The Yankees announced they’ve designated reliever Lucas Luetge for assignment. The move creates a 40-man roster spot for Tommy Kahnle, who has officially signed a two-year free agent deal.
It’s a relatively surprising decision, as Luetge is coming off a strong two-year run in the New York bullpen. The southpaw returned to the majors in 2021 for the first time in six years. Signed to a minor league deal over the 2020-21 offseason, he broke camp with the MLB club that season. Luetge held his bullpen spot all year and posted a 2.74 ERA over 72 1/3 innings. He struck out an above-average 25.9% of batters faced with a sterling 5% walk rate, holding left-handed hitters to a dreadful .196/.204/.315 line in the process.
Luetge’s 2022 campaign wasn’t quite at that level, but he managed another productive year. He was called upon 50 times and put up a 2.67 ERA across 57 1/3 frames. The 35-year-old punched out 23.9% of opponents against a 6.8% walk percentage. Lefties managed a more respectable .269/.359/.333 showing off him this time around, largely thanks to an uptick in free passes.
Nevertheless, Luetge generally handled himself well when tabbed by skipper Aaron Boone. Over his time in pinstripes, he put together a 2.71 ERA through 129 2/3 frames. He avoided the injured list in both seasons, struck out a quarter of his opponents and walked less than 6% of batters faced. Luetge held opponents to a .255/.307/.371 slash in 552 plate appearances. He missed bats on over 12% of his offerings in both seasons and was particularly adept at staying off barrels. Only 23.5% of batted balls against him this past season were hit hard, per Statcast; that’s the lowest rate of any qualified pitcher in the game.
While Luetge was consistently productive, he never quite worked his way up the bullpen hierarchy in the Bronx. New York relied upon Wandy Peralta in higher-leverage situations, and Luetge was a healthy scratch in this year’s American League Championship Series. Peralta generates more ground-balls and throws in the mid-90s, while Luetge has succeeded on guile and movement — primarily turning to a cutter that averaged just 87.6 MPH this year.
As New York stockpiles power arms in the bullpen, Luetge was squeezed out of the picture. There’s a good chance he finds another landing spot in the next few days, with the Yankees having a week to trade him or put him on waivers. Luetge is eligible for arbitration through the end of the 2024 season; he’s projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz for a $1.7MM salary next year. That’s a reasonable price for a productive lefty bullpen arm, and teams like the Cardinals, Astros, Cubs and Guardians could check in with New York general manager Brian Cashman about the possibility of a minor trade.
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