Cards add bullpen depth by acquiring Kittredge from Rays

January 6th, 2024

ST. LOUIS -- A Cardinals club intent on shoring up its bullpen after addressing its starting pitching needs early in free agency acquired 2021 American League All-Star reliever from the Rays on Friday in exchange for outfielder Richie Palacios.

Kittredge, 33, returned from Tommy John surgery in August 2023 and pitched well for the Rays, holding foes to a .683 OPS in 14 outings. In 2021, Kittredge was 9-3 with eight saves and a 1.88 ERA in 57 games (four starts), earning his only All-Star nomination.

Cardinals get: RHP Andrew Kittredge
Rays get: OF Richie Palacios

“Obviously, we feel like we had some depth there from the outfield side and to keep improving our pitching has been our No. 1 goal this entire offseason,” Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said. “We really liked how [Kittredge] finished [the 2023 season] and he was throwing the ball really well in September. We were really encouraged that his confidence of where he was was really high. And, of course, he was on their postseason roster, so it shows that even [the Rays] believed in him.”

Kittredge is entering his third year of arbitration and Cot’s Baseball Contracts has him projected to make $2.5 million in 2024. He will be a free agent in '25.

The Cardinals have been hard at work on their bullpen after signing veteran starters Sonny Gray, Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson early in the free-agency period. Along with those signings, the Cardinals, who traded away Jordan Hicks, Chris Stratton and Genesis Cabrera prior to the 2023 Trade Deadline, claimed Ryan Fernandez in the Rule 5 Draft and acquired hard-throwing right-handers Riley O’Brien (Mariners) and Nick Robertson (Red Sox).

Asked about the new look of his retooled bullpen, Mozeliak said, "We like it, but there's still some time. We're not shutting any doors and we're looking to see if there are ways to still incrementally improve."

Kittredge was 18-7 with a 3.65 ERA in seven MLB seasons with the Rays. He missed parts of the 2022 and ’23 seasons following the ligament replacement surgery in his right elbow. He finished 2023 with a 2-0 record and a 3.08 ERA in 14 games. He had one scoreless appearance in relief in the Rays Wild Card Series against the Rangers.

In 2021, Kittredge ranked in the 100th percentile of chase rate (40.7 percent), 91st percentile in walk rate (5.3 percent), 81st percentile in whiff rate (31 percent) and 75th percentile in strikeout rate (27.3 percent), per Baseball Savant.

“Expect him to be his regular self next year and do really good work for St. Louis,” Rays president of baseball operations Erik Neander said of Kittredge. “Kitt, one that we've been really fortunate to have here, is as good as it gets and as much of a pro as it gets. Really satisfying for all of us to see the way his career's gone. He deserves the credit for that, but it's been a lot of fun to see him do it in our uniform.”

Mozeliak said he can see Kittredge pitching in key spots in the back half of the Cardinals' bullpen as a high-leverage reliever who helps get the ball to closers Ryan Helsley and Giovanny Gallegos.

“We’re just trying to add as much depth and talent as we can and [Kittredge] is someone who can give us some seventh and eighth-inning leverage,” Mozeliak said. “From a closing standpoint, I think the way we should always think about these things is this: When we need outs, we hope that we can call on you.”

The Cardinals acquired the 26-year-old Palacios from the Guardians in exchange for cash considerations last year and he made it to the big league club in mid-August, appearing in 32 games. He hit .258 with six home runs and 16 RBIs with the Cards.

Trading Palacios, along with dealing Tyler O’Neill in December, frees up some of the logjam in the Cardinals outfield. Tommy Edman, Jordan Walker and Lars Nootbaar are the projected starters on Opening Day, while Dylan Carlson will serve as the primary backup at the three positions.

Asked if his team is still working to improve the starting pitching staff for the season ahead, Mozeliak said, “We have not been active on the starting pitching front. You never know what could happen. There could be something we weren’t thinking about a week ago that we’re suddenly thinking about tomorrow.”