Around midmorning on Tuesday, news broke of the Yankees’ second free agent signing of the winter. While many fans at the time were understandably disappointed that it wasn’t that signing (not yet anyway), there’s no doubt that the Yankees are a stronger team after yesterday’s addition to the roster. That’s because New York officially signed Tommy Kahnle to a two-year deal to return to the Bronx.
It’s Kahnle’s third stint with the organization after originally being drafted by New York in the fifth round in the 2010 MLB Draft. He never made it to the majors his first go-around, eventually landing with the Rockies via the Rule 5 Draft, but after being traded to the Yankees alongside Todd Frazier and David Robertson in that famous 2017 swap with the White Sox, he stamped his mark on the team in his second stint in pinstripes.
Kahnle made 129 appearances across what added up to two-and-a-half seasons from 2017-20, tallying a 4.01 ERA, 3.23 FIP, and 157 strikeouts in 112.1 innings pitched. And though he missed essentially all of 2020-21 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, the Yankees apparently saw enough from his 12.2 innings of work with the Dodgers in 2022 to award him a two-year, $11.5 million contract.
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
He certainly flashed some of the Tommy Kahnle of old in his final appearances with LA. As Kevin and Josh noted in their earlier write-ups about the reunion with Kahnle, any discussion about the 33-year-old reliever starts with his changeup, and many others in the media echoed this sentiment.
Ron Marinaccio and Wandy Peralta were both in the top 10 in baseball in run value from their changeup in 2022, per Statcast.— Max Goodman (@MaxTGoodman) December 6, 2022
Kahnle showed some of his old form this year in a small sample with that pitch. Had elite numbers during his last full season in 2019 with the changeup.
Tommy Kahnle's changeup usage by month since 2018. The Yankees have been a changeup-heavy organization in the Matt Blake era, and I'd expect Kahnle to run extremely high offspeed rates as he did with the Dodgers last year. pic.twitter.com/56T5gFwXKJ— Lucas (@DBITLefty) December 6, 2022
Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake has made a concerted effort to disseminate the changeup across the Yankees pitching staff, so the prospect of him linking up with one of the best changeup-throwers in the game is intriguing to say the least. Kahnle threw one of if not the best offspeed pitches in 2019 (his last full season), the pitch inducing the highest strikeout rate of any changeup in baseball while placing ninth in Statcast’s Run Value and tenth in whiff rate. And it’s actually a two-way street — the Yankees pitching room is known to foster a collaborative atmosphere, so it’s not unreasonable to hope that guys like Ron Marinaccio and Wandy Peralta can improve their offspeed pitches through conversations with Kahnle.
The consensus seems to be that the Yankees conducted a shrewd bit of business in bringing Kahnle back, especially when you consider other deals signed by relievers this winter.
Not sure how Tommy Kahnle gets less than Carlos Estévez. Great signing here by NYY. https://t.co/1n2X935ZHt— MLB Nerds (@MLBNerds) December 6, 2022
For example, hard-throwing righty reliever Carlos Estévez recently signed a two-year, $13.5 million pact with the Angels. Estévez was a decent mid-tier relief option for the Rockies the last two seasons, but never approached the ceiling Kahnle displayed in 2019, so getting Kahnle for one million less per year feels like a steal, especially when you consider his arm has two fewer years of mileage on it stemming from the TJS rehab.
Kahnle could not come at a better time considering two of the Yankees more relied-upon lefty relievers of the last few years — Aroldis Chapman and Zack Britton — have left in free agency. His stinginess against lefties may prove invaluable following the departure of that pair of southpaws.
With Zack Britton & Aroldis Chapman free agents, worth noting that Tommy Kahnle gives the #Yankees another RP who has had success vs. lefties, though he isn't one himself.— Gary Phillips (@GaryHPhillips) December 6, 2022
Lefties have hit .229 vs. Kahnle for his career. In 2019, his last full season, lefties hit .209 off him.
Kahnle’s outsized personality made him an instant fan-favorite, and by all accounts he was well-liked in the clubhouse. We’ve seen some dour personalities pass through the Bronx in recent years, so adding his energy to the team could inject a levity that might help surmount stretches of adversity such as the one the team experienced in the second half.
Kahnle was effective with the Yankees and popular in the clubhouse. Will boost the pen. Kenny with the news. https://t.co/pxl1Er90RZ— Jack Curry (@JackCurryYES) December 6, 2022
Tommy Kahnle struck out three hitters and showed typical emotion during his last inning with the Yankees on July 26, 2020— Talkin' Yanks (@TalkinYanks) December 6, 2022
It was his only appearance that season before undergoing Tommy John surgery pic.twitter.com/OPKckZASAT
This offseason and the Yankees’ mid-term future revolve around Aaron Judge. As Hal Steinbrenner noted in his year-end press conference, a large part of the Yankees’ pitch to Judge involved other moves they could make in addition to potentially bringing him back. Having been swept in the ALCS by the bogeyman Astros, bringing Judge back as the sole piece of business this winter constitutes at best a lateral move.
If I were in Judge’s shoes, I would’ve wanted assurances that the front office would attempt to surround him with as much talent as possible to finally get over the postseason hump. Adding Kahnle — while also bringing back Anthony Rizzo in November — at least represented a small step in that direction. They $360 million guarantee that Judge received today was obviously essential to him returning, but steps like these help as well.
The bullpen was clearly a need for the Yankees so getting Kahnle back is a very good thing. It’s also good that the Yankees aren’t totally waiting on Judge which is like the millionth example of not taking everything Cashman says at face value when he’s negotiating.— Randy Wilkins (@pamsson) December 6, 2022
Kahnle’s impact on the team goes beyond what he can do on the field. The Red Sox were reportedly pushing hard to sign the righty reliever, which is no surprise given the decrepit state of their bullpen. Overriding a move to a division rival may prove nearly as valuable as what he produces on the mound.
Sources: Red Sox have made a push to sign reliever Tommy Kahnle. @alexspeier first mentioned interest. Seems like there’s a chance it comes together soon but I’m told other teams remain in the mix.— Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) December 6, 2022
And finally, as our old friend Dan Kelly astutely notes, the Yankees’ 40-man roster is now full with Kahnle’s addition, so if they want to be active participants in the upcoming Rule 5 Draft (and, you know, add Judge back to the 40-man), they will need to clear space on the roster to do so and potentially risk losing that removed player to waivers.
Kahnle will bring the Yankees roster to 40... while it was always unlikely they would grab somebody in the MLB portion of the Rule-5, they would now have to trade or release someone before tomorrow’s event to even be in play https://t.co/LRWiX46FwH— Dan Kelly (@Dan_KellyPSA) December 6, 2022
Welcome home, Thunder Thighs! Let’s hope this go-around with the Bombers is just as good, if not better, than the last!