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Changeup specialist Tommy Kahnle’s return meshes nicely with the Yankees

Bringing Kahnle back to the Bronx seems like a great fit.

League Championship Series - Houston Astros v New York Yankees - Game Five Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

I do so enjoy free agency. Every time my phone buzzes, I wonder whether this time it is a push notification that the Yankees have signed someone. And this morning, I was not betrayed, with Brian Cashman inking Tommy Kahnle, bringing him back for a second tour of duty in the Yankee bullpen (and third in the organization as a whole). Ken Rosenthal and Jeff Passan combined to break the news a little while ago, and Andrew briefly discussed the signing here.

What does this mean for the Yankees and their bullpen? On the surface, this seems like a solid move. Kahnle has already successfully pitched for the club, so there should be no adjustment period for the veteran righty in his return to New York, and the pressure cooker that is Yankee Stadium.

Financially, Kahnle’s price tag is not going to blow up the budget. This is not an Aroldis Chapman or Zack Britton deal, one that ties up a considerable chunk of the 2023 and 2024 payroll in a reliever — players whose performance can be variable and volatile year-over-year. Instead, at a $5.5 million AAV, if Kahnle can replicate his 2019 season (61.1 IP, 12.91 K/9, 1.1 fWAR), he’s a bargain. And if he recaptures his 2017 magic (62.2 IP, 13.79 K/9, 2.1 fWAR), the Yankees have committed highway robbery.

Kahnle likely does not have to worry about being thrust directly into the hottest part of the fire either. Clay Holmes and Jonathan Loáisiga loom at the back end of the Yankees ‘pen. Moreover, Michael King is hoping to return for Opening Day, though the Yankees will undoubtedly be careful with King, who was downright dominant in 2022.

The Kahnle signing seems to be aimed more at augmenting the Yankees’ mid-to-late inning options, rather than bringing him in to get critical outs, at least initially. A ton of offseason remains, and the Yankees are far from done, but tossing Kahnle into the mix alongside the aforementioned relievers — as well as Ron Marinaccio, Lou Trivino, and others — gives New York a plethora of options.

As John Griffin identified in his recent piece that detailed Kahnle as a free agent target, Kahnle also makes sense from a philosophical standpoint. Under pitching coach Matt Blake, the Yankees have had an affinity for pitchers who throw a changeup, and who generate groundballs. In an admittedly small sample size in 2022, Kahnle threw his change 77 percent of the time. Opposing batters managed three hits off the pitch, all singles. When they put it in play, they did so to the tune of a -14 degree launch angle.

Furthermore, they often failed to even do that, as Kahnle finished the season with a whiff rate of 36 percent when throwing the change. The offering could be nigh-unhittable, as Juan Soto demonstrated here:

That’s just an uncomfortable, quick at-bat from one of the most patient hitters in baseball. Josh will have an even more incisive breakdown of what Kahnle brings to the mound a little later today.

Overall, Kahnle generated the highest groundball rate of his career, and it was not close. Prior to 2022, Kahnle’s high-water mark was a 54.8 percent in 2015, way back in his Rockies days. Last season, however, that figure spiked to 68 percent. If he continues to generate groundballs like that in New York, with a pretty solid Yankee infield defense, he should be just fine.

At the end of the day, I like this signing. Kahnle seems to logically slot into the Yankee bullpen, while providing a veteran presence. Moreover, he appears to fit from a philosophical standpoint with what the Yankees like to do. The signing is absolutely not cost-prohibitive and the club knows what it’s getting in Kahnle, and vice-versa. His return hopefully brings along with it the infectious, positive energy that marked his first stint with New York.