A familiar face returns to reclaim its old spot in the Yankee Quarter.
Tommy Kahnle, the 33-year-old right-hander who pitched for the team from 2017-20, agreed to a deal on Tuesday to return to the Bronx. The contract is for two years and $11.5 million, on ESPN. In 129 games with the Yankees, Kahnle had a 4.01 ERA in 112.1 innings. During that time, he struck out exactly one-third of the batters he faced, posting a 33% strikeout rate, and walked 9.7% of his opponents. According to FanGraphs, Kahnle was the Yankees’ the fifth most valuable sedative during his tenure.
Armed with just two pitches — a changeup he uses as his primary pitch and a four-seam fastball that averages 95 mph — Kahnle has been an effective groundball thrower for his entire eight-year career, which includes and stints with the Rockies. , the White Sox and the Dodgers.
Kahnle was a key piece of the bullpen that propelled the Yankees to the 2019 American League Championship Series. But after appearing in 72 games and eight more during that year’s playoffs, Kahnle has logged just 13.2 innings since then. After his only appearance of the 2020 season, Kahnle was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament and underwent Tommy John surgery. That kept him out for all of 2021, and in 2022 he resurfaced to pitch in 13 games for the Dodgers, mostly in September.
A two-year, $11.5 million contract for a relief pitcher (already a risky investment given the volatility of the position) who hasn’t completely panned out in three years speaks volumes for the Yankees’ confidence in Kahnle. Their familiarity with him certainly helps, but in Kahnle’s case, so does the fact that Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton and Chad Green are all free agents now. All four were huge pieces of the bullpen in 2019. But injuries, ineffectiveness or, in Chapman’s case, a series of off-field issues have dramatically changed the equation. Chapman certainly won’t be back, and there’s no guarantee the aging Brits and Green will either. The Yankees knew they needed to shore up their relief pitching, and they see Kahnle as one of the men for the job.
With this addition, the Yankees currently have Kahnle, Clay Holmes, Jonathan Loaisiga, Wandy Peralta, Lou Trivino and Ron Marinaccio as healthy members of their top-flight relief group. Michael King should be back in the mix at some point in 2023 once his fractured elbow heals, but Scott Effross’ Tommy John surgery all but wipes out his season. Low-leverage arms Lucas Luetge and Albert Abreu are still on the 40-man roster.
Kahnle was originally a fifth-round pick by the Yankees in 2010, but was dealt by the Rockies in the Rule 5 draft while still in the minor leagues. He is a native of Latham, N.Y. Among qualified Yankee relievers, he ranks fourth in strikeout rate since the turn of the century, trailing only Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances. During his pop-up with the Dodgers last year, he fanned 14 of the 46 batters (30.4%) who faced him and finished with a 2.84 ERA, 0.63 WHIP and .125 opponents’ batting average.
In his first tour with the Yankees, Kahnle was known to drink five to six Red Bulls a day by his own admission. He has since given up this habit.