Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Josh Donaldson were the biggest and most immediate pieces to join the Yankees in their famed swap with the Minnesota Twins in 2022. While IKF had an OK season as New York’s starting shortstop, it still left a lot to be desired.
He wasn’t expected to be the second coming of Derek Jeter. But, his overall performance could’ve been better (it was worth 1.4 fWAR). That was evidenced by guys like Oswaldo Cabrera and Oswald Peraza getting starts in his place down the stretch, and even in the postseason.
The Yankees didn’t need to tender IKF a $6 million contract for 2023. After all, they could’ve prioritized other needs with that money if New York knew it’d be going with a young prospect at shortstop. Instead, he remains on the roster as a super-utility guy getting playing time in various positions, including the outfield.
His season-long stats heading into Friday’s action don’t look great. Through 90 plate appearances, Kiner-Falefa is slashing .211/.268/.367. His .635 OPS is right on par with what he did in 2022 (.642). However, seven of his 19 hits have gone for extra bases (three doubles, one triple, three home runs). His three homers have nearly matched what he did throughout all of 2022, as well (four in 532 plate appearances).
But things have been much better during the month of May. After posting a .445 OPS in his first 53 plate appearances, that number is up at .871 through his last 45 trips to the plate.
IKF was asked earlier this week about how he handled the news that he wouldn’t be the Yankees’ starting shortstop in 2023. And you know what? His answer was what a fan of any team would want to hear from someone in his situation:
"I don't think my numbers last year were good enough to hold the spot. It is what it is. I didn't do good enough last year. I was given another opportunity to be here, so I'm just trying to do everything I can to show what I can do and prove why I'm here."
– Isiah Kiner-Falefa pic.twitter.com/T1hKrOkyfj
— Yankees Videos (@snyyankees) May 25, 2023
This — plus his decent numbers of late — must’ve scored him some points with the fan base. Everyone’s gotta love a self-aware baseball player, right?
Isiah Kiner-Falefa might eternally be on the roster bubble this year given his situation and role on the Yankees. But it seems like he realizes the opportunity Brian Cashman and Co. provided him. And, he’ll do everything he can to take advantage while he’s still in the Bronx.
You can reach Matt Musico at [email protected]. You can follow him on Twitter: @mmusico8.