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Yankees 2023 Season Preview: Isiah Kiner-Falefa

Will IKF get usurped by either of the youngsters hot on his heels?

New York Yankees Photo Day Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

When the Yankees acquired Isiah Kiner-Falefa as part of the spring 2022 trade with the Twins, it was confirmation of what had become the expectation of the Yankees that offseason. They were going to sit out the impressive shortstop free agent market that winter in favor of a “stopgap.”

While fans may have hoped the Yankees would address the shortstop spot with someone bigger, the front office decided not to, almost certainly in large part because of who was on the horizon. Shortstop prospects Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza were both highly rated and closing in on the majors. The logic seemed to be that instead of spending big, they would bring in someone for a year or two just to hold things down until someone broke through. Kiner-Falefa may not have had the most impressive bat, but he could maybe come in and upgrade the position defensively.

One year later, Kiner-Falefa had a fairly poor season both offensively and defensively. Peraza has broken through into the bigs and shown some promise. Volpe has looked the part in spring training so far. That leaves Kiner-Falefa in a shaky spot going in 2023.

2022 Yankees Statistics: 142 games, 531 plate appearances, 4 HR, 48 RBI, .261/.314/.327, 85 wRC+, 6.6 BB%, 13.6 K%, 1.3 fWAR

2023 ZiPS Projections: 140 games, 549 plate appearances, 6 HR, 50 RBI, .251/.303/.335, 83 wRC+, 5.6 BB%, 14.0 K%, 0.5 fWAR

In 2022, Kiner-Falefa generally lived up to his career norms as a hitter. His 85 wRC+ was slightly over his overall career mark of 82, and was technically the second-best year of his career, behind only the shortened 2020 season. He had some moments at the plate

What was really a disappointment was his defense. While the advanced stats go back and forth on whether he was good or bad, he could be really frustrating to watch at times. His 16 errors were tied for the 10th most in all of baseball last year. Beyond that, several of them came at inopportune moments. While the particular error didn’t get charged to him, he was part of the one that partially ended the Yankees’ season in the ALCS. In the seventh inning of Game 4, Gleyber Torres couldn’t handle Kiner-Fafela’s rushed throw to second as part of an inning-ending double play attempt. That kept the inning alive and allowed Houston to turn a one-run deficit into a 6-5 lead as they swept away the Yankees. Kiner-Falefa does have a Gold Glove in his history, but that came at third base and in 2020.

Now, going in 2023, his status is somewhat up in the air. Late in the season, Peraza made his debut and looked pretty good. It was only 57 plate appearances, but he put up a 146 wRC+. Beyond that, his defense at shortstop has also graded out well according to scouting reports. There’s certainly an argument that Peraza would be better than Kiner-Falefa on both sides of the ball. Besides Peraza, there’s a certain Anthony Volpe knocking on the door as well. It’s just spring training, but if it’s any indication, he’ll be ready for the majors sooner rather than later.

All of that has led to speculation that Kiner-Falefa could be moved. While there’s nothing concrete, some have suggested that the Red Sox should make a move for him. In light of Gavin Lux’s injury, the Dodgers also have a bit of an infield need. The front office and Aaron Boone have ridden pretty hard for Kiner-Falefa in public, so it wouldn’t be a shock to see him starting at shortstop on Opening Day. That being said, shortstop seems like the easiest position to upgrade, and they may just have to stay in house.