Tommy Kahnle’s career has been an interesting ride, to put it mildly. Originally drafted by the Yankees in the fifth round of the 2010 draft, the native of upstate New York was selected by the Rockies in the 2013 Rule 5 Draft. He would spend two years as a serviceable low-leverage reliever in Colorado before being designated for assignment and shipped to Chicago after the 2015 season. With the White Sox, Kahnle found his stride and became a top-flight reliever in 2016. At the 2017 trade deadline, Chicago traded him, along with David Robertson and Todd Frazier, back to the Yankees; he would play a pivotal role down the stretch and in the postseason, most notably with 2.1 innings of work in the Wild Card Game’s impromptu bullpen game.
After a 2018 season to forget — he posted a 6.56 ERA in 23 innings and spent a good portion of the year in Triple-A Scranton — Kahnle returned to form in 2019. While he wasn’t quite the back-end reliever he was in 2016 and 2017, he was a reliable middle reliever capable of pitching high-leverage innings alongside Zack Britton, Aroldis Chapman, Adam Ottavino, and Chad Green in one of the more reliable bullpens in recent memory. On top of that, Kahnle’s outgoing personality and crazy shenanigans made him a fan favorite.
And a clubhouse leader as well, as he was famously (or infamously) the commissioner of the clubhouse Madden league during spring training in 2020.
When the delayed 2020 season began, however, everything went sideways. Kahnle made just one appearance that year, throwing one inning in the team’s third game of the season on July 26th. Soon after, he went for an MRI due to forearm tightness, and on July 31st, it was announced that he would need Tommy John surgery to repair a torn UCL. His season was over, and with just one year remaining before free agency, the Yankees non-tendered him after the year to free up a spot on the 40-man roster.
That winter, Kahnle signed a two-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The first year was spent rehabbing, and he would return to the big league mound on May 1st of this year. After just four appearances, however, he would return to the shelf — this time due to right forearm inflammation. He would miss the next few months, but when he returned in mid-September, he looked like the Tommy Kahnle of old: in 8.2 innings across nine appearances, he allowed just one run, one walk, and two hits while striking out nine. While his fastball wasn’t quite where it used to be — it averaged just 95.5 mph, two ticks slower than his 2017 peak (97.8) and one tick slower than his last healthy season (96.5) — he managed to induce groundballs at a staggering rate; thanks to a -5.2 average launch angle, 69.2 percent of balls in play came on the ground.
While the Yankees had one of the top bullpens in 2022, it has its share of question marks. Can Clay Holmes avoid the rough patch he had in the second half? Can Jonathan Loáisiga stay healthy? Are Michael King and Clarke Schmidt for real? Who is Junior Fernández, and can the Yankees turn him into Clay Holmes or Wandy Peralta 2.0? Although I don’t expect them to go shopping near the top of the bullpen market, it might be smart to bring in a veteran arm to add a bit of stability and stabilize the ‘pen’s floor.
He may be a veteran, but there’s no way that Tommy Kahnle should be that veteran brought in to stabilize things — he simply hasn’t pitched enough since the end of the 2019 season, and relievers in their age-33 season with a history of arm injuries are far from safe bets. Even so, that doesn’t mean the Yankees should not look into bringing him in if the price is right. Kahnle in many ways represents the sort of reliever the Yankees have been drawn to under Blake, the type that generates whiffs and groundballs and that throws a changeup.
And of course, he brings a chaotic energy that every team needs: