Cleveland Sports Insiders

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Indians sign former Brewers’ closer, John Axford

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John Axford, during the glory days (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

John Axford, during the glory days (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The Cleveland Indians have reportedly signed former Milwaukee Brewers closer John Axford, according to both ESPN’s Buster Olney and mlb.com’s Tribe reporter, Jordan Bastian.

It’s unknown just how much the reported deal is for, but Bastian speculates that it’s likely to be a one year contract, because the Indians would still have two more years of control on the arbitration eligible player.

It’s hard to speculate on just how much the Indians will pay him, but it’s likely not a stretch to say that they are likely to be in the neighborhood of Joe Smith and Edward Mujica money. Smith signed a three-year, $15.75 million deal, while Mujica signed a two-year, $9.5 million deal.

Obviously the Indians would like the idea of one year and control, and if they can bring him in at around $5 million, they would likely consider that a win based on the fact that their closer last year made over $2 million more than that, and was scheduled to be in the ballpark of $10 million this season. While that contract will no doubt take the Indians to the cusp of their money ceiling, they may be looking at him as a savings, especially with other closers likely to command anywhere from $7 million to $9 million.

Axford led the National League in saves in 2011, when he saved 46 games in 74 games and 73 2/3 innings, and came in with a 1.95 ERA. Over a three-year stretch, from 2010 through 2012, Axford saved 105 ballgames for the Brewers before losing his role at the beginning of 2013 after struggling in 2012, and at the start of 2013.

Axford was removed as Milwaukee’s closer in July of 2012, but was later reinstated, and saved 17 of his final 18 save opportunities to closer out the year.

He started the 2013 season back as the Brewers closer, but gave up nine earned runs on four homers during the first four ballgames, and was immediately removed from the ninth-inning job.

In a set-up role, he pitched much better, dropping his ERA from 24.30 on April 9th, to a low of 3.38 on July 28th, before seeing it rise to 4.45 a month later, when he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for a player to be named later.

Axford gave up three runs in his first three games with the Cardinals, but wouldn’t give up another run over his next nine games.

I’ve speculated on whether or not Axford was the perfect solution in an earlier piece, and my answer was no, depending on the money that they offered him. I still stand by that.

Axford made $5 million last season with the Cardinals, and at 30-years old, is more of a veteran, even though he’s still a long way from becoming a free agent.

What’s promising is that his fastball velocity is still above 95, so there really isn’t a whole lot of risk involved in this point at making Axford a low risk offer. They aren’t going to be getting a guy that’s taking a dip in power.

In a perfect world, the Indians will be paying Axford $3 million a year. The Indians would then gain control of Axford through the 2017 season, as I said before, he would be an arbitration eligible player.

Could they get him at $3 million?

The only way I see that happening is if they offered him a contract through his arbitration years, and it was some sort of two million a year escalation, where they pay him $3, then $5, then $7 million.

Of course, I’m not sure how smart that would be for Axford, knowing that if he’s even just a little relevant, he can get major bumps in pay that would put the two million a year in the rearviewmirror.

The bet here is that the Indians went ahead and got their man at a low-risk, one-year, $5 million deal. Anything over that is idiotic to me, since I would say that $5 million is the ceiling for any closer. It just doesn’t seem like money well spent.

This will allow Terry Francona to keep the current bullpen in the rolls that they are familiar with, with Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw staying away from the ninth inning so they can be used in high leverage situations anywhere from the sixth through the eighth innings.

What could really make this deal special is if Vinnie Pestano is healthy. If that happens you now have a top five in your bullpen of Axford, Pestano, Allen, Shaw and Marc Rzepczynski. Then you start peppering in guys like C.C. Lee, and you have the makings of a really good bullpen, and you really wouldn’t have to count on Axford to grab the job.

In other words, the Indians would have options.

Sound familiar?

If that’s the case, then Axford is the perfect ninth inning guy for the pen. He certainly wouldn’t be the best reliever on the team, but he has upside, has maintained his velocity from his best season in the bigs (2011), and could give the Indians incredible value if they get him at the right price.

Michael Hattery is currently “geeking out” over his stats, so look for something from the Big Hagu sometime in the next day or two. As soon as they announce the figures, Hattery and I will be podding, live and in living color.

In the meantime, here’s a piece that the Indians very own Jordan Bastian wrote about Axford back in 2011: Axford, a cell phone salesman turned closer.

Keep checking Cleveland Sports Insiders not for scoops, but for someone to have a seat with and talk some baseball.

Welcome Mr. Axford

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