Former Yankees’ utilityman signs two-year $15 million deal with AL East rival

MLB: New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays
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According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees had shown some interest in bringing back utilityman Isiah Kiner-Falefa, but once the team acquired Trent Grisham alongside Juan Soto, that seemed to die down. The Yankees had originally acquired IKF in the Josh Donaldson trade, as he became their starting shortstop for the 2022 season but struggled with errors and found himself in a new role in 2023. He’d be shifted to the outfield, where he’d play all three outfield spots, showing various levels of competency out there in his first full season as an outfielder.

Kiner-Falefa is staying in the AL East however, as it was reported by Robert Murray that the Toronto Blue Jays have signed him to a two-year deal at $15 million.

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MLB: New York Yankees at Detroit Tigers
Aug 28, 2023; Detroit, Michigan, USA; New York Yankees center fielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa (12) hits a single in the eighth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

While Aaron Boone and the players seemed to really like Isiah Kiner-Falefa, the fit no longer made sense after the 2024 season. The Yankees need bats, and IKF lacked the upside offensively to continue to hold down a spot on their 26-man roster, especially given the spotty defense in the outfield. He slashed .242/.306/.340 this past season for an 82 wRC+ and 0.2 fWAR, and in his two seasons in the Bronx, he posted a .644 OPS and 1.6 fWAR. The glove at shortstop was a massive question mark, as while he posted +10 DRS, he also had -1 OAA and failed to convert some easy plays.

In the outfield, IKF had -1 DRS and +1 OAA in centerfield, but struggled mightily in left field with -3 DRS and -3 OAA, bringing his total outfield defense to a -4 DRS and -2 OAA. He’s still an excellent defensive third baseman, and the Blue Jays are likely paying for the defensive versatility, but questions remain about whether he can be an outfielder going forward or not. What can’t be questioned is the effort Isiah Kiner-Falefa has, as while it’s a cliche to use the words “scrappy” and “hard-nosed” for a player who lacks offensive upside, he took it upon himself to learn the outfield.

Rather than taking it personally that Anthony Volpe was going to win the shortstop job over him, IKF decided to pick up an outfield glove and make himself more versatile, which the team needed after injuries to Harrison Bader, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Billy McKinney, and Jake Bauers throughout the season. They couldn’t keep their outfield healthy, and while IKF wasn’t always the most productive player, if he hadn’t learned how to play the outfield they may not have had enough bodies to get through the season.

isiah kiner-falefa, yankees
Apr 21, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees center fielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa (12) catches the ball for an out in front of shortstop Anthony Volpe (11) during the fourth inning at against the Toronto Blue Jays Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees still needed to part ways with him, especially since acquiring Trent Grisham should give them a massive upgrade defensively and a slight upgrade offensively, but he is a team-first player. With the Blue Jays, he’ll get a chance to play the Yankees multiple times throughout the season, although his role with them could change based on whether they add a third baseman or not. Nevertheless, he’s a stout defensive infielder who could get better in the outfield, but the bat will probably sink his upside from an everyday starter to a bench piece.

It was an expected departure, but Isiah Kiner-Falefa is set to stay in the AL East for at least the next two seasons.