Hours before Friday’s 8 PM EST deadline to tender all eligible players new contracts, the New York Yankees agreed to avoid arbitration with Isiah Kiner-Falefa and bring him back for 2023 on a one-year, $6 million contract.
Aside for an abundance of hatred for Kiner-Falefa from the fan base, a group of people who use him as a totem to represent the superstar shortstops who could’ve occupied his spot, there was no real reason for the Yankees to non-tender him.
Kiner-Falefa drew the ire of many in 2022 by bringing a contact bat and below-average shortstop defense (by most metrics) to a position that should’ve been occupied by either a top prospect or marquee free agent signing. If he had been introduced to the Yankees faithful as the 26th man on the roster, they would’ve had much more patience for his throwback brand of baseball. Ironically, it might have been uncles who hated IKF most. For shame.
But just because he shouldn’t be the team’s starting shortstop in 2023 (he proved that time and time again, adding to the case throughout the postseason) doesn’t mean he doesn’t possess value.
Personally, it feels as if the bridge has been burned in New York, nearly to an Aaron Hicks-esque degree. But following an offseason where not one, but two teams shelled out assets to acquire Kiner-Falefa, he had an offensive season that matched his typical output (84 OPS+ after an 85 mark in 2021, only 72 strikeouts in 531 plate appearances). At a cost of $6 million, the contract is moveable. Cutting Kiner-Falefa without recouping anything in return would’ve been a move intended to appease a fan base out for blood. It would not have been a wise baseball move.
Yankees non-tendering Isiah Kiner-Falefa would’ve accomplished nothing
If Opening Day arrives and Kiner-Falefa is starting at short, it’ll be alright to boo. It won’t scare off Anthony Rizzo, after all. He can take it.
But to fume and froth in mid-November about the Yankees agreeing to bring back a desirable (he has strengths!) player at the low cost of $6 million feels unnecessary.
Worst-case scenario? He stays in New York and backs up third base, his better position, which is currently occupied by dead weight. He bunts sometimes and kickstarts a few rallies. He continues to perform well with the bases loaded (.327 with RISP in 129 plate appearances, .583 slugging percentage with the sacks full). He costs half of what Zack Britton made last year.
Best-case scenario? The Yankees realize they probably put too much emphasis on the wrong metrics last year, and they trade him for a back-end Top-30 prospect.
Very unlikely-case scenario? Kiner-Falefa plays all 162 games at short, and your wife leaves you when you break the television after hucking a shoe at it following a botched hit-and-run.
Just because there’s a 1% chance of Option C doesn’t mean tendering him a contract Friday set those events in motion.