How will the Yankees utilize Isiah Kiner-Falefa in 2023?

isiah kiner-falefa, yankees
Oct 14, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa (12) throws to first base to force out Cleveland Guardians left fielder Steven Kwan (not pictured) during the seventh inning in game two of the ALDS for the 2022 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

With there still being plenty of time until the 2023 season is here, there still looks to be a few unanswered questions that the Yankees will gradually answer. The most obvious question is what big moves the team will make in to bolster the squad these next few months and, in turn, what the lineup will look like.

One of the biggest disappointments last year was the Donaldson & IKF deal that saw both guys skyrocket up everyone’s “least favorite Yankee” list. IKF, specifically, was clearly unable to play shortstop at the level that the brass had expected him to, and this year his role is certainly a lot foggier heading in.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa was brought over in the JD deal, as the Yankees sent Gio Urshela and Gary Sanchez over to the Twins in exchange. Crazy enough, Gio, who’s now an Angel next year, was easily the only good player out of the bunch. For IKF, he struggled to make routine plays at shortstop, and it became pretty clear that he wasn’t nearly as good there as he was at third base.

In the shortened 2020 season with the Texas Rangers, IKF was able to man a fantastic hot corner on the defensive side of things. He posted 7 DRS and 5 OAA from third base, despite only seeing 366.1 innings over there. Then in 2021, he moved over to SS, posted 10 DRS and -5 OAA, and was ultimately moved to the Twins. While his Defensive Runs Saved were actually very respectable at 10 once more, his -2 OAA show that he wasn’t as great as the Yankees FO wanted us to believe.

IKF was what we expected, but still could play a key part next season:

Throughout the season, IKF had a seemingly endless leash and was constantly given countless opportunities to right the ship. Though he wasn’t as bad offensively as some people may believe, his 85 wRC+ and .642 OPS certainly don’t jump off the page. His below-average offense and shaky defense led to many fans wanting the Yankees to move on entirely and let their young stud prospects get more limelight. However, it took until September for the Yanks to call up Peraza, who looked fantastic in his limited showing.

Oswaldo Cabrera was utilized in a wide array of roles, whether that be him in RF or him manning one of the infield spots. With free agency progressing the way it has and the Yankees being linked to Correa, it makes one wonder what could be next for IKF.

The most likely, and I feel valuable, role for him would be a utility role off the bench. Having both he and Oswaldo Cabrera relieving one of the many aging players we have on this squad could be a key for the Yankees. IKF is able to play both SS and 3B, and if Josh Donaldson is still on the roster come OD, why not give IKF a shot over there? His multi-positional abilities will prove to be valuable for the Yankees, or they could also look to move him elsewhere.

There are a few teams that don’t have an everyday SS that could be looking to upgrade, so maybe Cashman and co are looking into that route. Isiah Kiner Falefa has certainly gotten far more hate than he deserves, but that is the flip side of playing for the most recognized baseball organization ever. There are expectations with the Yankees, expectations of greatness and winning. Yet sometimes, the abuse can go too far. IKF spoke on how it was difficult for him, and during the season, his father got into altercations on Twitter defending his son’s play.

IKF may want to be a Yankee, but some things aren’t meant to be

Fortunately, the Twitter arguments didn’t have anything to do with the team going forward, and IKF was still able to provide some moments this season. I’ll never forget his HR off Kutter Crawford that soared over the Green Monster and what it meant to him. He clearly wants to play for this team, though sometimes it’s not cut out for everyone.

Playing with as much added pressure because of it means to be a Yankee could be too difficult for some players in the league. IKF should definitely have a role on this team next season, it just remains to be seen what that role will be. The front office and Boone love his abilities, and he is still one of the best pure-contact hitters in baseball. Sadly, his lack of consistency with a bat sees him have streaks where it seems as though he’ll never reach base. Confidence is key with IKF, and the postseason shortstop carousel certainly didn’t help that.

The Yankees have to have a clear understanding of what they want to do at shortstop this season, as the postseason showed what a glaring issue it really is. It’s not an issue because of talent, or lack there of, but because of doubt in the FO. The organization has some of the best MIF depth in their farm, and the likes of Trey Sweeney, Roderick Arias, and Alexander Vargas haven’t even been mentioned because of Volpe and Peraza. The Yankees could look to potentially move IKF or a few of their prospects to better clear up what the future will look like.

It must have been difficult and, if little benefit for IKF, Peraza, and Cabrera to have not known who would be starting each game in the ALCS. In order to solve that issue, the team can either trade capital for a true SS or sign Carlos Correa to the deal that fans have been waiting years for. Correa may not be a fan favorite right away because of his 2017 involvement, but his abilities and talent speak for themselves. He’ll quickly soar up fans’ lists and has the pedigree of postseason success. IKF’s Yankee tenure just may be a short-lived one, but if he is still in pinstripes come Opening Day, he’ll absolutely see a significant role waiting for him.