The Yankees went above and beyond to acquire Isiah Kiner-Falefa in the 2021-22 offseason, chasing the infielder with the fervor fans wish they'd reserved for top free agents Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Carlos Correa.
Instead of chasing a top shortstop in free agency, the Yankees took on Josh Donaldson's significant money in order to add Kiner-Falefa in trade, clearing a path for the Twins -- the team that just dumped both assets -- to sign Correa on a prove-it deal instead. Where were the Yankees on that one? Typically, they've been a pretty good spot for players to either prove things or fail to do so. Unfortunately, the Yankees ducked out of that contract (despite Correa's begging) and went with Kiner-Falefa instead, a lifelong Yankee fan who also happened to be coming off an 85 OPS+ season.
He should've been this generation's Luis Sojo, a plucky role player who poked and prodded the opponent at unexpected moments. Unfortunately, his hands betrayed him at short as the position weighed on him. He was the same player he'd always been, but the heat of the spotlight burnt his mitts. Kiner-Falefa, unfortunately, was the booing scapegoat that October for the front office's malfeasance, leading some unidentified dirtbags to heckle him on the way to his car during the playoffs. It was disgusting then, it's disgusting now, and it would've been disgusting no matter who the target was. Ditto, of course, sending online death hoaxes to Kiner-Falefa's father. Both moments were a blight on the fandom.
Kiner-Falefa had the opportunity to engage with a fresh start in 2023, and he endeared himself to the fan base a bit by taking on any challenge asked of him (and making the occasional diving catch in center -- yes, CENTER). The ideal role for Kiner-Falefa is likely "backup third baseman/occasional fill-in elsewhere." The 2023 Yankees took "utility" to a whole new level, jackknifing the infielder into both left and center field far too often. That, in an entirely different way, was also unfair, though he absorbed the roles with aplomb. Of course he did. He wanted to be here -- until the Blue Jays won an offseason bidding war a few days back.
IKF's farewell post dropped on Tuesday, and the vibes were exactly as you'd expect from a player who bled pinstripes at a young age, was grateful to put on the uniform, and was miscast from the moment he got to live out his childhood dream.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa deserved more grace from Yankees fans in 2022, role clarity in 2023
Yes, it would've been a mistake to bring Kiner-Falefa back for 2024, especially at the price he ultimately earned following a reportedly heated competition between several teams. But that doesn't mean he didn't represent a welcome change of pace in the Bronx, and could be a valuable utility piece on a winning team moving forward.
He just ... couldn't be a starting shortstop, especially at the end of an offseason that could've -- should've -- wrapped with Corey Seager as the team's starting shortstop.