'Thank God I’m a Yankee': IKF on handling Deadline buzz

August 7th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Bryan Hoch’s Yankees Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

 watched the clock as baseball’s Trade Deadline approached this past week, aware that his name had circulated as a potential candidate to be moved.

The digital screens in the Yankees’ clubhouse announced in bright red numbers that it was 5:59 p.m., then 6:00 p.m. He prepared for that night’s game, wary of a tap on the shoulder and a grim-faced coach pointing him toward manager Aaron Boone’s office. It never came.

“I feel great. I’m happy to be here,” Kiner-Falefa said. “I was screaming at 6 o’clock when they didn’t call my name: ‘Thank God I’m a Yankee!’”

This season has brought a redemption arc for the 28-year-old, a product of Hawaii who lived his childhood dream of serving as the Yankees’ shortstop last season. But he has admitted the pressure of that assignment impacted his play at times.

Kiner-Falefa yielded shortstop to rookie Anthony Volpe this spring and gamely accepted the challenge of a utility role, where he has excelled. Having never played the outfield before March, Kiner-Falefa has now seen time at every position except catcher and first base this season, including four mop-up appearances on the mound.

“Izzy’s just playing well all around,” Boone said, “and it’s good to see.”

That versatility would have made Kiner-Falefa attractive to many postseason contenders, so it was thought that general manager Brian Cashman might entertain offers for the 2013 fourth-round pick, who is among several Yankees eligible for free agency after the season.

Kiner-Falefa acknowledged that he watched MLB Network more often than usual in the clubhouse, while resisting any urge to eyeball social media.

“I haven’t been on Twitter at all this year,” he said.

Not that there weren’t stressful moments. Kiner-Falefa offered a window into the anxiety that players feel when their names are included in trade rumors, with considerations far beyond what transpires within the white lines.

“You definitely don’t want to leave your group,” Kiner-Falefa said. “Moving, getting your cars to a new place -- I’ve got a dog, too, so traveling with her, how am I going to get her there? I love baseball, everybody loves baseball, so if you have an opportunity [to play], it is what it is. It’s part of the business, but it’s just the outside stuff that is the harder part.”

Cashman and his staff ultimately decided they would be “in it to win it,” as the GM explained last week. The club added pitchers Keynan Middleton and Spencer Howard as it continues to eye a postseason spot. That was good news for a certain goldendoodle named Bella, and the ballplayer who walks her.

“It’s my favorite team growing up; I love it here,” Kiner-Falefa said. “I really enjoy living in the city. I just love everything about this place.”