Is Blue Jays’ IKF deal a hefty financial blunder as per the current infield market?

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Blue Jays enthusiasts, eagerly anticipating offensive upgrades, saw the team getting on board ex-Yankee Isiah Kiner-Falefa (IKF) this winter. However, they were left perplexed when General Manager Ross Atkins inked a two-year deal with IKF. The contract, valued at $15 million for a player often characterized as versatile but not particularly outstanding, left many scratching their heads. Initially met with skepticism, subsequent free-agent signings have only intensified scrutiny of this particular IKF move by Toronto.

Making his debut in the Major Leagues with the Texas Rangers in 2018, IKF quickly became a valuable utility player, earning a Gold Glove Award at third base in 2020. His trajectory changed in 2021 when he was traded to the New York Yankees, initially slotting into a consistent role as a shortstop. Nevertheless, with the emergence of the Yankees’ highly-promising prospect Anthony Volpe, IKF’s playing time transitioned primarily to the outfield, where he showcased his skills in both center and right field.

Despite performing better than anticipated in the outfield, IKF’s hitting struggled to meet expectations. In the 2023 season, spanning 115 games, he recorded a modest slash line of .242/.306/.340 with 6 home runs, resulting in an 82 wRC+. While Kiner-Falefa provides the Blue Jays with defensive flexibility across the field, the recent acquisitions of Gio Urshela and Tim Anderson suggest that the team may have placed too much emphasis on this versatility.

Harrison Bader and Isiah Kiner-Falefa of the New York Yankees

Recent deals hint at IKF overpayment

Having commenced his professional journey with the Cleveland Guardians in 2015, Gio Urshela‘s career has been marked by mobility. He has traversed various teams through trades and short-term agreements, including a brief tenure with the Blue Jays in 2018. Despite not being initially recognized as a top prospect, Urshela has consistently delivered commendable performances. His pinnacle occurred in 2019 as a member of the New York Yankees, achieving a batting average exceeding .300 with 21 home runs and an impressive 133 OPS+ in 132 games. Notably, even in his most recent season with the Angels, he seemed to exhibit a heightened level of productivity compared to IKF.

In 2023, Gio Urshela posted a batting line of .299/.329/.374, resulting in a wRC+ of 92, which is notably 10 points higher than IKF’s performance. On the defensive front, Urshela showcased his prowess at third base for the Angels, tallying an impressive 6 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) in just 270 innings. While concerns persist regarding Urshela’s susceptibility to injuries, he emerges as a more dependable choice compared to IKF, especially for a backup role. The Detroit Tigers secured Urshela with a one-year, $1.5 million deal, representing a substantial value given that Kiner-Falefa’s contract demands $6 million more annually and extends for an additional year.

Although Gio Urshela may not spark as much debate as Tim Anderson, it is Anderson’s career that demands attention. Selected as the first overall pick by the White Sox in 2016, he rose to stardom in 2019, clinching the American League batting title with an impressive .335/.357/.508 batting line.

Ex-Yankees star Gio Urshela joins the Tigers on February 22, 2024.
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Anderson’s success extended into subsequent seasons, earning All-Star nods in 2021 and 2022, and even landing in the top 10 for MVP in 2020. However, his momentum hit a snag in the mid-season of 2022 due to a series of injuries that hindered his prior progress.

In spite of his late start in the 2023 season, Tim Anderson’s return to the White Sox was marked by struggles at the plate. He posted a modest .245/.286/.296 slash line, hitting only one home run across 123 games. As a result, Anderson parted ways with Chicago and secured a one-year, $5 million deal with the Miami Marlins.

Despite the challenges faced in 2023, Anderson is viewed as a potential breakout candidate for 2024. Given his impressive performances in the three seasons prior to the injury setback, the Blue Jays could have explored the opportunity to acquire him. While duplicating his peak performance from 2019 may be ambitious, Anderson possesses a higher offensive potential than Kiner-Falefa and could have made a significant contribution to the Jays’ lineup, which is in need of offensive firepower.

Despite IKF adding defensive versatility across various positions for the Blue Jays, concerns arise considering the team’s existing players such as Davis Schneider and Cavan Biggio, who already provide depth in both the infield and outfield. The signings of Gio Urshela and Tim Anderson, potentially bringing more offensive firepower to their respective teams, may lead to questioning the Blue Jays’ choice to invest in IKF, viewed by some as a missed opportunity.

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