Cardinals close to signing RHP Keynan

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The St. Louis Cardinals are close to signing free-agent right-hander Keynan Middleton, a league source confirmed to The Athletic. Robert Murray of Fansided first reported the news. The deal is pending a physical.

Middleton, 30, pitched for the Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees in 2023, making 51 combined appearances and posting a 3.38 ERA over 50 2/3 innings. He posted an 11.4 strikeout-per-nine-inning rate last season, the highest mark of his seven-year major-league career.

How Middleton fits into the bullpen

Reworking the bullpen was of high priority for president of baseball operations John Mozeliak. Even after adding Andrew Kittredge, Nick Robertson and taking a chance on Ryan Fernandez in the Rule 5 draft, Mozeliak mentioned repeatedly throughout January he planned to continue monitoring the free-agent relief market.

Middleton checks two boxes for the Cardinals. His 30.2 percent strikeout rate ranked in MLB’s 91st percentile last year, with his whiff percentage (36 percent) ranked even higher in the 96th percentile. St. Louis had actively discussed boosting swing and miss in their bullpen, and Middleton’s newfound success in that regard made him a logical target.

Mozeliak also identified pitchers who had experience in different relief roles, as the Cardinals hope to carry a versatile bullpen this year. Middleton fits that narrative as well. — Katie Woo, Cardinals beat writer

How Cardinals’ bullpen looks

Middleton figures to be the final addition to the bullpen before pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report on Feb. 14. As currently constructed, St. Louis will look to structure its bullpen with Ryan Helsley as the closer and Giovanny Gallegos as the set-up man, though manager Oli Marmol has often used Helsley in the highest leverage spot of the game, regardless of inning.

Middleton should slot in for high leverage opportunities alongside Helsley and Gallegos. The club is also high on left-hander JoJo Romero, who could garner consideration for later innings, especially with a strong showing in spring. Kittredge, Robertson and John King will likely cover middle innings, with Andre Pallante and Fernandez competing for the final spot. — Woo

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(Photo: Rich Graessle / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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