The Rays and Cardinals got together on a swap this afternoon that sent outfielder Richie Palacios to Tampa and right-hander Andrew Kittredge to St. Louis. Joel Sherman of The New York Post first reported that the sides were in talks regarding the two players, while The Athletic’s Katie Woo first reported that the deal between the two sides was complete.
Kittredge, 34 in March, was a 45th-round pick by the Mariners back in 2008 but didn’t make his big league debut until 2017 as a member of the Rays. After riding the shuttle between Triple-A and the majors in the first two seasons of his career, Kittredge earned a more permanent role with the club in 2019, when he pitched to a 4.17 ERA and 3.56 FIP in 49 2/3 innings of work across 37 appearances. Kittredge was relied upon for both single-inning and multi-inning relief appearances while acting as both an opener and a late-inning arm for the club throughout the season. Kittredge went on to impress early in the shortened 2020 campaign with a 2.25 ERA, but saw his season limited to just eight appearances by a UCL sprain.
Kittredge elected free agency following the 2020 season but re-signed with the Rays on a minor league deal shortly thereafter and wound up turning in a dominant 2021 season. Kittredge pitched 71 2/3 across 57 appearances and kept his ERA at a sparkling 1.88 figure during the time. He struck out 27.3% of batters faced while walking just 5.3% and maintaining a strong 53.5% groundball rate. Kittredge’s ERA was third in the majors behind only Jacob deGrom and Ranger Suarez among pitchers with at least 70 innings of work that season, easily earning him the first All Star appearance of his career.
Unfortunately for both the Rays and Kittredge, much of his time has been spent on the injured list since that phenomenal 2021 campaign. He dealt with back tightness early in the 2022 campaign before undergoing Tommy John surgery that June and didn’t return to the majors until mid-August. In 31 appearances between the 2022 and ’23 campaigns, Kittredge performed solidly despite the circumstances with a 3.13 ERA and 4.18 FIP in 31 2/3 innings of work. With that being said, some of the veteran righty’s peripherals took a turn for the worse during that time. The righty’s groundball rate dipped to just 42.7% during that time while his strikeout rate sank to 19.2%.
Even so, the addition of Kittredge offers the Cardinals a veteran arm with late inning experience to supplement the back of their bullpen, which currently features Giovanny Gallegos, Ryan Helsley, and JoJo Romero. Gallegos suffered a down season in 2023 while Helsley and Romero combined for just 73 1/3 innings of work, leaving plenty of uncertainty surrounding the group headed into 2024. While Kittredge has some question marks himself, he provides another quality arm with a track record of success in the majors: since he became a regular fixture in the Tampa bullpen back in 2019, Kittredge owns a 2.85 ERA and 3.43 FIP across 161 innings of work. For a Cardinals club that had made bullpen upgrades and explicit goal this offseason, adding Kittredge could go a long way to achieving that objective.
In exchange for Kittredge’s services, the Cardinals are giving up Palacios. The club acquired the 26-year-old outfielder from the Guardians in a cash deal back in June and the youngster took off in 32 games with St. Louis, slashing .258/.307/.516 in 102 trips to the plate in the majors while posting a .299/.418/.459 slash line in 195 Triple-A plate appearances with the organization. The offensive outburst from Palacios was relatively unexpected, as he had struggled to a .232/.293/.286 slash line with the Guardians in 2022 and mustered just a .217/.351/.318 line in 56 Triple-A games prior to the trade.
Clearly, the Rays are betting that Palacios unlocked a new level during his time in St. Louis. If he can hit at an above-average clip in the majors, the lefty-swinging youngster could provide the Rays with an outfield bat to fill the void left by Luke Raley, who the club swapped to Seattle earlier today. It’s even possible he could chip in at second base, where he has spent 920 1/3 innings in the minors (though he’s only made three appearances there at the big league level), alongside Brandon Lowe.
Tantalizing as the upside Palacios flashed last season was, however, it seems unlikely he would’ve been able to garner more than a bench role in St. Louis due to the club’s deep outfield mix and the presence of both Brendan Donovan and Nolan Gorman at the keystone. The lack of a clear role for Palacios in St. Louis and Kittredge’s lack of additional team control beyond 2024 make this swap a relatively low-cost gamble for both sides that could pay significant dividends in 2024 (and, in the case of the Rays and Palacios, beyond).