The Cardinals are in agreement with free agent reliever Keynan Middleton, reports Robert Murray of FanSided (X link). Salary terms for the ACES client remain unreported. The deal is pending a physical. St. Louis will need to make a corresponding 40-man roster move once the contract is finalized.
Middleton, 30, is coming off a solid season split between the White Sox and Yankees. The right-hander had bounced between the Angels, Mariners and Diamondbacks over the preceding three years. He inked a minor league deal with Chicago last January and was selected onto the MLB roster within a couple weeks of Opening Day.
The 6’3″ righty had a strong first half in Chicago. He pitched to a 3.96 ERA while striking out more than 30% of opposing hitters across 36 1/3 innings. With the Sox out of contention and Middleton headed back to free agency, he became one of the more obvious trade targets at the deadline. Chicago flipped him to New York for High-A righty Juan Carela on August 1.
Middleton made headlines a few days later with some parting shots at the White Sox’s clubhouse culture. Lance Lynn, who’d played with Middleton in Chicago before being traded to the Dodgers, went on the record to back him up. They’ll be teammates again in St. Louis after Lynn inked a one-year deal with the Cards at the start of the offseason.
Shoulder inflammation sent Middleton to the injured list in early September. That kept him from making much of an impact in the Bronx, where he was limited to 12 appearances. He struck out 17 and allowed only three runs in 14 1/3 innings as a Yankee, finishing his year on a generally strong note. For the season, he worked to a 3.38 ERA with a 30.2% strikeout percentage. He logged 50 2/3 innings, his heaviest workload since his 2017 rookie campaign.
While Middleton runs his fastball into the 95-96 MPH range, he leaned more heavily on both his changeup and slider last season. He missed bats with all three pitches and generated swinging strikes on an excellent 17% of his offerings overall. As has been the case throughout his career, Middleton issued a few more walks than is ideal — a 10.8% clip. He has more swing-and-miss upside than a standard middle reliever, though.
St. Louis entered the offseason with a goal of adding two pitchers to the bullpen. They dealt outfielder Richie Palacios to the Rays for Andrew Kittredge last month. They’ll dip into free agency for Middleton on what should be a modest one- or two-year commitment. The Cardinals have a projected payroll around $179MM, according to Roster Resource. That’s right in line with their season-opening mark a year ago.
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