The New York Yankees have certainly been active during the offseason. But, just as Yankees fans exist, there’s always going to be plenty of negativity with how the Yankees handle free agency, whether that’s positively or negatively. The year of 2022 was no different and with regards to how New York handled their starting shortstop position for the upcoming season, fans weren’t overly thrilled.
They didn’t grab Carlos Correa. They let Trevor Story migrate to the rival Boston Red Sox. Instead, they opted to go with a 27-year-old defensive juggernaut named Isiah Kiner-Falefa.
Now, I’m not here to argue that Kiner-Falefa is better than Story or Correa. Both are incredible infielders, and the Twins and Red Sox got two phenomenal players that will certainly prove to be an effective addition to both ball clubs in the foreseeable future. Instead, I’m here to argue why Kiner-Falefa needs to be given a chance by fans. It’s a bare minimum idea that, while some have started to come to grasp with, others remain angry about.
New York fans are ruthless and there’s no doubt about it. Baseball fans have seen how New York fans treated Yankees GM Brian Cashman when he traded for a young Dutch shortstop in 2015 named Didi Gregorious. Fans went from being angry about the new successor to Derek Jeter in New York to upset when the then 30-year-old chose to depart from the franchise to land a deal in Philadelphia with former manager Joe Girardi. I believe Kiner-Falefa can have a similar effect on current fans. Just ask current outfielder Joey Gallo, who played with Kiner-Falefa while with the Texas Rangers.
“I think he has a potential to be really like a fan favorite,” Gallo said. “He plays the game super hard and does the little things right. He’s a real grinder.”
Let’s start with the facts, other than his performance on the field. This guy grew up a Yankees fan, as seen by pictures with his father across his social media. He knows the possible repercussions that come with playing in Yankee Stadium along with the culture you enter when dawning the pinstripes. That may not sound like much, but when Yankees fans have seen former all-stars like Sonny Gray dawn the pinstripes and struggle due to the heat of Yankees fans, it means a whole lot more.
Then, you get to the performance side of Kiner-Falefa’s game and it’s extremely encouraging. Instead of echoing the negativity of not getting a superstar in Correa or a strong bat with Story, fans should realize the hidden gem that you get with a guy like Kiner-Falefa. I stress hidden because New York has him under contract for a measly $4.7 million. This is the same player that is coming off a 3.7 WAR and collected more hits in 2021 than New York’s hits leader D.J. Lemahieu.
You also have to take into consideration how the Yankees face the reality of having to pay Aaron Judge a massive contract extension. That is a priority for Yankees general management, especially when Judge has voiced his wish to stay a Yankee for his entire career. The club would be dealing with a fairly difficult budget situation if they were to somehow sign Correa or Story to their current contract along with the need to sign Judge.
Now, it is perfectly fine to be frustrated about the departure of Gio Urshela at third base, who was traded to get Kiner- Falefa, former all-star Josh Donaldson and minor leaguer Ben Rortvedt. The 30-year-old infielder was such a fan favorite and for good reason. New York got Urshela due to cash considerations and saw him hit .314 with a .317 oWAR in 2019. But, Urshela hasn’t exactly captured the same type of production since then with a down year in 2021 on top of average defense at his position.
Fans can’t be discouraged with New York for trying to fill an even larger hole in their lineup at shortstop with Kiner-Falefa by replacing Urshela with an older Donaldson. At the very least, the team is getting a competent fielder and effective power bat with Donaldson. If Donaldson were to get injured, Kiner-Falefa can slot right in at third base, where he played in Texas and won a gold glove. There’s also the potential to keep Kiner-Falefa for plenty of years after Donaldson’s contract and to slot him at third base for a potential duo with current Yankees prospect Anthony Volpe, who’s shown tremendous upside in the minor leagues and is the current No. 8 prospect by MLB.com.
There are plenty of ways to view the positives with the new infielder. At the very least, fans need to give the 27-year-old a chance, especially with the tremendous amount of talent he’s shown throughout his career thus far.