The Cleveland Indians obviously figured it was time for a change to the back of their bullpen.
The Indians made the playoffs in 2013 despite collectively blowing 22 saves and ranking fifth from the bottom in save percentage in the majors. After making the American League's All-Star team the previous two seasons, closer Chris Perez had the worst season of his career. He also struggled off the field, antagonizing fans on Twitter who antagonized him (after doing likewise in 2012). He also got busted with his wife for having marijuana delivered to their home using their dog's name.
So, yeah. They needed a new closer. Rather than pick one of the several capable guys already setting up the ninth for manager Terry Francona, the Indians reportedly have decided to bring in free agent John Axford, who didn't record a single save in 2013. Reporter Jordan Bastian of MLB.com confirmed the agreement first, which Buster Olney of ESPN and Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports indicated was coming.
It's not official yet, with details having to be worked out, and Axford having to pass a physical. The money and length of deal hasn't been reported yet, but Bastian says a one-year contract is likely. Axford made $5 million in 2013, during which he struggled at times, like Perez did. Actually, the past two seasons have been somewhat forgettable for Axford, who lost his closer's job with the Brewers and was traded to the Cardinals down the stretch.
Axford's 2010-11: 2.19 ERA, 93% save rate (70-75) in 131.2 IP. 2012-13: 4.35 ERA, 69% save rate (35-51) in 134.1 IP.
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) December 16, 2013
Axford pitched much better for St. Louis — over 10 innings — and if he can average 9.6 strikeouts and 2.9 walks with a low extra-base hit percentage for an entire season, the Indians will have a great closer.
The Indians bullpen before the ninth inning was formidable in 2013, with right-handers Joe Smith, Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw mostly getting the job done. So if Axford fails, they'll have options. But the way relief pitchers tend to be — up one year or two, down the next and then back — Axford's probably going to rebound. It's something of a roll of the dice no matter who pitches in relief.
He does give the Indians an edge in two fun but relatively unimportant places. He's got better facial hair than Perez, whose beard could put the nasty in Duck Dynasty. Conversely, Axford often sports an award-winning handlebar mustache like a dandy might have worn in days gone by. Also, he's much friendlier on Twitter. And possibly in real life.
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