A Year Later, Trading For Josh Donaldson And Isiah Kiner-Falefa Remains Underwhelming For The New York Yankees

A year ago, Monday is a significant anniversary for the Yankees. It is not to signify the anniversary of a notable game since in most years the date is about two or three weeks into spring training.

Instead it is a trade anniversary and the one-year mark from when the Yankees officially gave up on Gary Sanchez by the trading the catcher along with Gio Urshela to the Minnesota Twins. The Yankees got a return package of Josh Donaldson since they were willing to assume the rest of the money owed to him by the Twins along with Isiah Kiner-Falefa.

The trade was made two days after players began reporting to spring training following the three-month lockout unanimously imposed by owners. And based on a year’s worth of evidence in the form of at-bats and other peripherals the trade is essentially a wash.

The Yankees may not have expected to overwhelmingly win the trade since Donaldson is at the tail end of a career and Kiner-Falefa’s presence at shortstop could be viewed as a stopgap option in the wake of Gleyber Torres’ rough experience there in 2021 and the impending arrival of Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe, who are competing for the job in this year’s spring training.

As time went on and especially through the playoffs when the Yankees struggled to consistently make contact, both players became lighting rods for the fanbase via calls to sports talk radio, message board posts and tweets.

Donaldson’s first year as a Yankee began with a game-winning single to beat the Red Sox, which is always a moment to get into the good graces of fans. It also featured a game-ending grand slam at midnight to beat the Tampa Bay Rays during the August swoon that saw the fits of emotion from Gerrit Cole and manager Aaron Boone.

Those notable moments were part of a debut season where Donaldson batted .222 with 15 homers and 62 RBIs. Not including the 60-game 2020 season or his abbreviated 2018 season, it was Donaldson’s lowest batting average and his lowest homer and RBI total in any of his full seasons.

And the analytic numbers did not reflect well with Donaldson’s with his exit velocity dropping to 90.7 from 94.1 and that occurred as his strikeout rate increased to 27.2 percent and his hard hit percentage dropped to 43.3 percent.

And it was even worse in the postseason when the Yankees hit .182 in struggling to get through a five-game series with Cleveland before they were swept by the Astros, showing an inability to change that narrative.

Donaldson recently said to the New York Post that he would retire if he did not think he could hit anymore. Sometimes age catches up and an improvement in his age 38 season might be somewhere in the .240s or .250s with the homers increasing to around 20.

As for Kiner-Falefa, his numbers .261, four homers and 48 RBIs were on par with some of his previous production. The Yankees acquired him after he batted .271 with eight homers and 53 RBIs for the Texas Rangers and likely expected similar.

It was defensively where he had a rough time no matter how often the Yankees defended his defense. Range-wise he was decent at getting to balls but he also committed 15 errors and turned 51 double plays down from the 98 in 156 games in 2021 and was involved in the misplay between him and Torres that set up Jeremy Pena’s tiebreaking hit in Game 4.

This year Kiner-Falefa is hoping adding 18 pounds of muscle leads to more slugging and power in whatever role the Yankees use for him. During spring training, he has been spotted playing second base and third base and will also be used as an outfielder.

Of course there’s also the possibility Kiner-Falefa’s new task at other positions is being used to enhance any trade value and so far the Dodgers could use some shortstop depth after losing Gavin Lux to a season-ending injury. Or if they do not trade him, they could use his versatility as an asset especially if Peraza or Volpe win the job.

As for Sanchez, he was the most notable name in this deal in terms of his history with the Yankees. He burst on the scene with 20 homers in two months when the Yankees were sellers for the first time in 2016 and that was enough to get him a runner-up finish in the AL rookie of the year award.

He then hit 34 homers in the unexpected 90-win season in 2017 but after that tailed off with his defensive issues becoming increasingly noticeable. While Sanchez constantly worked on his defense with the Yankees, his defense never consistently improved and his bat dropped off immensely.

After batting .284 in 2016 and 2017, his final averages four averages were .186, .232, .147 and .204. While some of that can be due to bad luck or hard hit contact, there were too many unproductive at-bats which is why the Yankees finally gave up him after they could have non-tendered him following the 2020 season.

Last year with Minnesota did not go much better as he batted .205 with 16 homers and 61 RBIs in 128 games in a contract year though his WAR of 1.3 is respectable and his weighted runs created plus of 89 is about the league average for catchers. There were other numbers that showed his continued struggles such as .155 average against sliders and a career-high 28.9 percent strikeout rate.

His defense improved slightly by throwing out 28 percent of runners trying to steal and his passed balls dropped to four.

The Twins were impressed by his effort and work ethic but as of now he remains unsigned though his name was linked to the Giants and Angels earlier this winter.

Being unsigned is a steep fall from the player who was part of the Yankees quick rebuild in 2017 that now has mixed results to show for beyond Aaron Judge’s spectacular rise to stardom. It seems at some point a team will sign him to some kind of contract but for the 30-year-old being unsigned is a reminder of what could have been.

As for Urshela he was a steady member of the Yankees, stepping in nicely during 2019 when Miguel Andujar was lost for the season early on. He was traded by the Yankees after his average dropped to .267 in 116 games in 2021 and bounced back by hitting .285 last year but the Twins traded him to the Angels who are using him at shortstop and first base after his minus-5 outs above average at third base put him towards the bottom of the rankings.

Based on recent results Urshela might be the steadiest performer of a trade that brought two players who were as frustrated with their first year in pinstripes as some of the fans.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/larryfleisher/2023/03/13/a-year-later-trading-for-josh-donaldson-and-isiah-kiner-falefa-remains-underwhelming-for-the-new-york-yankees/