TORONTO SIGNS KINER-FALEFA TO TWO-YEAR, $15 MILLION DEAL

2023-12-29 · 2 min read · MLB/Baseball
ex-Ranger and Yankee Isiah Kiner-Falefa

Kim Klement/USA Today | Sports Illustrated

Two signings in two days? What an idea!
One day after inking Kevin Kiermaier to a deal, the Toronto Blue Jays announced another Free Agent contract - this time with ex-Ranger and Yankee Isiah Kiner-Falefa. The deal, two years worth $15 million, comes as, well, a rather interesting signing.
Another defense-first player, Kiner-Falefa is a name that Blue Jays fans know well. He debuted in 2018 with Texas, bouncing around multiple positions before finding himself primarily in the infield. Prior to the 2022 season, Kiner-Falefa was dealt to the Minnesota Twins for Mitch Garver, then one day later was moved alongside Josh Donaldson and Ben Rortvedt to the Yankees for Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshula.
Kiner-Falefa won a Gold Glove with the Rangers in 2020 as a third baseman, and as it stands he will fill that positional role with the Blue Jays - for now. The club remains connected, somewhat, to Matt Chapman though little progress has seemingly been made.
No disrespect to Kiner-Falefa intended, but this is a lateral move - at best - by Toronto. We’ve all been firsthand witness to the offensive struggles of the aforementioned Chapman, and this signing isn’t exactly an upgrade - far from it. In 2023 with the Yankees, Kiner-Falefa slashed .242/.306/.340 over 113 games. His OPS+ (78) and oWAR (-0.1) were, outside of a shortened 2019 season, the worst of his career. His dWAR (0.1) was also the lowest, outside of 2019. His RAA (runs above average) and WAA (wins above average) were career-lows as well.
On the other hand, Kiner-Falefa’s hard contact rates were the best out of any of his six years in the MLB in 2023. His line drive percentage was up, his ground ball percentage was down, and both his HR% and BB% rose substantially from 2022. His SO% however, well a number of his offensive woes could be attributed to that - a drastic 5.8% increase in strikeouts of at-bats saw a jump from 13.6% in 2022 to 19.4% in 2023. In comparison to Matt Chapman (28.4 SO% in 2023) it’s an improvement, but only marginally when taking into account Chapman’s superior defence and perceived power numbers.
All that aside, the most obvious issue with this move is the fact that it’s not necessary. Sure, Whit Merrifield is gone, but Toronto had a plethora of Kiner-Falefa-like talent before dolling out $7.5 million a year for him. Cavan Biggio, Santiago Espinal, Ernie Clement, and Davis Schneider all come to mind as variations of Kiner-Falefa’s playmaking - and that’s just current MLB talent. Youngsters Otto Lopez, Leo Jimenez, Orelvis Martinez, and Addison Barger are all positionally similar, and looking for big league opportunities.
The idea that Kiner-Falefa may take at-bats away from any of the above is problematic, at least in the eyes of many fans. What this signing also is an indication of is that one of the four MLB names that fit that description will be gone before Spring Training - likely Santiago Espinal. The long and short of it remains that, prior to this signing, the problem of too many utilitymen existed - now it’s exacerbated.
Again, this is not meant to be a Isiah Kiner-Falefa hate session - he reached Free Agency, found a good amount of money, and jumped on the deal. All the power to him, $15 million is no number to scoff at, especially with his recent offensive numbers. He’ll have a chance to play, and hopefully make the most of it. It’s just, well, after a relatively miserable offseason thus far filled with missed chances and almost-signings, forgive the masses if Toronto is disappointed.
On that note, Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro once again find themselves in the crosshairs of Blue Jay fans who feel that there’s been a lack of ‘just do it’ in upgrading Canada’s team. Kevin Kiermaier and Isiah Kiner-Falefa aren’t game-changers, and don’t exactly shift the needle from a disappointing 2023.
Nobody gives a damn about stadium renovations if the hitters can’t hit.
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By: Gus Cousins

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