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John Axford Rumors
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.
For the first time since 1992, the Pittsburgh Pirates are going to the postseason. The Buccos and Reds each clinched playoff spots tonight, though it remains to be seen if those two clubs will face each other in the Wild Card game, or if one of them can catch the Cardinals for the NL Central lead. Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and St. Louis all won on Monday, so the Cards retained their two-game lead.
Here's the latest from both the NL and AL Central divisions…
- Bruce Chen loves pitching for the Royals and wants to re-sign the team this winter, the veteran southpaw tells Bob Dutton of the Kansas City Star. Chen said that he hasn't yet sat down with agent Scott Boras to determine his market and that the Royals "haven’t talked to me" about a new contract, but Chen said he hopes to pitch for at least another four or five seasons. The 36-year-old has a 3.13 ERA, 5.7 K/9 and 2.30 K/BB ratio in 109 1/3 IP this season, making 13 starts and 19 appearances out of the bullpen. Dutton shared some more Royals items earlier today.
- Paul Konerko won't decide on his playing future until after the season, a source tells ESPN Chicago's Bruce Levine. Konerko has been toying with the idea of retirement all season, though he has reportedly told friends he intends to play in 2014.
- Norichika Aoki earned a $250K bonus upon making his 140th start of the season tonight, MLB.com's Adam McCalvy reports. This ups Aoki's salary to $1.5MM for the season, and he can earn $0.5875MM for playing in one more game this year. The Brewers have already gotten a huge bargain from Aoki's original two-year, $2.5MM contract and they hold a $1.5MM team option on the outfielder for 2014.
- In other Brewers contract news from McCalvy, right-hander Kyle Lohse will earn a $350K bonus on Wednesday when he retires his first batter and reaches the 190-inning mark for the season.
- John Axford is "open to discussing something with the Cardinals" about a new contract this offseason but for now is just looking forward to the postseason, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Axford has posted a 1.93 ERA in 9 1/3 IP since joining the Cards three weeks ago but he could be a non-tender candidate due to his high arbitration number. Axford is arbitration-eligible for the second time this winter and will earn a raise on his $5MM salary, plus he has two more arb years remaining after that as a Super Two player.
Royals pitcher Ervin Santana tops the list of free-agents-to-be who have improved their stock this season, says ESPN's Buster Olney (subscription required, and recommended). Santana, who has a 3.19 ERA with 7.1 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 in a breakout 2013 season, was No. 7 on Tim Dierkes' 2014 Free Agent Power Rankings last month. On the flip side, Olney argues that Josh Johnson and Mike Morse have seen their stock dip further than any other 2013-14 free agents, although he also lists eight more. Here are some of Olney's thoughts on the past week's trades.
- The Pirates' deals for Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau made sense in part because they aren't sure when left fielder Starling Marte will be able to return from his hand injury. The right-handed Byrd and the left-handed Morneau also give the Pirates plenty of platoon options at the corner positions.
- The Twins' decision to trade longtime star Morneau allows them to avoid questions during the offseason about whether they will re-sign him, Olney says. Dealing Morneau with a month left in the season thus helps Morneau to leave Minnesota gracefully.
- The Cardinals will see if they can help new arrival John Axford improve. If he doesn't, the Cards could non-tender him during the offseason, but if he does, he could be a "tremendous weapon" the St. Louis bullpen in 2014.
SUNDAY: Blazek is indeed the player who will go to Milwaukee in exchange for Axford, Haudricourt tweets. The Brewers have confirmed the transaction in a press release adding Blazek will join the club tomorrow.
SATURDAY: Reliever Michael Blazek may be the PTBNL, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes. The Cardinals optioned Blazek, 24, to their Triple-A affiliate on Thursday, but he never reported to the team. According to Haudricourt, he was probably told to wait and see if he clears waivers and is moved to Milwaukee in the deal.
The right-handed Blazek threw 10.1 innings for the Cardinals this season in his first taste of the big leagues, posting a miserable 6.97 ERA. However, he was much better in 45 2/3 minor league innings, compiling a 1.97 ERA across stops at Double-A and Triple-A. If Blazek is claimed by either the Marlins or the Cubs – the only two NL clubs with worse records than the Brewers - the Cardinals would likely pull Blazek back and complete the trade at the end of the season, Haudricourt says.
FRIDAY, 10:56am: Brewers GM Doug Melvin told MLB.com's Adam McCalvy that the player will be announced next week but wouldn't divulge whether he is a pitcher or position player. Melvin added that there's no cash in the deal, meaning the Cardinals are assuming all of Axford's salary (Twitter link).
10:03am: The Brewers announced, via press release, that they have traded right-hander John Axford to the Cardinals. The Cardinals also announced the trade, via Twitter, adding that they will send a player to be named later to Milwaukee.
Axford, 30, has a 4.45 ERA with 8.9 K/9, 3.8 BB/9 and a 43.8 percent ground-ball rate in 54 2/3 innings for the Brewers this season. He lost the closer's role almost immediately this season and saw his ERA soar over 10.00 but rebounded in May, June and most of July. His struggles have returned of late, as he's allowed runs in seven of his past 13 appearances, pitching to an 8.25 ERA in that time.
Axford is earning $5MM in 2013 after avoiding arbitration for the first time this past offseason. Of that $5MM, roughly $847K remains. As a Super Two player, Axford will be eligible for arbitration three more times and can be controlled through the 2016 season.
In Axford, Cardinals GM John Mozeliak has acquired a flamethrowing righty that served as the Brewers' closer for nearly three full seasons. He posted a 3.04 ERA with 11.4 K/9, 4.1 BB/9 and 105 saves in 201 innings for the Brew Crew from 2010-12. Despite his struggles this season, he's still averaging 95.2 mph on his fastball, which is very close to his career mark of 95.5 mph.
We heard last night that the Brewers were looking to trade one of their relievers in advance of Saturday, which is the deadline for acquired players to be eligible for postseason play with their new teams. Shorty before the trade, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote that the Cardinals may be open to adding a reliever from outside the organization to help a bullpen that has been taxed in the season's second half. Earlier this morning, we speculated that Axford might be a fit for the Cardinals on MLBTR's Facebook page.
Goold also tweeted that this is the first trade between the Brewers and Cardinals since 2003. On Aug. 27 of that year, the Brewers traded right-hander Mike DeJean to the Cards for a PTBNL that ended up being Mike Crudale.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.