At least for now.
The Yankees called up one of their most prized prospects, 22-year-old Venezuelan infielder Oswald Peraza, ahead of a crucial three-game series against their AL East rival Tampa Bay Rays on Friday, as major league rosters expanded to 28 players at the start of September.
But Yankees manager Aaron Boone stated that Kiner-Falefa would still be the starter at short.
"It'll be fluid," Boone said of the plan to utilize Peraza. "He'll get some opportunities. How much he plays, how well he's doing, we'll continue to weigh [those things] as we move forward. We'll just keep it fluid. Will probably try to get him in there tomorrow [Saturday]. But we're trying to win. Hopefully, he can be a part of that."
For Kiner-Falefa, it did not make a difference whether Boone said that he was still the starting shortstop or not. As a kid, Kiner-Falefa grew up rooting for the Yankees, particularly when it came to legendary shortstop Derek Jeter, who was his childhood hero.
"It doesn't matter," Kiner-Falefa told ESPN when referring to Boone stating that he was still the starter. "I just want to win whatever it takes. [Peraza] has earned the opportunity to get a chance to play here. What he does with that is up to him. But it's always awesome to see a guy that has a great year get an opportunity late in the year because sometimes organizations don't give those guys a chance."
Kiner-Falefa admitted that when he first was traded to the Yankees, he looked at some of the commentary and criticism from fans on social media.
"There was just so much anger, even Yankees fans just wishing I got hurt and stuff like that, so I just got off social media. And ever since then, I've been happy," Kiner-Falefa told ESPN. "And in the end, it's so good to get a player of that caliber, and Peraza has been very good all year this year. Whatever helps the team go to the World Series. That's the one goal. So whatever it takes to do that."
The top prospect in the organization, Anthony Volpe, was promoted to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after the Yankees called up Peraza, who is considered the team's No. 3 prospect. The Yankees also activated Marwin Gonzalez off the paternity list to complete the roster at 28.
Kiner-Falefa has dazzled defensively at times, but his MLB defensive rankings, particularly in terms of outs above average (-2, tied for 22nd), runs prevented (-1, tied for 21st) and errors (12, tied for 10th most) have been disappointing numbers for the Yankees. On offense, Kiner-Falefa is slashing .261/.310/.315 in 117 games played this season
Since Peraza's natural position is shortstop, and it is where he has primarily started in the minors, Boone discussed the playing time situation with Kiner-Falefa.
"I did talk to Izzy [Isiah]," Boone said of Kiner-Falefa. "I expect him to continue to be right in the middle of everything we're doing. The best thing about Isiah is he wants to win, and he'll do anything it takes. He'll be prepared and he's going to continue to play a lot."
"[Peraza] will get some opportunities, but I don't want to put any undo expectations on him. This is a great opportunity for him to get up here in this environment and hopefully be another step in his development," Boone added, going on to praise Peraza's strengths. "He's got the ability to impact the ball. We view him as a long-term shortstop so the ability to truly play that position. He's a really good base runner... his all-around game is what we view as a strength."
Peraza said he found himself "short for words" upon hearing he was getting called up to the big leagues, and that he would finally have an opportunity to play for the Yankees.
"It's hard to explain how I feel thinking about the path and all the things I had to go through to get here, playing this sport since I was a little kid, it was very exciting," he said.