Kiner-Falefa gets real on free agency, comeback, and ‘unfinished’ Yankees stint

Isiah Kiner-Falefa drives a walk-off single to win the game for the Yankees vs. the Padres on May 27, 2023, in the Bronx.

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The Yankees 2023 season is incomplete without telling the story of Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who made a dazzling comeback to win over the trust of fans. However, the player himself is unhappy to see him going into free agency without a ring in pinstripes and wants to stay in the Bronx to finish his “unfinished business.”

“Anytime you put the pinstripes on, you don’t want to leave without a ring,” the Yankees utility player said. “It feels like there’s unfinished business here. I want to win. This has been a hard year and it feels like a letdown. So as much as I had success earlier in the year, it sucks that it has to end without the postseason.”

Kiner-Falefa wants to return in pinstripes

On September 21, Kiner-Falefa secured the final out of Gerrit Cole’s last appearance in the Bronx for the 2023 season. The out came in the form of a ground ball hit by Blue Jays catcher Alejandro Kirk, concluding the eighth inning. A fair share of the thunderous applause that filled Yankee stadium amid a standing ovation for Gerrit Cole by Yankees fans also went to the fielder.

Kiner-Falefa, who will be a free agent in the upcoming offseason, considers this moment his personal farewell to Yankee Stadium. He did make appearances in a few more games during the regular season’s final stretch. However, playing alongside Cole in that game is what he regards as his “final game” of the year. It’s certainly a more cherished memory compared to the mishap of dropping a flyball he experienced in left field during a rainy doubleheader a few days later.

He expressed his desire to win while wearing the pinstripes, emphasizing that leaving without a championship ring felt like unfinished business. He acknowledged that despite having personal success earlier in the year, it was disappointing to end the season without reaching the postseason. He mentioned his interest in returning to the team but acknowledged that the decision was not in his hands. He also indicated his openness to exploring other opportunities and finding excitement in the process.

“Being in there for Gerrit’s last outing against Toronto, with me at third base, meant a lot,” Kiner-Falefa told NJ Advance Media. “I took that in and the crowd was pretty good that night too.”

Boone went on to say that he can certainly envision a scenario where Kiner-Falefa returns to the Yankees next season. However, for Kiner-Falefa, the potential placement on the team’s depth chart raises concerns. There are other MLB organizations that can offer the 28-year-old a consistent starting role, potentially through a multi-year contract.

Through all these ups and downs, Kiner-Falefa’s unwavering commitment to helping the Yankees secure victories remained steadfast. When he first joined the Yankees in March of 2022, following a trade involving Josh Donaldson and Gary Sanchez, he repeatedly emphasized his desire to be a part of the team. This sentiment remained with him as he approached free agency, accepting the reality of an uncertain future.

Kiner-Falefa thanks Yankees fans for support

Kiner-Falefa shared that being present at third base for Cole’s final outing against Toronto had significant meaning to him. He added that he had taken in the experience, including the supportive crowd on that particular night.

During his two-season stint with the Yankees, there were few occasions when Kiner-Falefa experienced such an enthusiastic reception. In fact, it took until this summer—a full year after his struggles as the starting shortstop and months after he conceded his position to rookie Anthony Volpe in a spring competition—for him to start earning the favor of some fans, mainly due to his impressive performance as a super-utility player.

Kiner-Falefa’s transformation into one of the team’s most dependable offensive contributors was a rare bright spot in an otherwise dismal summer for the Yankees. He went from being considered a lost cause to showcasing consistent offensive prowess while expanding his defensive versatility to include outfield play. Despite irregular playing time, Kiner-Falefa managed to hit an impressive .293 with a .804 OPS and 125 wRC+ across 64 games from May 16 to August 14. In fact, during that three-month stretch, he was the most productive Yankees position player after Aaron Judge.

When you bring up Kiner-Falefa’s remarkable second-season performance with the team and his ability to bounce back from a disappointing debut at shortstop in 2022, he takes pride in what he achieved. He points out how much he’s grown mentally over the past 18 months. However, he also expresses frustration with the final statistics of his season and disappointment at not being able to play more towards the end, largely due to the Yankees’ focus on their young talent.

Kiner-Falefa expressed dissatisfaction with his end-of-season statistics, highlighting that his numbers for the year were not up to his standards. He believed that the adjustments and changes he made while playing were beneficial. However, he also noted a decline in his performance towards the end of the season. Despite this, he acknowledged his role as a bench player and his responsibility to contribute when called upon. He remained confident in his ability to perform better offensively than his statistics indicated for the year.

Playing left field for the Yankees on Aug 2, 2023, Isiah Kiner-Falefa picked up his first two career outfield assists in a 7-2 win over the Rays at Yankee Stadium.

Kiner-Falefa’s exceptional knack for making contact, coupled with his adaptability and impressive defensive statistics, is bound to draw attention from teams in the offseason. Manager Aaron Boone has emphasized that Kiner-Falefa has proven to the rest of the league that he’s more than capable of excelling in his versatile utility role. He’s not only a valuable teammate but also the kind of hardworking player any team would want in their clubhouse—a true grinder who brings a winning attitude.

Kiner-Falefa expressed gratitude to the fans for giving him the opportunity to return for a second year and prove himself. He credited the fans with playing a significant role in his improvement, particularly highlighting the pressure and expectations they brought to the game. He believed that the challenges he faced in his first year with the fans’ expectations had driven him to reach a higher level of performance. He welcomed the pressure as it pushed him to grow and continue striving for improvement. As he looked forward to the offseason, he considered this feeling of growth and the challenges that came with it as positive and motivating.

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