Yankees retain Isiah Kiner-Falefa for 2023, grab Pirates’ righty

The Yankees' shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa

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The Yankees clinched a $6 million, one-year deal to retain shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa and also picked up hard-throwing right-handed pitcher Junior Fernandez from the Pirates on Friday.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa wasn’t let go by the Yankees and it didn’t come as much of a surprise. MLB Trade Rumors had earlier predicted that the 27-year-old would make about $6.5 million. He agreed to play for the Yankees on a one-year contract worth $6 million for 2023.

After his below-par performance, fans expected Isiah Kiner-Falefa to be traded by the Yankees in the offseason. But he stays and now has to compete with Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe, two very good prospects, for the starting shortstop job in spring training.

Kiner-Falefa started the first three ALDS games against the Guardians. In Game 4, he was replaced by rookie Oswaldo Cabrera. Kiner-Falefa also didn’t start the fifth game of the series. He also didn’t play in Games 2 and 3 of the ALCS when the Astros beat the Yankees in a four-game sweep.

It was hard to tell how good he was at defense. The Yankees kept saying that Kiner-Falefa was one of the best 5–7 shortstops in the game. Statcast said that the Hawaii native’s -4 Outs Above Average made him the 28th-best shortstop out of 37. But Fangraphs said that Kiner Falefa’s helped stop 10 runs and this was the MLB’s No. 7 best defense.

According to Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner:

“Isiah was exactly what we thought. I mean .260 I think he batted, which is exactly what he normally does. Good defense. Some bad plays. But the really good (and) above-average plays don’t tend to get noticed as much or talked about and that’s something we’ve talked about throughout the course of the year. But we were happy with what he gave us.”

Kiner-Falefa had a very up-and-down season, and the Yankees put him on the bench more than once in the playoffs, even though they had said all season that he was one of the best defensive shortstops in the game. During the regular season, he hit .261 and had an OPS of .642, which is about average for him. He only hit four homers, and none of them were before Sept. 13.

On Friday, the Yankees picked up Junior Fernandez and his sinker, which averaged 98.7 mph last year. Fernandez, who is 25 years old, had a 2.41 earned run average in 16 games between the Cardinals (13) and the Pirates (3). Since 2019, he has made 50 big league appearances and his ERA is 5.17. Most of the time, Fernandez throws his sinker, but last season, his slider had a very high whiff rate of 44%.

The guy from the Dominican Republic is likely to fight for a spot at the end of the Yankees’ bullpen next season.

The Yankees have done well with Pirates pitchers over the years. In July 2021, they traded two prospects for Clay Holmes and turned him into an All-Star closer last season. Before the 2021 season, they also got Jameson Taillon, who turned out to be a good mid-rotation starter. Just now, Taillon is a free agent.

In 2014, the Cardinals signed Fernandez. In 2016, Baseball America ranked him as their No. 9 overall prospect. The magazine said that Fernandez was the team’s No. 23 best prospect for 2021.

Pittsburgh also put left-handed reliever Manny Banuelos on the trade block earlier in the week. Banuelos was once a top prospect for the Yankees. He got hurt a lot but did well in spring training in 2022. About a decade after he was a top prospect, he finally played at Yankee Stadium for the first time.

Do you think the Yankees are right to sign IKF and Fernandez? Leave your comment below.

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