John Axford Rumors

The Open Market’s Most Intriguing Remaining Names

As it always does, the free agent market contains some fairly noteworthy names entering the final month before Spring Training. A good portion of the value at the top of the leftover market lies in established names who have been reliable, healthy, and good in the recent past: James Shields, Francisco Rodriguez, and the like.

Some of those types of players may be a bit long in the tooth, perhaps, or might lack upside or be coming off of a somewhat down 2014 season. But there are teams with expectations of contending that are interested in signing them and plugging them into important roster slots. This segment of the market contains relative certainty.

But as much as the solid veteran group is useful, it is entirely less interesting than the array of wild cards that also remain to be signed. For another market niche, comparative youth, talent, and/or upside marry with various issues, inconsistency, and/or injury. Some such players will surely flame out, never to be heard from again, but it is likewise possible that one or more will re-establish themselves as quality regulars and deliver immense value to their new teams.

If you are a fan of a team that wants someone to dream on without breaking the bank (or even committing a big league roster spot, in some cases), consider one of these players from the scratch-and-dent market:

  • Mike Adams, right-handed pitcher, 36 – Remember when the 6’5 reliever was a really effective set-up man? Wait, he has always been a really effective set-up man — when healthy. He may not have been on the field enough to deliver value to the Phillies on his $12MM free agent contract, but even while battling through injury Adams worked to a 3.50 ERA over 43 2/3 innings. Last year, especially, he was quite good: a 2.89 ERA (supported entirely by sub-3.00 ERA estimator marks) and better than ten punchouts per nine with a 56.3% groundball rate. Sure, it was a small sample (18 2/3) and his shoulder problems were still present. But if you’re going to roll the dice, it may as well be for a nice potential return.
  • John Axford, right-handed pitcher, 31 – Axford still pumps gas and still logs double-digit strikeout rates. Sure, he walked nearly six batters per nine last year and ERA estimators have been increasingly dubious of his quality over the past three seasons. If he can figure out a way to reign back in the free passes and yield a few fewer long balls, Axford still looks like a late-inning arm. And now, teams can take a chance on a return to form without the high salaries that he carried more recently.
  • Brandon Beachy, right-handed pitcher, 28 – The former Brave owns a lifetime 3.23 ERA over 46 big league starts, with a 3.34 FIP, 3.54 xFIP, and 3.39 SIERA. He has averaged better than nine strikeouts and less than three walks per nine innings. He also is on his second replacement UCL, this one installed last spring. In each of the above-referenced statistics, Beachy is entirely not-unlike fellow former Atlanta hurler Kris Medlen. Yet Beachy — who is one year younger — remains unsigned while Medlen has already secured an $8.5MM guarantee. He also can be controlled for an additional year through arbitration, with a low salary base to work from.
  • Chad Billingsley, right-handed pitcher, 30 – As with Beachy, Billingsley was once an effective starter who has struggled for some time now to return from Tommy John surgery. What the latter lacks in dominating upside, he makes up for in the lengthy run of reliable innings he provided before succumbing to elbow troubles. From the time he became a full-time starter in 2008 through the 2011 season (the one before his elbow troubles began), Billingsley averaged 194 frames of 3.73 ERA pitching.
  • Everth Cabrera, shortstop, 28 – Were it not for his off-field issues, it seems likely the Padres would have tendered the former starting shortstop and given him a chance to regain his 2013 form. The year before last, Cabrera registered a 114 wRC+ while swiping 37 bags (down from 44 in the season prior) and playing the best-rated defense of his career. That was a 3.1 fWAR player, even in a season cut short due to suspension. The 2014 version of Cabrera was not, even when on the field instead of nursing an injury. There are issues aplenty here, but his abilities stand out in a market that hurt for middle infield talent from the start. And it does not hurt that he comes with a year of arb control remaining.
  • Alexi Ogando, right-handed pitcher, 31 – Flipping back and forth between starting and relief, Ogando and his mid-90s heater have long been a storyline. And until last year’s dud, he had never been anything but effective. Even after putting up 25 innings at double the allowed runs rate that he had generally permitted, Ogando sits with a lifetime 3.35 earned run mark. The track record of arm trouble remains a concern, but Ogando’s velocity was just fine last year and he could easily be on the rise with a normal spring.
  • Rickie Weeks, second base, 32 – Once one of the game’s better keystone options, Weeks has stumbled backward in all areas of the game since 2012. But last year was a bit different; while his defensive metrics continued to lag behind his earlier work, Weeks did put up a .274/.357/.452 slash in 286 plate appearances that brought to mind better days. True, Weeks inflicted much of his damage against lefties, with his solid line against right-handers propped up by a .420 BABIP. But given his track record, a revived spurt of production at least raises the possibility of a late-career renaissance.

NL West Notes: Hamels, D’Backs, Rockies, Gee, Closers

The Padres are still involved in some chatter involving Phillies ace Cole Hamels, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. Prior reports had indicated that a hypothetical deal could include recently-acquired, high-upside outfielder Wil Myers, but Heyman says that recently-discussed trade scenarios have been based around San Diego prospects. That being said, the report stresses that nothing is close and that other clubs are still involved. And, of course, GM A.J. Preller said recently that he does not expect any more truly significant deals.

More from the National League West:


Quick Hits: Nationals, Axford, Badenhop

Here’s the latest from around the league as the evening winds down.

  • With Ben Zobrist headed west to the Athletics, the Nationals are still trying to solve second base, writes Bill Ladson of MLB.com. Currently, there are five internal options. The most obvious are Danny Espinosa and Anthony Rendon. Espinosa has disappointed over the last two seasons while Rendon is expected to start at third base. Prospect Wilmer Difo has yet to play above A-ball, but he’s on the 40-man roster and possesses exciting tools. Other options include veterans Kevin Frandsen and Dan Uggla.
  • Free agent John Axford would like to compete for a closer gig, writes Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca. As it happens, the Blue Jays have yet to acquire a closer. Left-hander Brett Cecil is penciled into the role. At this point, no offers have been made to Axford, but several teams have shown interest including the Jays. After three consecutive rough seasons, Axford would likely have to earn any high leverage role.
  • The market for mid-tier, high leverage relievers has been slow to materialize, writes Rob Bradford of WEEI.com. Bradford interviews righty reliever Burke Badenhop who is coming off a career season with a 2.29 ERA in over 70 innings. As Badenhop points out, teams don’t feel any pressure to make the first offer to free agents of his caliber. While five teams may be showing interest, they each know that any firm offer will get passed around to the others for bidding. Relievers like Badenhop, Francisco Rodriguez, and Rafael Soriano have to exercise patience as prospective buyers first gauge the trade market.


Blue Jays Notes: Kalish, Axford, Options, Ichiro

The Blue Jays’ reported minor league contract with outfielder Ryan Kalish has fallen through, according to Shi Davidi of Sportsnet. Kalish will once again be a free agent and is free to sign with any club. Davidi adds that it’s unclear why the deal came unglued, but Kalish was likely headed to Triple-A to serve as depth anyhow, so the move won’t have much of an impact on the big league roster.

A couple more Blue Jays notes as the weekend approaches…

  • The market for John Axford is picking up, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, and the Blue Jays are one of four clubs believed to be pursuing the former Brewers closer. Axford, 32 in April, is an Ontario native, though it’s unclear if that gives Toronto any sort of edge in their pursuit. The mustachioed flamethrower began last season with the Indians but struggled with his control and eventually gave way to the talented Cody Allen. The Pirates claimed Axford in August, and he showed improved control in an 11-inning sample there. All told, he pitched to a 3.95 ERA with 10.4 K/9, 5.9 BB/9 and a 53.6 percent ground-ball rate in 54 2/3 innings between the two clubs. Toronto has been eyeing relief help for quite some time, though they’re believed to be working with a limited budget at this stage of the offseason.
  • MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm looks at the Blue Jays players that are out of minor league options and assesses which are at the greatest risk heading into Spring Training. Danny Valencia and Justin Smoak have nothing to worry about, he writes, and righty Todd Redmond should be back as a long man out of the bullpen. However, left-hander Scott Barnes has two lefties to compete with in Aaron Loup and Brett Cecil, while Steve Tolleson is behind Valencia, Maicer Izturis and Ryan Goins on the depth chart. That pair, along with righty Liam Hendriks, Chisholm believes, could end up exposed to waivers. One of the more interesting names is Kyle Drabek, as the former top prospect’s only chance at making the club looks to be as a reliever.
  • Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith runs down some of the recent rumors pertaining to the Blue Jays and wonders if the club’s interest in Ichiro Suzuki may have been overstated. As Nicholson-Smith notes, the Blue Jays make calls on a vast array of free agents, but they typically do their best to keep it under wraps when they’re on the verge of making a move. Also, with only about $5-7MM left to spend and limited playing time in the outfield behind Michael Saunders, Dalton Pompey and Jose Bautista, he feels there are multiple reasons to doubt that Toronto is the best fit for Ichiro. Even if he were to take a pay cut, adding Ichiro and a relief arm under the remaining budget could be difficult.

Pitching Notes: Miller, Giants, Cards, Masterson, Axford

Before he joined the Yankees, the Astros actually offered Andrew Miller a deal that included not only four guaranteed years but also a fifth-year option, ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick reports on Twitter. It remains to be seen how Houston will reallocate the funds it had earmarked for the lefty.

  • If the Giants miss on Jon Lester, they are more likely to go to the next tier of free agent pitchers than to go all out for Max Scherzer, per John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle (via Twitter). San Francisco could aim for options of the ilk of Ervin Santana and Francisco Liriano, says Shea, though it is not clear if those illustrative names or particular targets.
  • The Cardinals met with Scherzer at some point over the offseason and are at least weighing a run at him, Jon Heyman of CBSSportscom reports. It remains something of a longshot that Scherzer will land in St. Louis, Heyman notes, though the fact that he is from the area can’t hurt.
  • The Red Sox met with Justin Masterson over the weekend, Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN reports on Twitter. The Twins, meanwhile, have not managed to gain traction with Masterson’s camp, Wolfson adds.
  • The MarlinsWhite Sox, and possibly Cubs will also sit down with Masterson in San Diego, Heyman reports.
  • Reliever John Axford has drawn interest from the Reds, though nothing is close and there are other teams involved, according to Mark Sheldon of MLB.com.

Outrighted: Quiroz, Bochy, Axford, Gomez, d’Arnaud, Richardson, Elmore

According to the International League and Pacific Coast League transactions pages, the following outrights and related minor moves took place today:

  • The Giants have outrighted catcher Guillermo Quiroz and righty Brett Bochy. Quiroz, 32, saw just three MLB plate appearances this year and has only once made more than 100 trips to the plate in a single season despite seeing action in ten MLB campaigns. Bochy, son of manager Bruce, got his first taste of the bigs this year, allowing two earned runs in 3 1/3 innings.
  • After designating them for assignment recently, the Pirates have outrighted relievers John Axford and Jeanmar Gomez. Axford, 31, will look for a chance to bounce back after posting three seasons and 189 innings of 4.24 ERA work from the pen. Gomez, meanwhile, tossed 62 frames of 3.19 ERA ball after a solid 2013, but his peripherals do not quite back up the results.
  • Pittsburgh also outrighted utility infielder Chase d’Arnaud. The 27-year-old has fairly minimal MLB action, but owns a .251/.316/.370 line over 1,426 Triple-A plate appearances over parts of four seasons. He has spent his entire career in the Pirates organization.
  • The Yankees have outrighted outfielder Antoan Richardson after he racked up five stolen bases over the course of just 13 games (and 17 plate appearances) in New York. Richardson, 31, has been a consistent high-OBP and speed threat in the upper minors, but has yet to receive a real opportunity at the big league level.
  • Also outrighted was utilitman Jake Elmore of the Reds. Cincinnati claimed Elmore from the Athletics in early August. He ultimately saw just 12 plate appearances with the Reds, and is still looking for his first consistent MLB role at age 27.
  • Previously outrighted players Adam Moore of the Padres, Scott Elbert of the Dodgers, Matt McBride of the Rockies, and Evan Reed and Don Kelly of the Tigers have all elected free agency.

Pirates Acquire Sellers, Designate Axford And Gomez

The Pirates have announced that they’ve acquired shortstop Justin Sellers from the Indians for cash considerations. They’ve also designated relievers John Axford and Jeanmar Gomez for assignment and reinstated starter Charlie Morton from the 60-day disabled list.

Sellers spent most of the 2014 season with Triple-A Columbus, hitting .254/.307/.355. The 28-year-old has hit sparingly in parts of four seasons with the Dodgers and Indians, but he can play second and third as well as shortstop and he has a strong defensive reputation. He will be on the Pirates’ 40-man roster.

Axford and Gomez were both non-tender candidates, so it’s no surprise that the Bucs would designate them for assignment. Axford, a former closer, would have received a small raise on this year’s $4.5MM salary, even though he had a walk-heavy 2014 season in which the Indians let him head to the Pirates via waivers. Gomez served as a long reliever for the Pirates in 2014 and posted a 3.19 ERA, but with an underwhelming 5.5 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9.


Pirates Acquire John Axford

The Pirates have officially acquired righty John Axford from the Indians, the clubs have announced. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports first reported the transaction (via Twitter). Axford, 31, joined Cleveland on a one-year, $4.5MM free agent contract after being non-tendered by the Cardinals.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Cleveland Indians

Pittsburgh added the righty through a straight waiver claim , tweets ESPN.com’s Buster Olney. That means the club will be on the hook for the approximately $1.1MM that he is still owed this year, though it will not need to part with any young talent to add the veteran arm.

On the year, Axford has posted a 3.92 ERA with 10.5 K/9 but a troubling 6.5 BB/9 over 43 2/3 innings. He does have a career-best 54.1% groundball rate, but advanced metrics have not been impressed on the whole (4.71 FIP, 3.98 xFIP, 3.80 SIERA). Axford opened the season as the Cleveland closer, and picking up ten saves in the process, but lost the job with inconsistent performance. He has been much better of late, though saw his ERA jump 78 points in his last outing (August 8th) when he gave up four earned runs on three hits and an ill-timed home run.

Axford has now been dealt in August for the second time in as many seasons. Last year, the one-time Brewers closer moved from Milwaukee to St. Louis in late August. Though Axford has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining, it seems rather likely that he will be a non-tender candidate once again. As with Ernesto Frieri, who was recently acquired and later outrighted by the Pirates, early-career save opportunities make it difficult to justify tendering contracts to non-elite bullpen arms.

For the Bucs, Axford represents another attempt to shore up a pen that has failed to match last year’s unit, which was third in baseball with a collective 2.89 ERA. In 2014, the Pittsburgh relief corps has put up a negative fWAR tally and combined to allow 3.52 earned per nine.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Quick Hits: Blazek, Axford, Olt, Frasor, Santana, Rays

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

Ohio Notes: Reds, Indians, Carroll, Axford

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.