Blue Jays sign Isiah Kiner-Falefa

The Blue Jays have agreed to a two-year contract worth $15 million Isiah Kiner-Falefaaccording to Robert Murray of FanSided (X-coupling). The deal includes an additional $1 million in incentives and will become official once Kiner-Falefa completes 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 played much at the hot corner since, as Texas used him primarily at shortstop in 2021 and the Yankees did the same in 2022. Last season, New York saw IKF shift all over the diamond since then Anthony Volpe took over as the everyday shortstop, with Kiner-Falefa collecting significant 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), short stop (eight innings) and a lone inning as second baseman. Public defensive statistics were mixed regarding his outfield work, but Kiner-Falefa performed quite well as an infielder, especially in his return to third base.

Of Matt Chapman As a free agent, it appears the Blue Jays can install Kiner-Falefa as their regular third base option for now, giving the club at least a first-glove starter if Chapman signs elsewhere or if a more obvious starter can’t be found. That said, IKF is probably less of a Chapman replacement than what he is a replacement for Whit Merrifield, another right-handed hitter who was regularly used at second base and in the outfield. Kiner-Falefa adds even more versatility, as Merrifield played very little third base and no shortstop.

IKF is also a better defensive player at third base than any of Toronto’s incumbent infielders, such as Cavan Biggio, Davis Schneider, Santiago Espinalor Ernie Clemens. Biggio is the only left-handed bat in that group, so it stands to reason that the Jays could trade one of the right-handed swingers now that Kiner-Falefa is on board. Adding a more experienced major leaguer also gives the Blue Jays more flexibility in giving top players more minor league evaluation time Orelvis Martinez or Addison Bargerboth of which should be on the Show sometime in 2024 and could play a role in the infield picture (especially at third base).

While Kiner-Falefa can work from a depth and glove perspective, he doesn’t represent much, if any, help for the Blue Jays’ larger needs on 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 2,415 career PA at the big league level. This translates to an 81 wRC+ – equal to the fourth-lowest total among all players with more than 2,000 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, but this contact-hitting approach rarely produces hard contact, and he has little power to speak of with just 26 career home runs.

A two-year, $15 million contract seems like a pretty good score for Kiner-Falefa with this lack of offense in mind, but there was still quite a bit of interest in the utility man 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 mentioned by Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi earlier this month.

Between Kiner-Falefa today and yesterday’s agreement with Kevin Kiermaierthe Blue Jays have come into action after a fairly quiet offseason caused by the team’s focus on chasing Shohei Ohtani. The Jays, of course, remained at least speculatively linked to a number of other players besides Ohtani, as GM Ross Atkins’ front office routinely vets virtually every available free agent or trade target as a matter of due diligence. While Kiner-Falefa and Kiermaier should help maintain the Jays’ excellent defense going into 2023, an offensive pop seems necessary, both at DH and to further solidify the infield or outfield picture.

According to Roster Resource, the Jays’ payroll will just top the $230 million mark in 2024 now that Kiner-Falefa is on the books. This leaves some room before Toronto reaches the $237 million luxury tax threshold, although that’s not much of a barrier considering the Blue Jays exceeded the tax threshold last season (for the first time in franchise history).

Photo courtesy of USA Today sports images

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