Feb. 9: The Blue Jays have announced the signing.
Feb. 8, 8:54pm: Axford has indeed agreed to a minor league contract with an invite to Major League Spring Training, tweets Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.
7:46pm: The Blue Jays and free-agent right-hander John Axford are in agreement on a contract, reports Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (via Twitter). The Canadian-born Axford is represented by the Beverly Hills Sports Council. Details of the arrangement aren’t yet clear, though given his rough 2017 season, it’s possible that Axford agreed to a minor league pact with a Spring Training invite.
Axford, 34, struggled with the A’s last season in the second year of a two-year, $10MM contract, pitching to a 6.43 ERA with a 21-to-17 K/BB ratio in 21 innings out of the Oakland ’pen before being designated for assignment and released. However, he’s a year removed from a solid 3.97 ERA with 8.2 K/9, 4.1 BB/9 and 0.82 HR/9 with a 54.2 percent ground-ball rate through 65 2/3 innings in 2016.
Those numbers are largely in line with the overall production that Axford posted from 2013-16 in 241 innings with the Brewers, Cardinals, Indians, Pirates, Rockies and A’s. Axford has long shown the ability to miss bats (career 10.2 K/9) but has also had some longstanding issues in finding the strike zone with regularity (4.6 BB/9). His penchant for racking up strikeouts has led to multiple stints as a closer, as he’s saved 144 games in the Majors, including a 2011 campaign in which he led the National League with 46 saves for Milwaukee.
[Related: Toronto Blue Jays depth chart]
If he ultimately joins the Toronto relief corps, Axford would add an experienced arm to a group that largely lacks a track record. Roberto Osuna, of course, has emerged as one of the game’s top young relievers, and southpaw Aaron Loup has more than five years of big league service time under his belt. But, right-hander Ryan Tepera is the only other reliever on the roster with more than two full years of big league service time.
Joe Biagini, Carlos Ramirez, Danny Barnes, Matt Dermody and Tim Mayza are all 40-man options, but Biagini is the most experienced of the bunch and has not yet established himself in the Majors after a rocky 2017 campaign (mostly spent in the rotation). The Jays do have some veteran options that’ll be in camp as non-roster invitees this spring, including Al Alburquerque and and Jake Petricka (who reportedly agreed to a minor league deal earlier today).