The Yankees’ 2023 trade deadline was famously a weird one. Thanks to a disappointing first half, the Yankees front office found themselves torn between the two general options.
Between the likes of Aaron Judge, Gerrit Cole, and others, this is the type of roster that you would expect to be buyers at the deadline. However, the way the played in the first half suggested that they should sell off some of the pieces nearer to free agency.
Instead, the Yankees did neither of those things. Whether they just made a decision to hope for a bounce back or got paralyzed by indecision, the Yankees only made two minor in the hours before the deadline. Only one of those moves had any actual impact on the major league roster: the acquisition of reliever Keynan Middleton from the White Sox. In the end, Middleton had a perfectly good run with the Yankees, but he might go down as having had a fairly odd tenure in the Bronx.
2023 Statistics (with Yankees): 12 games, 14.1 IP, 1.88 ERA, 3.26 FIP, 3.04 xFIP, 10.67 K/9, 4.40 BB/9, 0.1 fWAR
2023 Statistics (Total): 51 games, 50.2 IP, 3.38 ERA, 4.20 FIP, 3.25 xFIP, 11.37 K/9, 3.09 BB/9, 0.1 fWAR
2024 Contract Status: Free agent
A 2013 third round draft pick by the Angels, Middleton had played for LA and a couple other teams before signing with the White Sox ahead of the 2023 season. He then put up perfectly solid middle reliever numbers, but the team in general fell on their faces, losing over 100 games despite seeming like one of the most exciting young cores in baseball just a couple years ago. With Chicago going nowhere this year, the traded him to the Bronx in the dying minutes of the August 1st deadline for minor leaguer Juan Carela.
Early in Middleton’s Yankee tenure, the most notable thing he did was throw some gas on the the White Sox tirefire, ripping the team’s culture. On the mound, he was pretty good for the Yankees, putting up a 0.68 ERA and a 2.06 FIP in 13.1 innings. While he wasn’t exactly given the most high leverage innings, Middleton gave the Yankees some strong performances. However, seeing that he was a middle reliever on a team that needed a lot more than that, he didn’t exactly move the needle and the team slipped further back, no real fault of Middleton.
Naturally, as had to happen to almost everyone on the 2023 Yankees, Middleton went down with an injury in early September. On September 6th, he was placed on the injured list with inflammation in his throwing shoulder. He wouldn’t return until September 29th, making one more appearance, and allowing two runs, which dinged his overall Yankee numbers a bit.
The reason Middleton could go down as having one of the odder Yankee tenures is that he is now set to be a free agent. After all that, being the lone move in a frustrating trade deadline that saw them do nothing else, he may very well end up somewhere else next year.
On the other hand, say what you will about the Yankees’ front office, there was a reason they acquired him knowing that his contract was set to expire. It wouldn’t be that out of the blue for the Yankees to bring him back, especially considering that he’s not exactly going to go for a big, multi-year deal.
The 14.1 innings Middleton threw as a Yankee is not enough of a sample size to declare that the Yankees’ unlocked something in him — hence the incomplete grade. It did seem like they may have found something, though. He changed his pitch usage a bit after the trade, and better results did follow.
Keynan Middleton may very well never pitch another game as a Yankee. If he doesn’t, he’ll be a bit of a symbol of one of the more frustrating seasons in team history, and it’ll have absolutely nothing to do with him.