For a second consecutive offseason, the Yankees have a crucial decision to make at shortstop. The free agent market will again be star-studded, led by Trea Turner, Dansby Swanson and likely Xander Bogaerts and Carlos Correa.
The Yankees will hope their system is also star-studded, as Oswald Peraza broke into the majors and Anthony Volpe finished his season at Triple-A.
And then there’s the decision they made last offseason.
“I hope I’m here,” Isiah Kiner-Falefa said after the Yankees were eliminated from the ALCS on Sunday. “They could trade me. We’ll see what happens.”
They could trade the shortstop whose defense is polarizing and the offense lacks pop. They might not bid Kiner-Falefa, which is about to enter its final year of arbitration and is reportedly between $6 million and $7 million. Or they could see him again as a stopgap or a utility with good contact skills and good athleticism.
The day after his first season as a Yankee, Kiner-Falefa was considering his first offseason as a Yankee. Last year, the then-Ranger trained with former Texas teammate Joey Gallo during the offseason. Gallo had briefly dabbled in playoff baseball with the Yankees, and Kiner-Falefa could tell.
“I always said [Gallo] every day I was like, ‘Man, you’re training for a World Series every day,'” said Kiner-Falefa, who had never played for a winning team in four years with the Rangers. “I was just training to get good numbers – I could get traded, put myself in a good position for a good team.”
He was traded, twice in fact, which brought him to the Yankees. The Yankees liked the Kiner-Falefa defense — manager Aaron Boone said last week “you could argue” that he belonged to the Gold Glove finalists — and the metrics were split. Kiner-Falefa was the seventh-best shortstop in defensive points saved but 25th in over-average outs. After several misses in Game 3 of the ALDS, Kiner-Falefa was benched, starting only two of the Yankees’ last six playoff games.
Offensively, Kiner-Falefa brought the bat-to-ball skills the Yankees envisioned, but no power, leading to a .642 OPS that was his lowest in a season in which he played 100 games.
The Yankees could have splurged for Correa, whose .834 OPS led all shortstops. Corey Seager, who signed with the Rangers, was seventh at .772.
“The chips weren’t really in my favor from the time I got here with the other free agents that were in the market,” Kiner-Falefa said. “I kind of just played my own game, but [fans] wanted the guy with 30 home runs and better defense. But another full offseason of shortstop work, hopefully I can keep improving.
Kiner-Falefa added, “We’ll see where I play next year,” and he won a Golden Glove at third base.
If he returns to shortstop, he wouldn’t be the popular choice for the second time around. Some fans will want Peraza (who posted an .832 OPS in his first 18 major league games) or Volpe, the top prospect and New Jersey native. Others will want the crème de la crème of free agents.
In a season in which his light bat became a programming weakness, Kiner-Falefa and his family faced abuse on social media, including his father, who received a message stating that her son had been “shot”. Kiner-Falefa said he was proud of how he “didn’t fall apart” throughout the year.
After a difficult first season in the Bronx, he hopes there will be a second.
“Waking up every day with the World Series mentality instead of an individual mentality,” Kiner-Falefa, who went 5-for-18 (.278) with a brace and those defensive issues in the playoffs, said of his new state of mind. “It’s bittersweet because the season is over and it sucks, but at the same time I see this as the start of my improvement.
“I feel like if I can keep attacking I really have something to drive and feed myself, so that’s exciting. Losing definitely hurts, but it hurts in a good way.
New York Post