One of the Yankees’ impending free agents is utilityman Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who spent the year playing all over the diamond after Anthony Volpe won the shortstop battle. While his offensive production remained underwhelming, the team is reportedly showing interest in a potential reunion with the 28-year-old versatile position player. The Yankees were impressed with his willingness to adapt to the outfield and play a variety of positions, and while his defense at shortstop left a lot to be desired, teams value the versatility.
According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees are among a group of 12 teams interested in signing Isiah Kiner-Falefa.
Yankees Could Fill Fourth Outfield Need With IKF
This past season, Isiah-Kiner Falefa slashed .242/.306/.340 with an 82 wRC+ across 115 games, registering 0.2 fWAR while playing all over the diamond. Offense wasn’t his strong suit, as an OPS of just .646 certainly leaves a lot to be desired, but the Yankees, among other teams, value the defensive versatility plenty. IKF collected positive OAA at third base and centerfield, as the former Gold Glove infielder showed competency everywhere except left field, which has been notoriously difficult to play for any outfielder.
Manager Aaron Boone seemed to value his defense and speed, as his +3 Fielding Run Value and 59th Percentile Sprint Speed are certainly helpful for any team’s bench. The lack of any power makes it hard to project IKF for much of a starting role on any team, but with Oswaldo Cabrera’s struggles this past season, the Yankees don’t seem fully confident that they have a utilityman for the 2024 season. Plenty of teams are interested in the former 4th Round Pick, but does it make much sense for the Yankees to bring him back?
The Yankees need to improve their offense, and IKF would certainly be a step back in that regard, especially given the lack of a heavy platoon split. In his career, he has an 84 wRC+ against left-handed pitching and an 80 wRC+ versus right-handed pitching, so unlike a bat like Manuel Margot, there isn’t a specific matchup he’s due to excel in offensively. Furthermore, the glove in the outfield still is shaky, and the team certainly wants to shore up their defense in centerfield, especially if they land Juan Soto.
Jasson Dominguez’s injury creates greater concerns about this, but the switch-hitting phenom was already not a sure thing defensively out there, and IKF isn’t one either. Landing a left-handed defensive specialist like Kevin Kiermaier who has shown the ability to handle right-handed pitching would suit the Yankees’ needs a lot better, especially given their struggles against righties this past season. Perhaps on a cheap enough deal, the Yankees could bring back IKF to ensure they have position player depth, but it does seem as if there are better ways to do that.
There’s going to be an inherent stigma regarding bringing back any players from the 2023 team following an 82-80 season, and given the lack of offensive value, the team probably won’t get much from a reunion. It’s still fair to check in, as the Yankees’ injury history would suggest they simply need MLB-caliber players to help them, but with prospects like Everson Pereira, the solution for added insurance in their outfield could come internally as well.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa was certainly a selfless player who did whatever he could to contribute to the team, but the fit might not be there given the Yankees’ current needs and IKF’s current skillset.