With Jonathan Holder having a breakout year, Tommy Kahnle appears to be in no man’s land

Baseball is one of the few areas in life where too much of one thing is usually good, and the Yankees certainly won’t be ones to complain about the depth of their relief pitching. New York’s bullpen has unsurprisingly been one of the best (most would argue the best) in baseball in 2018. Posting a 2.68 team ERA in 271.2 innings of relief, the Yankees have little room for any changes aside from perhaps finding a new left-hander to replace the struggling Chasen Shreve. Unfortunately for Tommy Kahnle, he throws with his right hand, and with the breakout success of fellow righty Jonathan Holder, the once highly-valued Kahnle may be stuck in no man’s land at Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre.
Photo Credit: Getty Images

The 28-year old middle reliever finally came into his own in his first full Major League season in 2017. Splitting time with the White Sox and Yankees, Kahnle pitched in 69 games, posting a 2.59 ERA while allowing just 53 hits in 62.2 innings. Combined with a staggering 96 strikeouts, Kahnle looked poised to be one of Aaron Boone’s go-to arms in 2018, with many expecting him to hold down the middle innings along with Chad Green, bridging the gap to back-end hurlers Dellin Betances, David Robertson, and Aroldis Chapman. Then, the injury bug bit Kahnle in April. Shoulder and bicep tendonitis forced the Yankees to place Kahnle on the 10-day disabled list on April 17th. Once the shoulder felt better and Kahnle was eligible to return, the Yankees optioned him to the minors.

There are several reasons New York may have Kahnle in the minors despite a healthy shoulder. The obvious reason is that he needs to build up his arm strength before a return to the show. Due in part to his tendonitis, Kahnle struggled early in the season. Allowing seven earned runs in just nine innings, the righty showed diminished velocity and lack of command in the season’s first month. With options remaining, Triple-A is the logical place to work these issues out. Though it’s been a small sample size, Kahnle appears to be doing just that, posting a 2.79 ERA in nine appearances with the RailRiders this season. So if the numbers would indicate that Kahnle is back at full-strength, why aren’t the Yankees talking about a call-up?

The obvious answer, albeit painful for Kahnle to hear, is that there simply isn’t room for him on the 25-man roster at this point. When you analyze the current Yankees bullpen, it’s hard to find where Kahnle could slot-in better than Boone’s current options. Most Yankee fans have been begging to DFA Chasen Shreve, but they would need another left-hander to take the place of the only “lefty specialist” on New York’s roster. Chapman and Betances are safe, and despite occasional struggles it’s hard to imagine the Yankees moving on from the veteran Robertson, who has been much better over the season’s last month (he’s allowed just three hits to the last 23 batters he’s faced). Chad Green has done more than enough to earn a permanent spot in the Yankee ‘pen, and Adam Warren remains the only true long reliever Boone has at his disposal. Giovanny Gallegos, who just got the call-up along with Luis Cessa, will likely be optioned back to Triple-A in place of the injured A.J. Cole, who will probably return to the active roster once his neck strain is healed, giving Boone another long relief/spot-start option.

The only spot that would seem available for Kahnle then would be the spot currently filled by Jonathan Holder. After Holder’s first three appearances of the season (where he allowed six earned runs in 2.2 innings and earned a demotion back to Triple-A) it seemed that Kahnle would be a shoe-in to return to the club after his stint on the D.L. However, the Holder we saw in late-March and early-April turned out to be an aberration, and since being recalled to the Majors in late-April Holder has been one of the best relief arms in all of baseball. 2018 has turned into a breakout season for the right-hander, who was drafted by New York in the sixth round of the 2014 Amateur Draft. Currently leading all AL relievers in WHIP (0.692), Holder has not allowed an earned run since his April 6th appearance against Baltimore. Holder has gone from earning a spot in the Yankees bullpen to possibly earning a spot on the American League All-Star team. Suffice it to say, Holder will not be optioned back to Triple-A anytime in the near future.

While Tommy Kahnle was shelved with an arm injury, there appeared to be a clear path back to the Majors for the right-hander, despite his struggles early in the season. That path is now littered with quality outings from Jonathan Holder, the long-relief ability of Adam Warren and A.J. Cole, and the shear dominance of Green, Robertson, Betances, and Chapman. Though Kahnle may still be one heck of a talent, it doesn’t mean a whole lot when every other reliever on the 25-man roster is just a little bit better or a little bit more versatile. Though unfortunate for Kahnle, a wealth of relief options is not something you’ll hear the Yankees complain about any time soon.

Article by: Jonathan Kohut


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