There are plenty of clubs with some level of interest in utilityman Isiah Kiner-Falefa — the Yankees and Blue Jays have been linked to him this week — and the former Ranger/Yankees Swiss army knife is also of some interest to the Dodgers, Marlins and Brewers, per Fabian Ardaya and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.
At 28 years old (29 in March), Kiner-Falefa is among the younger free agents on the market. Acquired by the Yankees prior to the 2022 season as their hopeful starting shortstop and bridge to top prospect Anthony Volpe, the infielder-turned-catcher-turned-infielder didn’t grab that job and run with it. However, he settled into a versatile utility role in the Bronx, ultimately taking 892 plate appearances during his two seasons there and posting a .253/.311/.333 batting line (84 wRC+) with 10 home runs, 32 doubles, a triple and 36 stolen bases (in 45 tries).
Kiner-Falefa won a Gold Glove as the Rangers’ primary third baseman during the shortened 2020 season and notched 10 Defensive Runs Saved as their main shortstop in 2021. DRS and Statcast have strongly disparate views on his work at shortstop, however, and there was at least some question among team evaluators as to whether Kiner-Falefa could handle that position moving forward. Both the Twins, who originally acquired him from the Rangers, and the Yankees, who acquired him from Minnesota just over a day later, clearly felt Kiner-Falefa could handle shortstop on a generally full-time basis in the 2021-22 offseason.
Even if the Yankees’ opinion of that changed, their fondness of the player did not. New York could’ve non-tendered or traded Kiner-Falefa following the 2022 season with both Volpe and Oswald Peraza on the cusp of the Majors. Instead, they held onto him and used him in a utility capacity this past season, giving Kiner-Falefa his first MLB looks in the outfield (in addition to time at shortstop, second base and third base).
Kiner-Falefa didn’t grade especially well at any one position other than third base this past season, but the newfound versatility undoubtedly enhances his appeal to teams. Given his age, above-average sprint-speed, solid arm strength and the athleticism he’s shown by playing multiple positions, there’s likely some belief that he could yet improve on his glovework at various positions with more experience. Kiner-Falefa also boasts strong bat-to-ball skills (career 15.5% strikeout rate), although he couples that with a well below-average walk rate (career 6.1%).
The right-handed-hitting Kiner-Falefa has generally neutral platoon splits, but as a right-handed hitter who can handle multiple positions on the diamond, he may hold some appeal to the Dodgers, who are said to be seeking a righty bat to potentially platoon with Jason Heyward in right field. Kiner-Falefa’s career .259/.325/.348 slash against lefties doesn’t make him much of a short-side platoon option, but he could give the Dodgers some depth in the outfield and at third base, where slugger Max Muncy is also better off being shielded against southpaws.
In Milwaukee, Kiner-Falefa could provide insurance at both second base and third base, where sophomores Brice Turang and Andruw Monasterio are currently slated to start, respectively. (Owen Miller is also in the infield mix at both spots.) Turang, a former first-round pick and top Brewers prospect, hit .218/.285/.300 in 448 plate appearances as a rookie. He struggled regardless of opponent handedness but was particularly overmatched by lefties. Monasterio posted a superior .259/.330/.348 slash and, like Kiner-Falefa, is a right-handed hitter. Kiner-Falefa could take on a larger role in the event that the Brewers chose to option either young infielder.
The Marlins might have the most straightforward fit of this trio: a clear opening at shortstop. Miami plans to keep Jazz Chisholm Jr. in center field and is on the lookout for help at the shortstop position. In-house names like Jon Berti and former top prospect Vidal Brujan (recently acquired from the Rays) could step up in that role, but Kiner-Falefa would offer a more experienced option — one who could seamlessly slide into a utility option if someone like Brujan, 24-year-old Xavier Edwards or 25-year-old Jacob Amaya stepped up and ran with the shortstop job.