Cardinals sign Keynan Middleton
The Cardinals added the final piece of their bullpen jigsaw puzzle when they signed former Chicago White Sox pitcher Keynan Middleton to a one-year, $6 million contract, displaying some confidence in the 30-year-old right-hander and making him the highest-paid member of the bullpen. To clear roster space, the Cardinals designated pitcher Guillermo Zuñiga for assignment.
Middleton was an unremarkable pitcher in three seasons prior to 2023, but he drastically increased the use of his changeup with the White Sox, to overwhelmingly positive results. After throwing his changeup 17% of the time in 2022, Middleton upped it to 42.9% last year and cut his ERA from 5.29 to 3.38. The pitch plays well off of his fastball, and the changeup elicited a 37.7% whiff rate in 2023. Middleton also had an elite ground ball rate of 56.5%.
Middleton made news last season after criticizing the White Sox for lacking rules and guidelines and not punishing players for missing meetings or practices. Middleton's teammate at the time, Lance Lynn, agreed with his statements. It's likely that Lynn recommended Middleton to the Cardinals as a player who will hold teammates accountable for their actions.
The Cardinals are working on finding more pitchers with strikeout stuff, and Middleton had a career-high 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings last season. If the changes that Middleton made to his arsenal in 2023 continue to be effective, the bullpen could be a strength of the team.
The common thread connecting most of these moves was clubhouse leadership, and the Cardinals seem to have accomplished that in spades. They also solidified their pitching and added some new blood in the front office. Not every move appeared to be a slam dunk, but the Cardinals look on their way to a dramatic improvement in 2024.