The Blue Jays going out and getting more relief pitching isn’t an ideal scenario, but with the market getting smaller every day that the off-season moves forward, Alex Anthopoulos might need get creative.
With John Axford being non-tendered by the St. Louis Cardinals last week, he has generated some interest around the league. Axford’s agent, Dan Horwitz, indicated he received calls from 14 different interested teams. Although the source is a player’s agent interested in looking out for his client, separate reports have indicated links to both the Baltimore Orioles and the Chicago Cubs.
Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com indicated that Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette suggested Axford as a possible late-inning specialist. The Orioles seem interested in obtaining a reliever with some veteran experience working in the late-innings, and Axford is a potential candidate.
Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com indicated sources linking Axford to the Cubs. If he were to sign with the Cubs, they would either use him or Pedro Strop as the closer, with the other likely in the set-up role.
I don’t really think Axford being a Canadian homegrown talent, or having an interesting personality will create any kind of attendance draw in and of itself—although it would create an interesting story. What the fans really want is a winning team. But there are indications that Axford is finding his form again.
While Axford’s value has certainly fallen from his 2011 season with Brewers when he achieved 46 saves with a 1.95 ERA, and his overall numbers last season were not promising (4.02 ERA, 1.523 WHIP), the last part of last season saw a big difference.
Axford only allowed two earned runs in the last 14 games of the regular season. And for those concerned with him working in high-pressure situations, Axford allowed only two hits and one earned run in just over five innings of the post-season. A small sample size to be sure, but there’s a definite change through September and October.
The turnaround coming since being traded from the Brewers to the Cardinals in late August is no coincidence. Axford noted that the Cardinals scouts saw something and informed him accordingly:
There’s a small specific thing that I won’t mention, but it’s something that a team that’s scouting you will see, since they’re trying to see if you’re tipping pitches or doing something a little bit differently. They’ve been seeing it for the last few years, they’ve shared it with me and we’ve worked on it since.
While the Jays are still reliever heavy, they did lighten the load a bit by trading away bullpen arm Brad Lincoln to the Philadelphia Phillies to acquire catcher Erik Kratz and minor league pitcher Rob Rasmussen.
The real value may not be in keeping Axford, but in trading him away. Since the Chicago Cubs have been noted as a possible Jays trade partner offering Jeff Samardzija, having someone like Axford would be a useful bargaining chip to add to a deal. And if not with the Cubs, he could be used for potential deals with the Orioles or any of the suggested 12 other teams.
If they can’t make a deal, then they are only stuck with a proven high-leverage closer who looks to be returning to form.
If the market for Axford isn’t too crazy, it may be worth making an offer.