Right-hander John Axford has elected free agency after refusing an outright assignment from the Rockies following last week’s DFA, the club announced. Also electing free agency today from last Friday’s wave of DFAs were outfielder Daniel Nava and right-hander Brandon Gomes, both of whom were designated for assignment by the Rays.
Axford, 32, was perhaps the most surprising of the bunch to be designated for assignment. The right-hander spent much of the season as Colorado’s closer and worked to generally successful results. Axford admittedly struggled through a dreadful stretch that lasted nearly two months and saw him yield 19 runs in 17 2/3 innings, but he was dominant outside of that spell (seven earned runs in 38 innings).
All told, the veteran righty finished with a 4.20 ERA, 3.57 FIP, 10.0 K/9, 5.2 BB/9 and a career-best 56.1 percent ground-ball rate. Axford did carry a hefty $6.5MM arbitration projection (courtesy of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz), but his production, when considering his home park, was 11 percent better than the league-average (by measure of ERA+). Fangraphs’ FIP- pegged him at 15 percent better than league average. Axford may not land a guarantee as large as his arbitration projection, but he does figure to draw some Major League offers this winter.
Nava, 33 in February, suffered through the worst season of his career but has been a regular or semi-regular contributor in each season dating back to 2010 (primarily with Boston). The switch-hitter batted only .194/.315/.245 in 166 plate appearances between the Red Sox and Rays this year but is a career .265/.358/.383 hitter overall and sports an even more impressive .281/.377/.409 batting line against right-handed pitching. Nava’s track record against righties and history of above-average defense in the outfield corners should at least generate interest in him as a platoon option. He had been projected to earn $1.9MM.
As for Gomes, the 31-year-old has been a frequent contributor to the Tampa Bay bullpen over the past five seasons, amassing a career 4.20 ERA in 167 innings — 59 of which came in 2015 (a career high). Gomes has averaged 7.8 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 with a 32.7 percent ground-ball rate and a 91 mph average fastball as a big leaguer. His lack of ground-balls and susceptibility to home runs makes him a better fit for a team in a large park (and certainly one away from the AL East’s collection of relatively small stadiums), but Gomes has a useful track record and should at the very least lock down an invitation to big league Spring Training with a real chance to crack the bullpen somewhere this winter. He’d been projected at $900K for the 2016 season.