Axford, 30, began this season as the Milwaukee Brewers’ closer, but lost the job to Jim Henderson after allowing four home runs in his first three outings. When Henderson went on the disabled list in late May, manager Ron Roenicke turned to former record-setting closer Francisco Rodriguez to close rather than Axford.
When Rodriguez was dealt to the Baltimore Orioles in July, Henderson was reinstalled as the closer and a series of rough outings cost Axford his setup role, as well.
General manager Doug Melvin said it was a tough decision to trade Axford, who set a franchise record with 46 saves in 2011, to a team within the division. But the emergence of Henderson as the closer and Brandon Kintzler in the setup role made Axford expendable.
“From my standpoint it’s a little bit tough because I still think he has a lot of pitching left in him,” Melvin said.
But Axford is arbitration eligible this winter and the Brewers were going to be faced with a tough decision whether or not to tender him a qualifying offer or let him walk away from the organization for nothing.
Axford’s meteoric rise in 2011 helped the Brewers to their lone National League Central Division title. Melvin said that fact also made the decision to deal the lanky reliever more difficult.
“It was a tough one because he’s done so much for our organization, and his path to get here,” Melvin said. “We wouldn’t have been in the playoffs—wouldn’t have ever sniffed the playoffs in 2011 without John Axford. I hope people remember that instead of the few games that he blew or whatever.”
Axford cleared waivers earlier this month and the Cardinals called this week to express interest, according to MLB.com. The team will likely receive the player to be named from St. Louis next week, and did not send any money to the Cardinals in the deal to cover the remainder of Axford’s $5 million salary.
Axford was a well-liked figure among the Milwaukee media because he was always accountable, in good times and in bad.
Axford was present and accounted for after every game — good or bad — and always well-spoken and on an even keel.
— Todd Rosiak (@Todd_Rosiak) August 30, 2013
Axford, a native of Canada, traveled an unconventional road to the major leagues. Originally drafted in 2001 by the Seattle Mariners in the seventh round out of Assumption College School in Port Dover, Ontatio, Axford opted to go to Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y., and later transferred to Notre Dame. The Cincinnati Reds chose Axford in the 42nd round of the 2005 draft, but again Axford didn’t sign.
He wound up signing as an amateur free agent with the New York Yankees in August 2006, but pitched just one season in the Yankee organization—advancing all the way from short-season Class A to Triple-A—before he was released in December 2007. The Brewers signed him in March 2008 and he made his big-league debut on Sept. 15, 2009, at Wrigley Field in a 13-7 loss to the Chicago Cubs.
He began 2010 at Triple-A Nashville, but earned a call up in mid-May and has been in the big leagues since.
Axford’s 106 saves ranks second in franchise history behind the 133 posted by Dan Plesac from 1986-92. This season, Axford is 6-7 with a 4.45 ERA and 1.555 WHIP in 54.2 innings over 62 appearances with 54 strikeouts. For his career as a Brewer, Axford worked in 268 games and was 21-19 with a 3.35 ERA and 1.325 WHIP in 261.1 innings while fanning 318 hitters.
To replace Axford on the roster, the Brewers recalled right-hander Alfredo Figaro from Nashville. The move also opens up a spot on the 40-man roster, potentially for right-hander Jimmy Nelson, currently at Triple-A.
Nelson, who pitched in the Futures Game during All-Star festivities in New York in July, would be subject to the Rule 5 draft this winter if not placed on Milwaukee’s 40-man roster.
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