Did Isiah Kiner-Falefa just concede the Yankees' starting shortstop race?
Isiah Kiner-Falefa: Good guy 'til the end, bad fit with the Yankees, please stop screaming at him as he walks to his car.
Kiner-Falefa was first brought over one year ago in the blockbuster stopgap trade that sent Gio Urshela and Gary Sánchez to Minnesota in exchange for Josh Donaldson's contract burden and the utility standout.
During his debut season in the Bronx, he played to the back of his baseball card: 3.0 bWAR, a .261 average and 84 OPS+, one point down from his 2021 mark with Texas. He also played to his reputations: solid glove, great range, poor hands and some erratic behavior.
Kiner-Falefa is probably best viewed as a spark plug, and not a first-division starter. He was always supposed to be atop the depth chart until the kids, Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe, were both ready for primetime.
With that day now dawning, Kiner-Falefa is at least well aware of what his likely fate will be come Opening Day.
Yankees Isiah Kiner-Falefa losing shortstop competition to Oswald Peraza, Anthony Volpe
IKF's full quote, as told to the New York Post, certainly reads as something close to a surrender, while still holding out hope that he can help this specific team -- his childhood favorite Yankees -- get over the hump. After moving to second and third (for three straight games), his first spring contests not spent at short, he appeared to own his likely fate:
"'That’s three in a row moving around,' Kiner-Falefa said after he went 2-for-3 with a home run and stolen base at Joker Marchant Stadium. 'I don’t want to make too much of it, but it’s definitely something.'"- Isiah Kiner-Falefa
The contact specialist also talked up his own utility value, which is ... a better fit for another team that doesn't have DJ LeMahieu:
"I think the two guys that are ready for the big leagues, pushing to the big leagues, are both shortstops. So if something were to happen to anybody else on the team injury-wise or something, it wouldn’t be them moving. I feel like I’ve shown versatility in my career so far and it’d be a lot easier move for me to do it, to help the team. At the end of the day, I want to be here and I want to win. Whether it’s playing shortstop, utility … there’s an opportunity to win a World Series here and I want to be a part of it. "- Isiah Kiner-Falefa
Sounds like someone who's "heard' the same rumblings as Buster Olney.
With reps still required for both LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres, as well as Donaldson (in some capacity) and potential center fielder Oswaldo Cabrera, the Yankees are getting rather desperate on IKF (hence, Aaron Boone spiraling and asserting he could play the outfield).
He certainly fits on someone's roster, and isn't a valueless player. With LeMahieu (expensive) and Cabrera (even cheaper) in New York, though, he probably isn't long for his dream job -- though Harrison Bader's injury opened the window just a tick more for him, given the likelihood of Cabrera sharing reps in center.
Shortstop, though? Not quite. Never was.