Yankees are taking a big risk with latest bullpen signing

New York Yankees, Tommy Kahnle
May 5, 2019; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees relief pitcher Tommy Kahnle (48) pitches during the seventh inning against the Minnesota Twins at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and managing partner Hal Steinbrenner made it apparent that the bullpen was a priority this off-season. Signing Aaron Judge to a lucrative contract and inking Carlos Rodon to feature as the team’s secondary ace are certainly prominent moves, but the team hasn’t done nearly enough to bolster the bullpen, especially after losing several arms this offseason.

With Zack Britton, Aroldis Chapman, and Miguel Castro all leaving, allocating a bit more financial resources is essential. Scott Effross sustained an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery at the end of the 2022 season, all but ruling him out for next year. The team does project to get back Michael King at the beginning of the 2023 regular season, but that doesn’t mean they should stop bolstering the unit now.

The Yankees took a big risk with Tommy Kahnle:

The only prominent sign in Cashman has made is familiar face, Tommy Kahnle. Kahnle has barely made an impact in the past three years, pitching 12.2 innings in 2022 and one inning in 2020. Essentially, he’s pitched 13.2 innings combined over the last three seasons, but the Yankees still coughed up a two-year, $11.5 million deal for the 33-year-old free agent.

The Yankees have fond memories of Kahnle and his personality, especially since he showcase solid stuff over a small sample size with the Los Angeles Dodgers this past season. Over his 12.2 innings, he recorded a 2.84 ERA, 3.14 xFIP, 9.95 strikeouts per nine, and an 85.4% left-on-base rate. Committing that much money to him having barely pitched is certainly a major risk, especially since the team lost so many bullpen arms this off-season.

However, the team recalls his great performance back in 2019, when he recorded a 3.67 ERA across 61.1 innings, including nearly 13 strikeouts per nine. He logged a 96th percentile strikeout rate and 96th percentile with rate. His fastball velocity was also in the 92nd percentile and an 80th percentile chase rate. This past season, he incorporated a 4-seam fastball/change-up combo, averaging out at 95.5 mph, indicating his velocity is where it should be following years of injury-riddled seasons.

His 4-seam fastball generated a .286 batting average and his change-up a .094 average, including a 36% whiff rate and 26.7% put-away rate. Kahnle has a fantastic change-up, but he would likely be a situational bullpen arm next season as the team looks to rely on youngsters Ron Marinaccio and Greg Weissert.

Management has been adding a few relief arms on minor-league deals, but hoping to hit on cheap signings isn’t a sustainable strategy. Pitching coach Matt Blake did mention the Yankees will rely more on LHP Matt Krook, RHP Jhony Brito, and RHP Randy Vasquez to play bigger roles in 2023.

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