plug pulled on the Gleyber Torres’ shortstop era, the Yankees needed someone to man the position while the team waited for some of their minor league talent to develop.
The Yankees didn’t necessarily have to bring in him as a stopgap, as there was a fairly loaded free agent class at shortstop, with Corey Seager and Carlos Correa, among others, available. However, with the likes of Anthony Volpe on the horizon, the Yankees — controversially at the time and in retrospect — opted not to sign one of them and acquired IKF to hold down the fort.
With all that hanging over him, Kiner-Falefa did not put in a very impressive season in 2022, either at the plate or, even more annoyingly, in the field. The emergence of Oswald Peraza near the end of 2022 and Volpe in spring training 2023 meant that IKF wasn’t needed as a full-time shortstop. That allowed him to move into more of a utility role for 2023. While it’s hard to argue he was better, especially at the plate, he did have a much more palatable season.
2023 Statistics: 115 games, 361 plate appearances, .242/.306/.340, 78 OPS+, 82 wRC+, .286 wOBA, -2 OAA, 0.2 fWAR
2024 Contract Status: Free agent
Over the course of the 2023 season, Kiner-Falefa played seven different positions for the Yankees. After being the starting shortstop for most of the previous season, he only appeared in one game there in 2023, and in fact, spent nearly half of his innings in the outfield, where he had never played in the majors prior to this year. Before the late season moves and callups, he was the de facto backup center fielder behind Harrison Bader, especially after Aaron Hicks was jettisoned.
His season was not the most impressive, to be frank. Kiner-Falefa’s never been the best of hitters, and that was the case as well this year. His .646 OPS was marginally better than 2022, but based on league averages, he was a bit worse than the previous season. His defense only graded out as so-so to decent depending on where you look, but to be fair, he did play a bunch of positions he didn’t have much experience at.
While it’s hard to say he was better in numbers in 2023, Kiner-Falefa made up for it with some memorable moments. His most fun moment of the year came in the game against the Mets where he pulled off a straight steal of home.
Among the seven positions IKF played in 2023 was pitcher. In total, Kiner-Falefa made four separate appearances on the mound, totaling four innings. He gave up just one run on four hits in that time, and even struck out Eugenio Suárez of the Mariners.
After all that, Kiner-Falefa is now set to be a free agent this offseason. Through arbitration, he made $6 million last season, and it seems like the Yankees could allocate that amount of money better this season. IKF proved useful and a bit fun in that super utility role last season, but it’s also not like he came close to producing so much that he’ll be impossible to replace. It remains to be seen what the Yankees decide to do with him, but it’s been an interesting couple seasons for IKF.