Axford, 30, most recently played for the Cardinals after a mid-season trade sent him to St. Louis from Milwaukee. In 13 games with the Cardinals, he posted a 1.74 ERA, giving him a 4.02 ERA on the season overall, along with a 1.52 WHIP. Axford had been the Brewers' closer since 2010 and had an outstanding season in 2011 when he had a 1.95 ERA and saved a league-high 46 games to garner votes in both the NL Cy Young and MVP races.
However, the past two years Axford has struggled with his command, giving up increasing numbers of walks and home runs. He still posts good strikeout numbers, but is not quite up to the double-digit strikeouts per nine innings that he had achieved in previous years. He is likely far from finished as an effective MLB reliever, with his stint in St. Louis perhaps quelling some doubts. It did not inspire enough confidence for the Cardinals to go to arbitration with him, however. They non-tendered him rather than pay him upwards of $5 million in 2014.
The Orioles recently traded closer Jim Johnson to the Athletics and have been expected to eye cheaper replacements on the free agent market. Edward Mujica would also have fit the bill before he signed with the Red Sox. The team had a good bullpen behind Johnson in 2013, but could use added depth.
The Cubs, meanwhile, have had plenty of first-hand experience against Axford. Having spent his entire career in the NL Central, he has pitched 30 games against Chicago, the second-most of any opponent. The Cubs parted ways with closer Kevin Gregg and do not have an obvious replacement on the roster.
The Mariners are in the middle of a very big offseason for the franchise. They recently signed second baseman Robinson Cano to a monster deal and are also heavily active in trade rumors for Rays ace David Price and Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp. With the team making big moves this offseason, it may be looking at a lower-profile signing in Axford to help a relief corps that had the second-worst ERA in the major leagues last season.
Axford has plenty of talent but has been erratic. Still, he figures to have plenty of suitors who hope he is over his struggles of the last two seasons.