Free agent reliever John Axford has emerged in the hot stove news as he is drawing interest from four different teams. The most intriguing of the four is the Toronto Blue Jays. The 31-year-old Ontario, Canada native has spent his six year career moving amongst the Brewers, Indians, Pirates and Cardinals.
In 2011, Axford led the National League with 46 saves while posting a 1.95 ERA, and it looked like he had established himself as the Brewers’ closer for years to come. He was also a top 10 candidate for the Cy Young Award following the year and even received votes for the Most Valuable Player award.
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While Axford did record 35 more saves in 2012, however, his ERA ballooned to 4.67. That season, his walks per 9 innings increased from 3.1 to 5.1 and his homers per 9 went up from 0.5 to 1.3. Such a poor year was enough for Axford to record no saves for the 2013 Brewers, and he pitched to a 4.45 ERA in 62 appearances before being dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals in August for Michael Blazek.
John Axford only made 13 appearances in St. Louis, but his ERA was 1.74 in that time and there was reason to believe that his career was moving in the right direction. Cardinals coaches had fixed a pitch-tipping problem that had derailed Axford’s time in Milwaukee and the Cleveland Indians were sufficiently impressed to give him a one-year, $4.5 million contract that offseason to their closer.
Nevertheless, Axford struggled again in 2014 and was removed from the Indians’ closer role in May. He was selected off waivers by the Pittsburgh Pirates in August and finished the season with a 3.95 ERA, 10 saves and a 63-36 K/BB ratio in 54.2 innings. Axford’s less-than-impressive 5.9 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, and 4.34 FIP were especially concerning.
Axford’s 2014 was a major disappointment after the pitch-tipping, which was thought to be the cause of all of his problems, was fixed. However, his fastball velocity remains excellent as he averaged 96.04 MPH this past season, and maybe a homecoming to the Toronto Blue Jays is just what he needs.
There are other options for Toronto, including Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano, who both have more extended track records than John Axford as closers. But due to the team’s reported tight budget, a pitcher like Axford could be a more reasonable signing and would fit perfectly in the back end of the Blue Jays bullpen.