John Axford Rumors
On this date in 1993, the Expos signed Vladimir Guerrero as an 18-year-old amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic. He reached the big leagues three years later and went on to hit .318/.379/.553 during his Hall of Fame caliber career. Here's the latest from around the league...
- John Axford told Tom Haudricourt of The Journal Sentinel that he'll have to sign a one-year contract for now, but would very much like to get a multi-year extension done with the Brewers. Ben Nicholson-Smith looked at Axford's extension case earlier today.
- Dodgers assistant GM De Jon Watson told Anthony Jackson of ESPN Los Angeles that the team is working to sign one player from their tryout camp (all Twitter links). Doug Davis and Minnesota Vikings free safety Jarrad Page were among those at the open tryout today. The player will report to minor league camp once signed.
- Scott Boras told reporters (including WEEI.com's Rob Bradford) that he "really didn't let" other teams make offers to the now-retired Jason Varitek. "We didn't want to mislead anybody that he wasn't going to play for them," Boras said of the long-time Red Sox.
- "He's just home," said Boras to reporters (including Bradford) about J.D. Drew. "He hasn't announced anything, but he's there. He hasn't made any decisions. He's home." We heard Drew was "very likely" to retire back in January.
- The Rangers payroll is approaching $127MM, but president and CEO Nolan Ryan told Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News that they won't be forced to dump any salary before the season.
- Omar Vizquel understands that he has to win a spot on the Blue Jays roster in Spring Training, but he told Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com that he doesn't understand why more older players don't do try to do the same. "It's weird to see all these guys retire, and I'm still on the field," said the 44-year-old.
John Axford isn't yet arbitration eligible, but he may be approaching his first multimillion dollar payday as a Major Leaguer. The Brewers are discussing an extension with the late-blooming closer following his dominant 2011 performance.
Axford (pictured) could have a case for a $6MM salary as a first-time eligible player if he replicates his 2011 numbers this year. A first-year arbitration salary that high would lead to further raises in future years and the 28-year-old would soon cease to be a bargain. Axford is a valuable pitcher, but he’s no Mariano Rivera, and the Brewers’ pockets aren’t as deep as the Yankees’.
Matt Swartz showed this offseason that an elite closer with a history of saves gets paid far more than a set-up man or any other reliever. Axford, one of 13 pitchers in history to total at least 70 saves in his first three seasons, is well on his way to a significant paycheck via arbitration, so the Brewers are interested in capping costs.
If Axford stays healthy and retains the closing job this year, he'll set himself up for a generous payday in 2013 when he’s arbitration eligible for the first time. If he has a modest but successful season -- say 60 games, 30 saves and an ERA of 3.25 -- his credentials would match up favorably with the ones Chad Cordero, Brad Lidge, Brian Wilson and Andrew Bailey had as first-time eligible players. Those four each obtained deals in the $3.9-4.4MM range, so it's easy to imagine a 2013 payday of $4MM-plus for Axford. He already has 71 career saves, and all active pitchers who had 70 saves by the time they were arb eligible obtained at least $3.3MM if they signed one-year deals.
Here’s where it gets interesting, and maybe a little scary, for the Brewers. If Axford comes close to repeating his 2011 numbers, he will be comparable to Jonathan Papelbon and Bobby Jenks, two closers who did exceptionally well for themselves as first-time eligible players. Both had 110-plus career saves by the time they hit arbitration for the first time, and with another 40-save season, Axford would be in their company. Papelbon earned a record $6.25MM salary through arbitration and Jenks checked in at $5.6MM, so Axford could be looking at a $6MM payday if he can replicate his 2011 success.
It’s not as though the Brewers can’t afford a $6MM closer. They’ve increased payroll substantially since Mark Attanasio bought the club and will spend approximately $100MM on the 2012 product. But relievers who earn $5-6MM as first-time eligible players can become too expensive in a hurry. For example, the White Sox non-tendered Jenks two years after awarding him a $5.6MM salary.
The Brewers could cap costs now by guaranteeing Axford enough money. They’ve discussed a deal of at least four years with the Beverly Hills Sports Council client, who could insure himself against an injury by agreeing to a long-term contract.
Now for the question that assistant GM Gord Ash and agent Dan Horwits are trying to answer: what would an extension look like? Joakim Soria, Sergio Santos and Manny Corpas are among the closers who signed multiyear extensions as pre-arbitration eligible players. However Axford has twice as many saves as any of them did at the time of their deals, to go along with a lower ERA, more appearances, and, in the cases of Corpas and Soria, more service time. Unlike those relievers, Axford won't be attainable for $8-9MM (Wilson's deal, while considerably more lucrative, kicked in after his first arb season, so it's not a great comp for Axford this early in his career).
A four-year deal would cover Axford’s final pre-arbitration season and three of his four seasons of arbitration eligibility. I’m guessing that four-year chunk of Axford’s career is worth $15-20MM. The year-to-year breakdown would depend on the preferences of the team and the player and isn’t possible to predict completely, but perhaps a deal like this would work for both sides: $500K in 2012, $3.75MM in 2013, $5.5MM in 2014 and $7.25MM in 2015.
A four-year, $17MM extension would provide Axford with the kind of security that would have seemed unattainable when he was bartending a relatively short while ago without delaying his arrival on the free agent market. The Brewers, meanwhile, would cap costs to ensure that his salary doesn’t escalate to the point that they have to trade or non-tender him.
Photo courtesy Icon SMI.
Assistant GM Gord Ash confirmed today that the Brewers have discussed a multiyear contract with closer John Axford, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Adam McCalvy of MLB.com report. Ash said the sides will likely agree to a one-year deal for 2012 by Friday’s renewal deadline for pre-arbitration eligible players before resuming talks. It sounds as though Axford is optimistic about working something out.
“I’d love the security,” he said, according to McCalvy. “I love Milwaukee, I’d love to play there as long as I could. I would love to begin my career there and end my career there, in all honesty.”
The sides have discussed a deal of at least four years in length, according to Haudricourt. Axford will be arbitration eligible as a super two player following the 2012 season and he's under team control through 2016. A four-year deal that begins in 2012 would cover three of Axford’s four arbitration seasons. The Brewers would presumably look to obtain a club option or two in exchange for the long-term security.
Axford led the National League with 46 saves in 2011, posting a 1.95 ERA with 10.5 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 in 73 2/3 innings. Agent Dan Horwits of Beverly Hills Sports Council represents the 28-year-old.
The Brewers expect to discuss potential extensions with starters Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum this winter, tweets Danny Knobler of CBS Sports. In a second tweet, Knobler adds that the Brew Crew could also explore a long-term deal for closer John Axford, among others.
Greinke and Marcum, both acquired by the Brewers in trades last offseason, will be eligible for free agency a year from now. Greinke is entering the final season of a four-year, $38MM contract, while Marcum is eligible for arbitration for the last time this winter. Axford, meanwhile, is still a year away from being arbitration-eligible.
If no extensions are worked out before the 2012 campaign begins, Greinke will earn $13.5MM, while MLBTR projects Marcum to earn approximately $6.8MM.
Another night, another pair of exciting LCS games. The Tigers succeeded in stretching the ALCS to a sixth game while the Brewers evened the NLCS at 2-2 with the Cardinals.
Here's the latest from around the majors....
- Frank McCourt's decision to take the Dodgers into bankruptcy means he could become the rare pro sports owner to sell his team and have no profits to show for it, writes Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times.
- The Pirates haven't yet declined Paul Maholm's $9.75MM option for 2012 yet, and MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch explains that the Bucs are trying to find a trade partner who "A) thinks $9.75 million is a fair cost for Maholm and B) doesn’t want to take the risk of letting Maholm go into the free agent market."
- Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times examines the Mariners' franchise value and how it may impact the club's payroll in the coming seasons.
- The Mariners erred not once, not twice, but thrice in not keeping Ramon Santiago, writes Larry Larue of the Tacoma News Tribune.
- John Axford was released without fanfare by the Yankees after the 2007 season, long before Axford rose to prominence as the Brewers' closer. Brian Costa of the Wall Street Journal looks back at the circumstances behind Axford's release.
- The Giants won't be able to afford the likes of Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Jose Reyes or C.C. Sabathia this winter, but MLB.com's Chris Haft believes the club "will make a genuine offer to re-sign Carlos Beltran." Beltran, for his part, said last month that he was open to returning to San Francisco if the team added more offense to the lineup.
- The week's minor league transactions are compiled by Baseball America's Matt Eddy.
- Diamondbacks CEO and president Derrick Hall predicts a "relatively quiet offseason" for his team since most of the major pieces are already in place. Hall also discusses Aaron Hill, Willie Bloomquist and several other topics in his monthly chat with fans on MLB.com.
- Baseball America's Jim Callis profiles Sean Buckley, the Reds' sixth-round pick in the June amateur draft and the son of Chris Buckley, Cincinnati's senior director of amateur scouting.
- A multiyear extension for Jacoby Ellsbury, moving Daniel Bard to the starting rotation and a possible run at Jose Reyes are a few of the suggestions made by Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston that would help the Red Sox put their catastrophic month behind them and focus on returning to the playoffs next year.
- Writing for Baseball Prospectus, Rany Jazayerli breaks down how just a year of age difference between teenage prospects reveals huge differences in projected production. "At least when it comes to high school hitters, young draft picks are a MASSIVE market inefficiency," Jazayerli writes.
John Axford had faced 34 major league hitters going into the 2010 season, so you would have surprised even the most dedicated Brewers fans if you’d told them he was going to be the team’s closer this year. But Axford, who struck out Derrek Lee to preserve a one-run ninth inning lead last night, is most definitely Milwaukee's stopper.
Yes, Axford, a complete unknown just months ago, is closing games for a team that has all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman in its bullpen. And no, when Brewers GM Doug Melvin signed Axford two and a half years ago, he was not under the impression that he'd found his next go-to reliever.
“You always have visions of this happening,” Melvin told MLBTR. “But I don’t think we thought that this would happen, that he’d be our closer, especially closing in front of a Hall of Famer. I don’t think anybody had the vision that this would happen.”
Before Axford and his mustache won over Brewers fans, area scout Jay Lapp saw him pitch for the Brantford Red Sox of the Intercounty Baseball League. Back then, the right-hander was a bartender, but not a complete unknown in baseball circles. Axford generated buzz as a 2004 draft prospect, but underwent Tommy John surgery late in 2003. After the operation, the Reds selected him in the 42nd round of the 2005 draft and Axford pitched in the Yankees system in 2007. But in 2008, the Brewers signed him for his promise, not his polish.
“We knew we were getting a guy that had a good live arm, but there were a lot of mechanical issues with him,” Melvin said. “There were some up and down moments and some times when we weren’t sure he was going to throw enough strikes.”
Indeed, Axford had massive problems finding the strike zone in the Yankees system. He pitched at four levels in 2007 and posted an overall walk rate of 6.4 BB/9. Only two major league pitchers have higher walk rates this season: Dontrelle Willis and Oliver Perez have both posted 7.7 BB/9 (min. 40 IP). Those two left-handers have had trouble finding regular playing time this year, but Axford’s walk rates didn’t scare the Brewers away.
“If [pitchers] have good live arms and their walk rates are high, I think you’ve got to be patient,” Melvin said. “One of the toughest things in the game is to be patient.”
Axford has always had a mid-90s fastball and a pair of good breaking pitches. When the Brewers tinkered with his delivery, his walk rate dropped. He walked fewer batters than ever before getting called up to the majors this year and his current MLB walk rate is a career-best 3.1 BB/9.
“Guys with good arms, I say the same thing,” Melvin said. “Their walks can be reduced once they feel comfortable with their deliveries.”
That comfort zone can be evasive, so few relievers have lasting success like Hoffman.
“They can lose it if they don’t stay on top of things, they can lose the delivery, but I think that’s why some pitchers can be good one year and not the next year,” Melvin said.
This season, Axford has a 2.83 ERA with a 50% ground ball rate, 10.8 K/9 and a team-leading 16 saves. Those stats impress the Brewers, but Melvin also enjoys the Hoffman-like demeanor the 27-year-old showed on the mound last night.
“He kept his poise and struck out Derrek Lee and sometimes a young guy like that can really panic, but his composure and poise is very good,” Melvin said.