The Yankees have made their first official move of the Winter Meetings, and while Aaron Judge remains on the market, they have brought back another old friend. Right-handed reliever Tommy Kahnle is rejoining New York on a two-year, $11.5 million contract, per ESPN’s Jeff Passan.
Although the move was unexpected, it’s not a complete surprise. Kahnle has been connected to the Yankees’ organization since 2010, when he was selected in the fifth round of the MLB Draft out of Lynn University in Florida. When left unprotected in the 2013 Rule 5 Draft though, he was snatched away by the Rockies, and that allowed him to make his MLB debut in 2014. After cutting his teeth in Colorado, Kahnle became a force to be reckoned with when he was traded to the White Sox for 2016. He pitched to a 2.56 ERA, 2.77 FIP, and 12.1 K/9 in 102 innings over the next year and a half, impressing the Yankees enough to make a move to reacquired him at the 2017 trade deadline as part of the savvy deal that also brought David Robertson back to New York (as well as Todd Frazier).
Kahnle quickly became a valued member of the bullpen on a Yankees team that came closer to returning to the Fall Classic than any other since 2009. The right-hander was nails down the stretch and threw shutout ball in both the Wild Card Game against Minnesota and the ALDS against Cleveland.
The years since then have been a bit of a hodgepodge for Kahnle. His game abruptly went to hell in 2018 and he spent 25 games trying to get himself right down in Triple-A. Left off the playoff roster that year, he came back in 2019 with a flourish, looking just as reliable as he did in 2017 — as if nothing had ever happened. Kahnle had a 3.67 ERA, 3.33 FIP, 1.060 WHIP, and a 12.9 K/9 for the AL East champions, allowing just two runs across eight games in the playoffs.
The 2020 campaign brought Tommy John surgery for Kahnle, and he only just emerged from that rehab with the Dodgers this past season. The Yankees had allowed him to walk in free agency in 2021, so he signed a two-year deal in LA with the hope of getting himself right by 2022. A bone bruise in his right elbow curtailed that goal, and he only made it into 12.2 innings of 2.84 ERA ball for the Dodgers, though he did finish the year healthy while recording a very good 0.632 WHIP. Kahnle’s stuff wasn’t far off from his old form, either:
Kahnle looked good with the Dodgers in September— James Smyth (@JamesSmyth621) December 6, 2022
8.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 9 K
95.6 MPH fastball was a tick lower than 2019, but with same ol’ great changeup (2-for-22 with 2 infield singles and 7 K, 13-of-16 ground balls) https://t.co/JJiCGXCVTG
Now, Kahnle is back for Round 3 in pinstripes.
As John detailed in his free agent target post on Kahnle, the 33-year-old may yet have plenty to offer on this kind of short-term deal. The Yankees are seeking a little more bullpen help to aid leaders Jonathan Loáisiga and Clay Holmes (who were up-and-down at different points in 2022). Can they bank on them in addition to Wandy Peralta repeating his better-than-expected season and Lou Trivino continuing his post-Oakland return to form? Will Michael King be healthy enough after his own elbow scare? Kahnle comes with his own questions but it’s perfectly reasonable to take a small gamble that he can bolster the relief corps. The fact that he’s an extremely popular guy in the clubhouse also can’t hurt.
Welcome back, Tommy Tightpants!