Will John Axford succeed Chris Perez as the Indians’ closer?
Axford has done it before. He has done it well, leading the National League in saves two years ago, and he has stumbled, blowing all seven of his save opportunities last season.
Axford has agreed to a one-year contract with the Tribe after being non-tendered by the St. Louis Cardinals earlier this month. It’s unlikely that the Indians will announce the deal until Axford passes a physical.
The Indians initially considered moving either reliever Bryan Shaw or Cody Allen into the closer’s spot, but at the winter meetings last week in Orlando, Fla., manager Terry Francona said he preferred to keep the two reliable right-handers in their setup roles.
Axford, a 30-year-old right-hander, became the Milwaukee Brewers’ closer in 2010 and kept the job until early 2013. In his first three seasons on the job, Axford amassed 105 saves in 119 chances. His 46 saves (blowing only two) in 2011 were tops in the league, and an ERA of 1.95 also spoke to his proficiency.
That season was sandwiched around years in which he saved 24 games (2010) and 35 saves (2012), when he began to slip, blowing nine saves.
Axford began 2013 as the Brewers’ closer but blew all six of his save opportunities. He was traded to the Cardinals in August, but they did not offer him a contract for 2014.
Altogether last season, Axford posted a 6-7 record and 4.02 ERA in 65 innings, covering 75 appearances.
Axford threw a big chunk of innings (201) between 2010 and 2012, which might have contributed to his problems last season. In the three years beginning in 2010, Axford averaged 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings. Last season, he averaged nine strikeouts per nine innings.
In 12 postseason games, Axford has posted a 1.42 ERA and saved three games. In six postseason games last season, Axford gave up one run and two hits in 5⅔ innings.
The bullpen has been in flux this offseason. The Indians released Perez, a two-time All-Star, after a turbulent 2013 season. The Tribe lost valuable right-hander Joe Smith, who signed a three-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels.
Axford, who made $5 million last season, will earn $6.25 million in 2014. He was eligible for arbitration.
The Indians signed right-hander Shaun Marcum to a minor-league contract that includes an invitation to major-league training camp.
Marcum, 32, made 14 appearances in 2013 for the New York Mets (12 starts), posting a 1-10 record and 5.29 ERA. His season ended with a July 10 surgical procedure to correct Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.
Pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays, Milwaukee Brewers and Mets, Marcum has compiled a career record of 58-46 with a 3.88 ERA in 188 appearances (161 starts). He missed the 2009 season after undergoing surgery to reconstruct his elbow.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ.