Yankees could steal playing time from $21 million infielder

isiah kiner-falefa, yankees
Mar 1, 2023; Tampa, Florida, USA; New York Yankees shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa (12) throws the ball for an out during the third inning against the Washington Nationals at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Forced to reconsider their third base options due to DJ LeMahieu and Josh Donaldson’s diminishing form, the New York Yankees are at a pivotal point. LeMahieu’s playing time has seen a marked decline over recent weeks, with fluctuating performance levels and frequent rest days.

Donaldson, now 37, has proven to be a significant weak point at the batter’s box. His current season stats are less than impressive, hitting .131 with a .194 OBP, including eight homers, 13 RBIs, and a career-worst 29% strikeout rate.

Donaldson’s record in June is particularly concerning, with a .148 average and a .206 OBP, and he’s yet to make a hit in July. His performance at Yankee Stadium has been dismal, with a slash line of .083/.170/.271.

The Emerging Solution: Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s Rising Profile

Despite Donaldson’s decent defensive abilities, it seems prudent for the Yankees to begin offering more opportunities to Isiah Kiner-Falefa (IKF). The versatile player’s performance has surged with more consistent playtime.

With his rising profile, IKF is undoubtedly due for increased playing time, whether in the outfield or at third base, his traditional position. The Yankees’ expected aggression at the trade deadline to procure another outfielder could see IKF’s position shifting more toward the infield, where he might relieve Donaldson.

Yankees’ manager, Aaron Boone, commended IKF’s performance, stating, “He’s played really well at a lot of different positions and played a lot of outfield. It’s just a good brand of baseball: good at-bats and he brings a speed element to the game.”

Impressive Stats: Kiner-Falefa’s Strong Performance

IKF’s current season stats include a .262 average with a .308 OBP, complemented by five homers, 23 RBIs, and nine stolen bases. He carries a 15.6% strikeout rate and a 6% walk rate but also boasts a career-best .393 slugging percentage and 94 wRC+.

His performance in June was noteworthy, hitting .275 with a .309 OBP and .721 OPS. As July commenced, he’s already hitting .412 with a .476 OBP and has reached base in seven consecutive games, achieving 10 hits, five walks, and two strikeouts.

The Way Forward: Balancing Opportunities for LeMahieu, Donaldson, and Kiner-Falefa

The Yankees’ challenge lies in effectively allocating playing time between LeMahieu, Donaldson, and the increasingly indispensable IKF, either in left field or third base.

LeMahieu’s struggle to regain form has become increasingly evident. Despite playing in 72 games this year and asserting his full health, he’s currently hitting .221 with a .287 OBP, including seven homers, 27 RBIs, and a career-high 24.2% strikeout rate – almost double his 2022 figure.

The team’s high-priced veterans’ underperformance places significant pressure on younger and utility players to step up. Thankfully, IKF, despite facing much criticism in recent months, has shown exceptional resilience and has fought his way back into contention.

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