With the departure of Chris Perez, Joe Smith, and Matt Albers, the Indians’ bullpen has a few holes to fill this offseason.  For a while now, people have been wondering whether or not the Indians would sign a closer (since there are so many on the market this winter) or promote from within.  It was probably a given that they would add some arms this winter, but it was unclear whether or not they would turn to trades or free agency to do so.  Even though the particulars haven’t been revealed yet, the Indians have signed former Brewers closer John Axford (who pitched out of St. Louis’s pen after a trade last season).  It’s tough for me to fully form an opinion on this deal, since I don’t know the money and years involved yet.  By all rumors though, it sounds as if it’s a one-year deal with a base salary on the low end (if you can call $5 million or below the “low end”).  If this is true, than I’m satisfied with this deal for the most part.

Let’s face it, we can complain about the Indians and their tight-fisted ways until we’re blue in the face.  It really won’t change anything.  Plus the only time the Indians went out and gave a closer a larger contract, it didn’t end that well (remember Kerry Wood?  I’d rather forget).  Bullpen pitchers tend to be volatile from year to year, and they’re never a sure thing.  I hate to waste a ton of money on relievers, when I think you can usually acquire guys for the bullpen at a bargain if you’re smart about it.  That leaves you the opportunity to use your meager resources for the starting rotation and for the lineup, where it’s typically more difficult to put something together on a low budget.

Axford, like any closer (or really any reliever) has his pluses and minuses.  On one hand, he had a terrible 2012 in Milwaukee and actually lost his job as their closer.  He has control issues and fits of wildness from time to time.  However, Axford has a fastball that averages about 95 mph and has pretty high strikeout totals.  Even in 2012 when his ERA ballooned to 5.06 and averaged about 12 strikeouts per 9 innings.  In fact, his K/9 ratio has been in the double digits for most seasons of his career.  So with a decent fastball and swing and miss stuff, he could be quite successful if he masters his command (plus I trust Mickey Callaway to work with him).

The other big names still out there on the closer’s market are Grant Balfour and Fernando Rodney, and as good as they were the past couple of years, I just felt nervous meeting their demands.  Balfour’s had an incredibly lucky BABIP over the past couple of years, and both Balfour and Rodney have had some less glamorous stats at times during their careers.  I haven’t heard much about Rodney’s demands, but Balfour is supposedly holding out for a third year, at roughly $8-10 million per season.  How many times have you heard someone say “Thank goodness that team gave that reliever an expensive, multi-year deal…it really paid off!”  Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a case where it worked well for a team to give a closer or reliever a lot of money outside of Mariano Rivera.  (Who defies all laws of physics and rational thought).  Philadelphia is even trying to dump Jonathan Papelbon (the poster child for ridiculous closer contracts).  It’s not worth it to pass out that kind of money, especially when you’re a small market team.

So I guess I’m saying that for what this is, I’m happy enough with the Axford signing.  I’d rather the Indians spend their limited resources in other areas, and between Axford, Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, and (hopefully) Vinnie Pestano, you have guys that can cover the ninth inning.  The Indians haven’t made any of the flashy deals we’ve seen from other teams, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  You can win the offseason and still do terrible during the regular season – just ask the 2008 Seattle Mariners, the first team to spend over $100 million but still lose at least 100 games.  Plus remember that one of the Indians first big moves last offseason, the Nick Swisher signing, didn’t take place until just a couple of days before Christmas.  While the Axford signing isn’t earth-shattering, I don’t think it’s a bad move all things considered.  Sometimes you can win the offseason just by avoiding the stupid moves your opponents may make.

11 Comments

  • medfest says:

    I’ve never been an Axford fan he reminds me too much of Mark Wohlers.
    If he gets more the five million for one year it doesn’t make much sense to me either.

    Balfour and Rodney I would want no part of at anything but bargain prices.

  • Gvl Steve says:

    It is one year for $4.5 million with another 1.75 in incentives, probably for games finished. That’s a pretty team-friendly deal, and the Indians have 3 years of team control via arbitration without having to offer the guarantee of a 3-year deal. This guy pitched pretty well in the 2nd half for St. Louis and has a big arm. I don’t understand the negativity at all. If you only sign guys coming off their best year, you will always overpay and almost always see decline, not to mention that paying 8 or 10 million a year for Balfour would mean no money left for a starting pitcher.

  • Stephanie Liscio says:

    The cost of pitching has been all over the map this winter. For example, I love that the Indians were able to get Marcum on a minor league deal. Even though he’s a different type of risk (injury) than an Edinson Volquez or a Roberto Hernandez, they both got major league deals worth $5 million and I think $4.5 million respectively. I never thought Hernandez would get another major league deal after he basically lost his starting role in Tampa.

  • Jim Manos says:

    I’m an Indians fan who’s been in Wisconsin for the last 20 years. I follow the Brewers a bit as they’re in my face all of the time, but my heart is with the Tribe. Regarding Axford, I am a little nervous. The Wohlers comparison is spot on. Axford has such a huge arm and has shown he can be a top notch guy in your pen. But recently (the last two years) he’s shown the propensity of blowing up, losing his composure and losing leads. I don’t now what he did in St. Louis, but I’m hoping for the best.

  • leo O'Neill says:

    For me I’m happy with both signings. Getting Marcum on a minor league deal is incredible considering the dross that have chiseled teams for multiyear deals. Axford should be a big upgrade. ERA and whip are close to Perez’s better years but with extra velocity and curveball added in. Another lefty bullpen arm next please.

  • TribeTime33 says:

    I like the pick up. Team friendly contract and if all fails with him as a closer he had success as a set-up man. I would really have liked to have seen the tribe get Mark Trombo in a trade. He would have been a huge addition to our line-up and the biggest right handed bat we have had in a long time. Over all tho Axford is a good pick up and I think will help fill the void.

  • shane says:

    Mickey Calloway is going to straighten Axford out and he is going to do fine.

  • DaveR says:

    I have the same feeling as shane. He should be fine.

  • Kevin says:

    It is not a good deal if Grant Balfour got 2 years for only 15 million. That is the deal we should have taken.

  • James Edgar says:

    I don’t like the deal. Axford might have a big arm but he has nothing left between the ears. If Mickey turns him back into a successful closer, we should have a special recall election and make Mickey the US President.

  • medfest says:

    Just listened to an Axford interview on 92.3 the Fan,he’s got a very droll sense of humor.He’ll be a quote machine here if he’s the least bit successful as a closer.