Feb. 14: Axford and the Jays have reached an agreement on a minor league contract that would pay him $1.65MM if he makes the roster, Shi Davidi of Sportsnet reports (via Twitter). Axford is on his way to Blue Jays camp in Dunedin right now.
Feb. 13: The Blue Jays are close to a deal that’ll bring righty John Axford back to the organization, reports MLB Network’s Jon Heyman (Twitter link). Axford, 36 in April, spent most of the 2018 season with the Jays and had voiced a desire to return to his hometown organization earlier this offseason. Axford is represented by the Beverly Hills Sports Council.
Axford appeared in 45 games for the Blue Jays last season, pitching to a 4.41 ERA with a 50-to-20 K/BB ratio in 51 innings before being traded to the Dodgers prior to the July 31 non-waiver deadline. Unfortunately for both Axford and the Dodgers, the right-hander, he was clobbered for six runs in his first appearance with his new team. Before he had time for his numbers to recover, Axford was struck on the leg by a comebacker, sustaining a fractured fibula that shelved him for more than a month.
It’s been a rough couple of seasons for the veteran Axford, who has a 5.59 ERA in 75 2/3 innings dating back to Opening Day 2017. However, prior to that, Axford carried a 4.03 ERA with better than a strikeout per inning in four seasons split between the Brewers, Cardinals Indians, Rockies and A’s. The right-hander still throws hard, averaging 95.5 mph on his heater in ’18, though his swinging-strike and opponents’ chase rate both continued to trend in the wrong direction.
Given his recent struggles, it seems likely that Axford would have to earn his way onto the roster on a minor league contract, as he did a year ago with the Jays. If that is indeed the case, he’ll head to Spring Training and compete for a spot behind Ken Giles and Ryan Tepera at the back of the Toronto ’pen. Righties Joe Biagini, Sam Gaviglio, David Paulino and Trent Thornton are among the current 40-man options against whom he’d be competing for those spots. All have minor league options remaining, which could help to work in Axford’s favor, as there’s no reliever who needs to be carried on the 25-man roster with the exception of Rule 5 pick Elvis Luciano — who is already an extreme long shot to stick on the roster given that he is just 19 years of age.