The Cleveland Indians are among a number of clubs showing interest in signing free-agent reliever John Axford, reports Jordan Bastian of MLB.com. The Mariners, Orioles and Cubs have also been linked to the right-hander.
Axford, 30, was one of the National League's premier late-inning relievers a couple years ago. The right-hander finished in the top 10 in NL Cy Young voting in 2011 for posting a 1.95 ERA in 73⅔ innings while racking up a league-leading 46 saves, but has struggled immensely since then.
Following an up-and-down 2012 season in which he was briefly removed from ninth-inning duties, Axford was pushed out of the Brewers' closer role for good early in 2013 and was eventually sent to the Cardinals for next to nothing at the end of August. St. Louis then non-tendered him at the start of December.
Axford owns a 4.35 ERA in 134⅔ innings since 2012, and has allowed an obscene amount of gopher balls in that span. In his first three seasons of big-league ball (about 140 innings), he allowed just five home runs. Over the last two seasons (about 135 innings), he has allowed 20.
The Canadian right-hander did have much better results in his short time with the Cardinals -- allowing just three runs (none from homers) and striking out 11 in 10⅓ innings of work -- but there's no telling if that's enough for the Indians or another team to consider using him as a closer again.
The Tribe has been on the hunt for closer since releasing Chris Perez in October. Perez was pushed out of his role after dealing with the same home run tendencies that have plagued Axford, so it seems unlikely that the Tribe would be eager to plug him into the ninth inning right away if they do sign him.
Axford has always had the ability to miss bats -- he's struck out 10.8 batters per nine for his career -- so if he can get his home run rate under control he could be a valuable piece in any bullpen. A Super-Two player entering his second year of arbitration, Axford was headed for a salary north of $5 million for 2014 before he was non-tendered. Now that he's a free agent, he's likely to sign for considerably less money.