John Axford Rumors
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.
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.
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.
Considering how many teams continue to seek bullpen help, it shouldn't come as a surprise that we're following up our earlier post on reliever rumors with another round of them. Let's dive in...
- The Mets have kicked the tires on Chris Perez as a potential late-inning addition, according to Anthony DiComo of MLB.com (Twitter link). DiComo notes that Perez could serve as ninth-inning insurance for New York if Bobby Parnell isn't healthy.
- In addition to Perez, Mitchell Boggs is receiving interest from the Mets, tweets Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Boggs was non-tendered after a subpar 2013, but is viewed as an intriguing buy-low candidate by New York, says Sherman.
- Baltimore could be another potential fit for Perez, but the Orioles are also eyeing Grant Balfour and John Axford, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (Twitter link).
- The Mariners don't appear to be prioritizing bullpen additions at this point, according to GM Jack Zduriencik, who says that with their available money, the M's "would look at adding a legitimate closer as a lower priority" (Twitter link via Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune).
- Noting that Dave Dombrowski has suggested the Tigers may take a flier on a veteran as insurance for Bruce Rondon, MLB.com's Jason Beck wonders if Octavio Dotel might be a fit to return to Detroit (Twitter link).
Since 2008, teams that have traded top-of-the-rotation pitchers usually haven't gotten much in return, ESPN's Mike Petriello argues (Insider-only). The Diamondbacks' trade of Dan Haren for Patrick Corbin, Tyler Skaggs, Rafael Rodriguez and Joe Saunders was unusual, Petriello argues. Instead, what typically happens looks more like the weak returns various teams have received when they dealt Cliff Lee. The Indians' trade of C.C. Sabathia to the Brewers, which produed Michael Brantley and little else. That's worth keeping in mind as we prepare for weeks of rumors involving David Price and the Rays. The Rays did, of course, pull off one very good trade of a high-level starting pitcher when they shipped James Shields (and Wade Davis) to Kansas City in return for Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi and others. But that doesn't mean they can do it twice. Here are more notes on the AL East.
- The Orioles have already lost Scott Feldman (Astros) and Nate McLouth (Nationals) to free agency and Jim Johnson (Athletics) to a trade, and the team seems "unwilling to make even a cursory attempt to compete for quality talent outside the organization," Peter Schmuck of the Baltimore Sun writes. With only Ryan Webb, Francisco Peguero, Jemile Weeks and a few other low-profile acquisitions on the other side of the docket so far, "fans have every right to wonder what exactly is their plan to compete for the American League East title," Schmuck says.
- The Orioles, along with the Cubs and Mariners, are all interested in John Axford, who was non-tendered by the Cardinals last week, tweets CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, who also suggests that Axford has a chance of landing a job as a closer.
- Eric Hinske only worked in the Yankees' scouting department for a month before leaving to become the Cubs' first base coach, but he helped convince Brian McCann to sign on for five years in New York, Andy McCullough of the Star-Ledger writes. Hinske and McCann played together in Atlanta from 2010 through 2013. "[Hinske] was involved. He helped me with Brian McCann," says Yankees GM Brian Cashman. "So I appreciate Eric Hinske giving Brian McCann a lot of good advice about his experience here with the Yankees. He was a great resource for about 30 days."
Here's the latest news from both the NL and AL Central divisions...
- The Brandon Phillips trade rumors may have temporarily stopped, though Reds president/CEO Bob Castellini left the door slightly open when talking to reporters today (including MLB.com's Mark Sheldon and the Cincinnati Enquirer's John Fay). "Brandon is part of the team, boys," Castellini said. "Walt [GM Walt Jocketty] was just exploring. You have to understand what he's up against. He's got to look around. Brandon Phillips is an integral part of this franchise....But you never say never."
- The Cubs and John Axford share a mutual interest in each other, Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com reports. Axford would get a chance to compete for the Cubs' closing job, though the right-hander seemingly has plenty of opportunities around the league, with a reported 14 teams checking in following his non-tender from the Cardinals.
- The Cubs and Royals are two of the teams who have shown interest in Joba Chamberlain, Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News tweets. No signing seems to be imminent for either team, however. Chamberlain is another relief arm who has drawn significant attention on the open market, as he may be seen as a reclamation candidate after some tough seasons with the Yankees.
- The Twins have spoken to John Buck's agent, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports, and a source tells Berardino that Buck is Minnesota's top target amongst available catchers. It isn't clear how interested in the Twins are, however, given that Josmil Pinto is still the club's preferred choice to take over the everyday catching job now that Joe Mauer has been moved to first base.
- Carl Pavano talked with Berardino about his comeback attempt from a freak snow-shoveling accident that left him with a ruptured spleen and sidelined the veteran righty for the entire 2013 season. Pavano said the Twins haven't contacted him about a return: "I haven't really talked to them. I don't know if that would be a good fit anyway. I think we're in different places. They need those younger guys in their rotation."
The market for relievers continues to take shape, as the Tigers yesterday announced a two-year, $20MM contract with Joe Nathan, and the Red Sox and Edward Mujica struck a two-year agreement. Here's the latest on the free agent market for relievers...
- Agent Dan Horwits received calls from 14 teams regarding client John Axford in the first 36 hours following his non-tender by the Cardinals, he told Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet. As Nicholson-Smith writes, any team to sign Axford would control him through the 2016 season, making him a potentially more appealing target.
- One team who figures to be heavily in the mix for Axford is the Orioles, according to Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com. The O's liked Mujica prior to his signing with the Red Sox, and the fact that he is off the board likely strengthens Baltimore's interest in Axford, Kubatko adds.
- The Nationals are interested in Scott Downs and have inquired on him at least twice, according to MLB.com's Bill Ladson. It's not clear what kind of contract Downs is looking for at this time, writes Ladson, who also reports that the Nats are considering using Ross Detwiler out of the bullpen in 2014.
- The Nationals are also interested in southpaw Eric O'Flaherty, according to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post. Though the Nationals have yet to make an offer, they've maintained a constant dialogue with his agent. Washington is one of six teams to have shown interest in O'Flaherty and is also eyeing J.P. Howell and Boone Logan, per Kilgore.
Axford was strong down the stretch after coming over from the Brewers following the revocable waiver trade deadline. Milwaukee added reliever Michael Blazek in the deal. The earlier portion of his 2013 season was less stellar, however, as he threw to a cumulative 4.02 ERA in 65 innings. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz had projected Axford to earn $5.7MM in arbitration, making him an expensive piece for a Cards' pen that features numerous solid young arms.
The deadline to tender contracts for arbitration-eligible players is tomorrow night at 10:59 CT. Most non-tenders will be afterthoughts on this offseason's free-agent market, but one potential non-tender who could make some noise is reliever John Axford.
The Cardinals acquired Axford from the Brewers at last August's waiver trade deadline for fellow pitcher Michael Blazek. Axford pitched very well down the stretch and through the Cards' World Series run, striking out 20 batters and walking seven in 16 innings for the Cardinals between the regular season and the postseason.
Still, the Cardinals are expected to non-tender him. One problem, of course, is his performance in 2012 and 2013 in Milwaukee, where he frequently struggled to throw strikes and ultimately lost his closer job to Francisco Rodriguez. The other is his arbitration situation. Axford rode his excellent 2010 and 2011 performances and his closer status to a $5MM salary in 2013, his first year of arbitration eligibility. If he were to be tendered, he would receive a raise on that salary (with the possibility of two more raises to come in 2015 and 2016, since Axford is a Super Two player). Anything over $5MM is a figure the Cardinals likely won't want to pay, given Axford's erratic history and their collection of young arms.
A non-tender, however, should create a terrific opportunity for Axford, who is represented by Beverly Hills Sports Council. Axford is still just 30 (he'll be 31 in April), and while his control has at times deserted him, his mid-90s heat hasn't. That means Axford could be a sought-after free agent, even in an offseason featuring a long list of closer types that includes Joe Nathan, Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, Fernando Rodney, Brian Wilson and Edward Mujica, among others. While Axford likely wouldn't be a top candidate for a closer job, he might make a good setup man. If the Cardinals do let Axford go, he might well wind up with a two-year deal, a rarity among non-tendered players.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.