Yankees creating huge position battle to determine future at shortstop

gleyber torres, yankees, isiah kiner-falefa
Jun 22, 2022; St. Petersburg, Florida, USA; New York Yankees shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa (12) and second baseman Gleyber Torres (25) high five as they beat the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

One way or another, the New York Yankees will feature one of their young prospects at shortstop within the next year.

Retaining Isiah Kiner-Falefa on a one-year, $6 million deal isn’t much of a surprise, given he has plenty of experience at the MLB level and is a proven commodity in some respects. However, coming off a polarizing 2022 campaign that saw him record a .261 average with a .314 OBP, four homers, and 48 RBIs, it is safe to say his impact heavily relied on his ability to make contact with the baseball.

Evidently, if IKF isn’t consistently making contact and putting the ball in play, his value as an offensive piece is obsolete. He hosted a 13.6% strikeout rate and 6.6% of walk rate this past season, donning the pinstripes at 27 years old. He was underwhelming as a batter, considering his lack of power and the astonishingly weak contact he created on a daily basis.

More often than not, his big moments came in the form of ground balls hit between the second baseman and shortstop, also slapping the ball in different directions but otherwise coming up short as an impact player.

However, it is essential to know that IKF hit .327 with a .362 OBP with runners in scoring position, a sample size of 113 at-bats. He does have value in some areas, collecting 43 RBIs, eight walks, and striking out just 12 times with RISP.

Defensively, Kiner-Falefa made consistent mistakes via the eye test. On paper, his numbers hide the fact he skipped a ton of throws in the dirt and failed to bring in routine ground balls, which hurt the Yankees significantly during the playoffs. He recorded 10 defensive runs saved above average but -2 outs above average, two defensive metrics that look to place a value on a player.

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The Yankees ideally would have Oswald Peraza land the SS job:

The general consensus is that rookie Oswald Peraza should be able to steal the starting shortstop job away from IKF, considering he offers elite-level defense and has more than enough pop in his bat to produce in the batter’s box.

With that being said, the Yankees have listened to offers regarding Kiner-Falefa from other teams this off-season. Still, they’ve decided to keep him around, considering his cheap price tag and experience.

Allowing him to compete alongside Peraza will ultimately bring out the best in both players, meaning the Yankees are playing a psychological game with both; that is not even mentioning Anthony Volpe having the greenlight to compete as well.

“Ultimately, we’re just not ready to make those types of commitments. We do like Kiner-Falefa. We think there’s value there. I know that other teams that are contending knocked on our door about [Kiner-Falefa] this winter, as well. And we do have these young pups that we are really excited about pushing up the ladder, but that doesn’t mean we have to make any commitment to anybody in December or January.”

Per Joel Sherman of the New York Post (Paywall):

Clearly, IKF has value, and other teams notice the Yankees might be willing to part ways with him at the right price. Given he’s only on a one-year deal and has limitations, I can’t imagine the return would be significant.

We’re likely talking about low-level prospects and a way for the Yankees to get his money off the books. Ideally, Peraza wins the shortstop job, and the Yankees feel they can trade IKF and use that money elsewhere, potentially on a left fielder like Jurickson Profar.

Creating a position battle is precisely what the team should be doing, allowing a veteran to compete with a youngster the Yankees view as a potential solution in the infield. Suppose IKF dominates in his own respect during spring training. In that case, his value only increases, giving the Yankees more leverage in a potential trade scenario and allowing them to get a bit more value in return.

“Let’s do it the old-fashioned way,” Cashman said. “Whoever earns it, let them earn it for ’23 and then defend it all year.”

Via Joel Sherman.

What to expect from Oswald Peraza:

To give some context regarding Oswald Peraza‘s projected stat line for the 2023 season, Steamer has him hitting .249 with a .308 OBP, eight homers, and 31 RBIs with a 104 wRC+.

In 2022, Oswald hit .306 with a .404 OBP and a 15.8% strikeout rate over a small sample size of 57 plate appearances. The sample size is too small to make any legitimate justifications, but he clearly is capable of streaky hitting in a positive way.

If Peraza can even get on base at a 32% clip and hit close to .250, that would be a good first year for him, although slapping just eight homers might be an underwhelming number. I’d be willing to bet he cracks 10 homers as a rookie, at least.

Again, projecting stats is always a tough leg to stand on, but at the very least, we know Oswald offers Gold Glove-level defense, as he displayed during the ALCS against the Houston Astros.