Aaron Boone says Isiah Kiner-Falefa ‘can be’ Yankees’ starting shortstop next season

Isiah Kiner-Falefa making throw on the run, good shot, pinstripes
Isiah Kiner-Falefa making throw on the run, good shot, pinstripes

One of the many question marks surrounding the Yankees heading into the 2023 season is what they will do at shortstop.

Isiah Kiner-Falefa manned the position for the majority of the regular season, but the 27-year-old regressed defensively in the final month and in the postseason, which led to him being benched for some of the younger players on the roster.

"I just felt like there were a couple of mistakes that he had or errors that he had that I felt like were ... weighing on him a little bit and I didn't want that to be something that snowballed him," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said of benching Kiner-Falefa in the postseason on The Michael Kay Show on Thursday. "When you get into a short series, obviously, you can't afford to do that. I also knew that, over time -- especially throughout the playoffs -- I felt like, because he showed it all year, he's a tough kid, he's resilient, that I knew he'd get through it.

“But in certain situations, I felt like I had to go in another direction on a given game and I felt like I had some confidence in whether it was a [Oswaldo] Cabrera or a [Oswald] Peraza that I could plug in there that were going to be able to handle it -- and I feel like they did do a good job. And I feel like, ultimately, Kiner bounced back -- even within the playoffs -- and handled himself well."

The light-hitting Kiner-Falefa hit .261 with 48 RBI and four home runs in 142 games for the Yankees this season, but it was his defense that New York coveted.

He won a Gold Glove in 2020 as a member of the Texas Rangers but primarily as a third baseman, and every year since he shifted to shortstop his defensive numbers have been below average. Per BaseballSavant, IKF had a -4 OAA in 2022 putting him at 39th among shortstops this season.

The defensive miscues forced Boone to go with Cabrera and Peraza at times, two prospects that could make waves next season.

While Peraza had the chance to get some major league experience after the September call ups, Anthony Volpe is still waiting in the wings. Kiner-Falefa was acquired from the Minnesota Twins in the Josh Donaldson trade as a stopgap for when the Yankees’ young stars make their way to The Show. That’s why the team wasn’t aggressive in signing free-agent shortstops like Corey Seager and Carlos Correa last offseason.

But with the prospects getting close to playing everyday and another offseason full of established star shortstops, the question of whether Kiner-Falefa will be the Yankees’ starter when the 2023 season starts popped up.

"He can be," Boone said. "I think we've got a lot of guys knocking on the door. Obviously, Peraza had a strong Triple-A season and got to the big leagues and I think acquitted himself really well and I think upped his standing, even in our eyes and certainly my eyes with what I was able to see out of him in that final month that I think was really valuable for him to get a little bit of that experience. He's certainly going to push for that.

“We've got Anthony Volpe knocking on the door. We've got Oswaldo Cabrera, who, obviously, came up and did a really good job. So there's going to be that competition and then, of course, you never know what's going to happen where the entire roster takes you -- are there trades, are there free-agent pickups that change things that change the landscape a little bit of your team heading into spring training. And we're a long way away from that, but I certainly feel like Kiner is capable of being an everyday shortstop. But there's certainly going to be competition, potentially, for that heading into spring training."

The Yankees’ decision on who their shortstop will be in 2023 will be affected by whether the team can re-sign Aaron Judge. But we won’t know for sure until the offseason begins, which will start when the World Series ends this weekend.