Yankees’ utility man playing his way out of playing time

MLB: Texas Rangers at New York Yankees
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees are continually finding themselves in a predicament that might prove overwhelming. Regardless of any maneuvers made by General Manager Brian Cashman in the upcoming weeks, the team’s troubles extend far beyond a handful of underperforming starters.

Systemic Issues: More Than Just Player Performance

From flawed in-game strategic decisions to highly-compensated veterans failing to deliver, the Yankees are tackling an array of challenges. Some of these battles may be unwinnable, adding to the existing turmoil.

Key Players: Unprecedented Slumps

In reality, power hitter Giancarlo Stanton has produced nearly a year’s worth of subpar performance, while Josh Donaldson appears to be a mere shadow of his former self. DJ LeMahieu, meanwhile, has been caught in a struggle to rediscover his form as his strikeout numbers surge, leading him to second-guess at the plate rather than trusting his instincts.

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Friday Night Lights: A Costly Defeat

Despite the collective struggles of these key players contributing to the team’s loss against the Texas Rangers on Friday, no player’s errors stood out more than those of Isiah Kiner-Falefa. He aspires to be recognized as one of the top bench players in the league.

Regrettably, even though IKF managed two hits and a run from his four at-bats on Friday, his blunders in the outfield and on base — dropping a catch that led to a run scoring and being tagged out after a successful steal — halted any potential momentum.

“I got caught in between a little bit,” Kiner-Falefa said. “I hesitated just a tad. I made up for the ground, but I wasn’t able to cover it because I was more worried about where Volpe was. But game’s on me today. I’ve got to keep that ball in front. I got caught in between trying to make the play and playing it safe. I’ve got to learn from it, go in and slide and call for it late or just let it drop in front of me.”

A Lesson in Accountability: IKF’s Struggle

Post-match, IKF accepted blame for the missteps, but the damage was already inflicted. IKF’s recent inactivity, with just two at-bats in the three preceding games, has its reasons.

While IKF aspires to be a versatile player, his repeated mental errors are not indicative of such potential. Yet, it must be emphasized that IKF, as an individual, remains committed to helping the Yankees achieve victories.

“That’s just a bonehead play that cost us a rally,” he said.

The Hard Truth: Expectations and Performance

However, the harsh reality might be that IKF’s skills do not align with the team’s immediate requirements. The lofty expectations tied to performing in the Bronx may be overwhelming.

Manager Aaron Boone, who has a soft spot for Kiner-Falefa, continues to provide him ample opportunities to find his rhythm. Notably, IKF managed two hits in Friday’s game, despite the overall team struggle.

The Transitioning Infielder: An Asset or Liability?

It is indeed a difficult position for the transitioning infielder. His positive mindset and determination are commendable. However, his direct contribution to losses positions him as a liability rather than an asset.

This season, across 60 games, IKF’s batting average is .244 with a .280 OBP, including four homers, 17 RBIs, and eight stolen bases. His strikeout rate is at 17% with a 4.2% walk rate and a 79 wRC+, his lowest since his 2019 season with the Texas Rangers. His 0.2 WAR suggests a performance level well below average.

Hindsight and Moving Forward

The Yankees may have been able to use the $6 million they are paying IKF this season more effectively, but in hindsight, everything is clearer.

As fans and supporters, all we can wish for is a turnaround from IKF, providing consistent positive contributions, as the Yankees cannot afford to keep conceding games in the AL East.

Current Standings: A Need For Recovery

Currently, they lag 10.5 games behind the Tampa Bay Rays and five games behind the Baltimore Orioles, maintaining a thin 0.5-game lead for the third Wild Card spot. As the season progresses, the Yankees are in dire need of their MVP’s return to bolster their offense.