John Axford Rumors
The Brewers shipped out reliever John Axford to the Cardinals at last year's trade deadline, bringing back young righty Michael Blazek. Milwaukee has been impressed with the 25-year-old, with manager Ron Roenicke saying he profiles as a late-inning arm, reports Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentine. Meanwhile, after being non-tendered by the Cards and signed by the Indians, Axford hopes to continue learning from his brief stint in St. Louis. As MLB.com's Jordan Bastian reports, his former club informed him that he'd been tipping pitches, and Axford hopes that correction -- along with regained velocity -- will allow him to return to his peak form.
Here are more stray notes from around the game ...
- Another trade deadline mover, Mike Olt of the Cubs, has shown substantial improvement in the eyesight issues that plagued him last year with the Rangers, reports Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun Times. Though his prospect stock has fallen in the meantime, all that matters to Olt is maintaining his health. "As long as I'm healthy," he said, "I know that I can do what I was capable of."
- Reliever Jason Frasor explained that he elected to re-sign with the Rangers for the simple reason that he likes playing for the club, reports Richard Durrett of ESPNDallas.com. "Free agency isn't that great for middle relievers," he said. "I never wanted to be the kind of guy that bounced around from team to team as middle relievers often do with one-year deals. I found a place I really, really liked. ... I think I was the first [free agent] to sign [this offseason]. I just didn't feel it was worth it to try to scrape out maybe a little better contract ... ."
- One free agent who faces a much more open-ended market is former ace Johan Santana. As Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports, Santana has fielded interest from at least three American League clubs. The 34-year-old is hoping to be ready to take the mound in a big league game in June.
- The Rays' roster battle features several situations where options will play a role, reports Bill Chastain of MLB.com. Among the players who must make the active roster or face a DFA are Chris Archer, Josh Lueke, Jake McGee, Cesar Ramos, Brandon Guyer, and Matt Joyce.
Here's the latest from both teams in the Buckeye State...
- The Reds are lacking in shortstop depth behind Zack Cozart and MLB.com's Mark Sheldon wonders if the club will address this issue before Spring Training. The pickings are slim on the utility backup shortstop market, and they became even slimmer when Jamey Carroll recently signed with Washington. The Reds weren't in on Carroll, Sheldon reports. (The Indians, however, were one of Carroll's suitors.)
- It's been a quiet offseason for the Reds, and ESPN's Dave Cameron (Insider subscription required) argues that the team has done little to keep pace in the NL Central. Cameron suggests three moves involving Homer Bailey, the rotation and the backup outfield spot that would help upgrade the Reds' roster for 2014 and beyond.
- After he was traded to the Cardinals last summer, John Axford was surprised to learn from St. Louis coaches that he was tipping his pitches, the reliever told John Lott of the National Post. Axford discusses the adjustments that led to turning his season around as a Cardinal, and his subsequent signing with the Indians.
- The Indians may have a few million dollars in remaining payroll to spend, Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. The front office plans to wait until right before Spring Training and then use these potential funds if a player they like is still on the market.
- Also from Pluto, David Cooper also received a Major League contract offer from the Rays before the first baseman chose to re-sign with the Indians in December.
- Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer covers a number of Indians-related topics in a reader mailbag, including whether or not there's a spot for Michael Young on the Tribe's roster.
- Roto Authority, MLBTR's fantasy baseball-focused sister site, has relaunched for 2014 with all-new content. One of the many articles from RA's opening week was Alex Steers McCrum's piece about how the Tribe's plan to give Yan Gomes the bulk of playing time behind the plate makes Gomes a strong fantasy catching option.
The Orioles have been linked to many relievers in recent weeks, but talks regarding the O's and Grant Balfour picked up the most steam. Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com reports (via Twitter) that Balfour wants to sign with the Orioles, but Baltimore won't budge from its current two-year offer, and Balfour is holding out for a third guaranteed year.
Last week, it was reported that three teams had made two-year offers to Balfour, with one team possibly including a vesting option. That team, reportedly, was not the Orioles, though a vesting option would seem to be a fitting compromise given the demands of each side. Baltimore already traded Jim Johnson and his projected $10.8MM salary, making it somewhat surprising to see the O's pursuing one of the better free agent closers on the market.
Another popular name on the free agent front in the past week has been John Axford, who inked a one-year deal with the Indians this weekend and is controllable for three more years via arbitration. Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun reports (also on Twitter) that the O's never made an offer to Axford, however, which Encina takes as a sign that the Orioles continue to be focused on Balfour as their new closer.
3:06pm: Jon Heyman of CBS Sports tweets that Axford can earn an additional $1.75MM worth of incentives, making his contract potentially worth $6.25MM.
MONDAY, 2:45pm: Axford's contract guarantees him $4.5MM in 2014 and also contains incentives, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (on Twitter). That's $1.2MM less than the $5.7MM salary MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz had projected.
SUNDAY, 9:11pm: The financial terms of the deal are unclear, but MLB.com's Jordan Bastian tweets that it will probably be a one-year contract, noting that Axford has two years of arbitration eligibility after this one.
8:46pm: The Indians will sign reliever John Axford, ESPN's Buster Olney reports. Earlier this evening, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal tweeted that the Indians were "focused" on Axford. The righty is represented by Beverly Hills Sports Council.
Axford, who will be 31 in April, posted a 4.02 ERA with 9.0 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9 in 65 innings in 2013, although he got better results after the Brewers traded him to the Cardinals in August for Michael Blazek. Axford's success extended into the postseason, when he allowed one run in 5 2/3 innings spread over six outings. Nonetheless, the Cardinals non-tendered him rather than pay a 2014 salary that would have been inflated as a result of the $5MM Axford made in 2013, his first year of arbitration eligibility.
Axford served as the Brewers' closer for most of the 2010 through 2012 seasons, although he lost that job after a bout of wildness in 2012. Even in 2012, however, Axford struck out 12.1 batters per nine innings, and he still has dominant stuff, with a fastball that averaged 95.3 MPH in 2013. Axford will likely be entrusted with the closer's job in Cleveland, where the Indians were looking to replace the departing Chris Perez.
The Indians are "focused" on signing John Axford, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal tweets. Axford would presumably fill the Indians' vacancy at closer. Earlier today, Indians team president Mark Shapiro said that the Indians would soon acquire a reliever with closing experience. Axford, who served as the Brewers' closer for much of 2010 through 2012, would fit the bill.
The Brewers traded Axford to the Cardinals in August for Michael Blazek, and the Cardinals non-tendered Axford even though he pitched well for them both down the stretch and in the playoffs. He finished the season with a 4.02 ERA in 65 innings, with 9.0 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9. Axford has been connected with the Mets and Orioles, in addition to the Indians. MLBTR previously suggested that Axford might get a two-year deal as a free agent, despite being non-tendered.
Both the Mets and Yankees have already made notable signings this offseason, but both Big Apple franchises still need bullpen help, according to Andy Martino of the New York Daily News. Mets GM Sandy Alderson told reporters that his team would "take a hard look at" adding veteran relief arms, and to that end, Martino reports that Alderson met with the agent for John Axford and Kevin Gregg on Wednesday. The Orioles, Cubs, Mariners and Indians are some of the many teams who have shown interest in Axford while Gregg's market has been much quieter.
Here are some more items about the Amazins...
- "I think it's more likely if we come up with a 'high-end' shortstop or someone we like, it's more likely to come in a trade," Alderson told reporters, including Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald. This seems to hint that the Mets have moved on from Stephen Drew, though Silverman wonders if Alderson could simply be engaging in some gamesmanship. The Mets have been linked to Drew this winter but aren't eager to give the shortstop a two-year contract.
- The Mets feel like they would have to overpay to sign Drew and keep him from re-signing with the Red Sox, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reports (Twitter links). The Mets' next move, therefore, is to acquire a young shortstop in a trade. Rosenthal cites the names of the Diamondbacks' Didi Gregorius and Chris Owings and the Mariners' Brad Miller and Nick Franklin as shortstops who could be candidates to be dealt, though Seattle might not be open to such talks right now since they're "currently preoccupied" with trying to acquire David Price from the Rays.
- With Johan Santana and Jason Bay off the books, the Mets are closer to finding the so-called payroll "sweet spot" when no single player accounts for an overly-large percentage of a team's payroll, Newsday's Marc Carig writes. David Wright accounts for roughly 24% of the Mets' projected 2014 payroll, and while this is a larger share than most teams would prefer, Wright is at least the Mets' best player, Carig notes.
4:56pm: The Orioles aren't the team that has offered Balfour a vesting option, tweets Encina.
3:40pm: Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reports that the Orioles are one of three teams that has made a two-year offer to Balfour. One team's offer contains a vesting option for a third season, he adds. Connolly isn't sure which team has offered the vesting option, but he gets the sense that it's not the Orioles (Twitter links).
1:45pm: The O's prefer Balfour on a two-year deal, and one other club is still in the mix at this time, tweets Heyman.
12:56pm: Years are the main sticking point in negotiations with Balfour, tweets Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun.
THURSDAY, 11:54am: The Orioles are confident that they can sign Balfour, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.
WEDNESDAY: The Orioles have an offer out to reliever Grant Balfour and others as they try to fill four holes in their lineup, writes Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. The O's also have an offer out to John Axford, a source tells Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports (on Twitter). Heyman also notes that Baltimore has talked to Nelson Cruz's agent, but a source tells Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun (via Twitter) that the club hasn't made an offer to him.
Heyman writes that the O's are also in on an unnamed starting pitcher. Baltimore also has to address holes at closer, left field, and at DH. Balfour is their top choice to replace Jim Johnson as a closer with Axford and Chris Perez believed to be secondary options.
Dodgers GM Ned Colletti told reporters, including Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times (on Twitter), that he has met with "far more agents than teams" at the winter meetings. He added that he doesn't expect any deals to go down before leaving tomorrow.
- Although the Reds have met with Bronson Arroyo's agent in the last 24 hours, they're telling clubs they expect him to sign elsewhere, tweets Jayson Stark of ESPN.com.
- Giants assisstant GM Bobby Evans says the club is "equally close" on trade and free agent options for a left fielder, tweets John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle.
- The Indians are believed to have made an offer to free agent reliever John Axford, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. Earlier tonight, we learned that the Orioles have also made an offer to Axford, though they prefer Grant Balfour.
- The Rays have expressed interest in Kevin Youkilis, tweets Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Youkilis would fit the Rays' mold as a player on the rebound.
- Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski told MLB Network Radio (on Twitter) that he's focused on winning a championship but he's still in a spot where he has to keep finances in mind.
Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports reports (via Twitter) that the top left-handed relievers on the market -- J.P. Howell, Boone Logan, Eric O'Flaherty and Scott Downs -- should begin to start coming off the board in the next 24 to 48 hours. It's already been reported that O'Flaherty is in talks with the Braves about a return to Atlanta. Here's the latest on the market for relievers...
- Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post tweets that there's a sense that the Nationals will land a left-handed reliever today.
- The Orioles have had talks with John Axford, tweets Morosi. They're also said to be the current favorites for Grant Balfour.
- A rival executive estimated that the Phillies would have to eat about 40 to 50 percent of Jonathan Papelbon's remaining salary to trade him, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Papelbon is owed $13MM in each of the next two seasons and has a vesting option for a fifth year.
- The Rockies have had discussions with Joaquin Benoit but are a ways apart in terms of salary, Morosi reports. Talks between the two sides are fading, as Benoit appears likely to seek a more lucrative deal elsewhere (Twitter links).
- Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer tweeted yesterday that when the dust settles from the Winter Meetings, Matt Guerrier's name could be a of interest to the Indians.
- Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that even after re-signing Juan Carlos Oviedo and acquiring Heath Bell, the Rays are still looking to improve their bullpen. One option could be injured lefty Jordan Norberto, who underwent Tommy John surgery last season.
10:06am: The O's and Balfour have exchanged parameters, according to Kubatko (Twitter link). The Orioles are still haggling Balfour, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sport. As Heyman notes, Chris Perez and Axford are alternative options.
(Note: MLBTR misinterpreted Heyman's original tweet to mean that the O's are haggling with Perez and Axford, which is not the case. Thanks to Jon for the correction.)
9:28am: The Orioles haven't made a former offer to Balfour, but that step is likely coming later today, and Baltimore is considered the favorite to land his services, per Kubatko (on Twitter).
9:11am: The Orioles are "trying to get a deal done" with free agent closer Grant Balfour, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com tweets that Balfour and Baltimore are currently in talks, though no deals are in place. Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun tweets that the O's have also met with John Axford's agents this week.
The Orioles traded Jim Johnson and his projected $10.8MM salary to the Athletics and have been said to be in the market for a more affordable closer. Balfour and Axford would both represent more affordable alternatives, though Balfour's price tag figures to be steeper than Axford's, as the latter of the two was non-tendered. The savings on Balfour may not be great in comparison to Johnson's salary, though Axford could certainly represent a significant cost-savings.