The Blue Jays have agreed to a two-year, $15MM deal with Isiah Kiner-Falefa, according to FanSided’s Robert Murray (X link). The deal includes another $1MM in incentives, and it will become official when Kiner-Falefa passes a physical. Kiner-Falefa is represented by ALIGND.
Kiner-Falefa won a Gold Glove as the Rangers’ regular third baseman in 2020, but he hasn’t since played much time at the hot corner, since Texas used him primarily at shortstop in 2021 and the Yankees did the same in 2022. This past season saw New York shift IKF all around the diamond since Anthony Volpe took over as the everyday shortstop, with Kiner-Falefa racking up a lot of playing time in center field (278 1/3 innings), left field (248 innings), back at third base (240 1/3 innings), right field (40 innings), shortstop (eight innings) and a lone inning as a second baseman. The public defensive metrics were mixed on his outfield work, but Kiner-Falefa graded pretty well as an infielder, particularly in his return to third base.
With Matt Chapman a free agent, it would seem like the Blue Jays could install Kiner-Falefa as their regular third base option for the time being, giving the club at least a glove-first starter if either Chapman signs elsewhere or if a more clear-cut starter can’t be found. That said, IKF is probably less of a Chapman replacement than he is a replacement for Whit Merrifield, another right-handed hitter who was deployed regularly as a second base and in the outfield. Kiner-Falefa adds even more versatility since Merrifield played very little third base and no shortstop.
IKF is also a better defensive fit at third base than any of Toronto’s incumbent crop of infielders, such as Cavan Biggio, Davis Schneider, Santiago Espinal, or Ernie Clement. Biggio is the only left-handed bat in that group, so it stands to reason the Jays might trade one of the righty-swingers now that Kiner-Falefa is on board. Adding a more experienced Major Leaguer also gives the Blue Jays more flexibility in giving more minor league evaluation time to top prospects Orelvis Martinez or Addison Barger, who should both be in the Show at some point in 2024 and could factor into the infield picture (particularly at third base).
While Kiner-Falefa may work from a depth and glovework perspective, however, he doesn’t represent much or any help to the Blue Jays’ larger need for offense. Kiner-Falefa hit .242/.306/.340 over 361 plate appearances with the Yankees last season, essentially matching his .261/.314/.346 slash line over 2415 career PA at the big league level. This translates to an 81 wRC+ — tied for the fourth-lowest total of any player with more than 2000 PA since the start of the 2018 season.
The lack of offense has limited Kiner-Falefa to 3.8 fWAR over his six Major League seasons, despite his defensive contributions. He rarely strikes out, yet this contact-hitting approach rarely yields hard contact, and he has little power to speak of with only 26 career home runs.
A two-year, $15MM contract seems like a pretty nice score for Kiner-Falefa with this lack of offense in mind, yet there was still quite a bit of interest in the utilityman on the open market. The Brewers, Dodgers, Marlins, and Yankees were all linked to Kiner-Falefa on the rumor mill, and Toronto’s own interest in IKF was first cited by Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi earlier this month.
Between Kiner-Falefa today and yesterday’s agreement with Kevin Kiermaier, the Blue Jays have sprung into action after a rather quiet offseason caused by the team’s focus on chasing Shohei Ohtani. The Jays remained at least speculatively linked to a number of other players besides Ohtani, of course, as GM Ross Atkins’ front office routinely checks in on basically every available free agent or trade target as a matter of due diligence. While Kiner-Falefa and Kiermaier should help preserve the Jays’ excellent defense from 2023, some offensive pop seems necessary, whether at DH or to further bolster the infield or outfield picture.
As per Roster Resource, the Jays’ 2024 payroll projects to be just shy of the $230MM mark with Kiner-Falefa now on the books. This leaves a bit of space remaining before Toronto hits the $237MM luxury tax threshold, though that isn’t really a barrier considering that the Blue Jays exceeded the tax line (for the first time in franchise history) last season.
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