Yankees set to save $6 million by letting veteran utility man walk

isiah kiner-falefa, yankees
May 27, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees center fielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa (12) hits a walk off RBI single in the tenth inning against the San Diego Padres at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees are poised to enjoy significant salary flexibility this off-season, with more than $50 million available for free-agency acquisitions or trades.

Reflecting on Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s Tenure

Opening up salary space often means allowing players to leave in free agency. This brings our attention to a veteran utility player who had a one-year, $6 million deal in 2023. Isiah Kiner-Falefa, at 28, made meaningful contributions to the Yankees, primarily serving as a supplementary outfielder.

Kiner-Falefa began his Yankees stint in 2022 after being acquired from the Texas Rangers. General manager Brian Cashman initially eyed him as their starting shortstop, awaiting Anthony Volpe’s promotion. During his inaugural season with the Bombers, IKF posted a .261 batting average with a .314 OBP, 48 RBIs, a personal best of 22 stolen bases, and an 86 wRC+. On the defensive front, he clocked 1,185 innings at shortstop, committed 15 errors, maintained a .970 fielding percentage, and saved 10 defensive runs.

Transition to Utility Role

With Anthony Volpe showcasing impressive defensive metrics in 2023, he secured the full-time shortstop role. This transition meant Kiner-Falefa’s reassignment to a utility role, which saw him covering for injuries. Logging 566.1 innings in the outfield, he achieved a .981 fielding percentage but had a deficit of -4 defensive runs saved and -2 outs above average. Given that he hadn’t played outfield before, his performance was commendable. Yet, his deployment highlighted depth issues in the roster.

Looking Ahead: Yankees’ Free Agency and Financial Allocation

The prevailing sentiment is that Kiner-Falefa will depart in free agency, thereby freeing up $6 million for the Yankees. This sum could be channeled towards players like Frankie Montas, who might command a slightly higher price, but the available funds would substantially cover his contract. Reflecting on IKF’s brief Yankees spell, it’s clear he was eager to make a positive mark. Even though his performance occasionally faltered, fans appreciated his resilience amidst challenges.

Emergence of Future Stars

With Kiner-Falefa’s anticipated departure, the Yankees will likely rely more on DJ LeMahieu as their go-to utilityman. Additionally, the young switch-hitter Oswaldo Cabrera presents a promising prospect.

At 24, Cabrera boasts experience in both the infield and outfield. However, his offensive metrics waned in 2023, with a .211 batting average, a .275 OBP, five home runs, 29 RBIs, and a 60 wRC+. Should he achieve even average MLB batting prowess, Cabrera’s value would surge, especially given his modest $742K salary in the previous season. A concerted effort is being made to refine Cabrera’s swing and boost his confidence, fueling hopes for a 2024 turnaround.

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