One might assume this is a foregone conclusion. The Baltimore Orioles and Grant Balfour, however, would point out that it is not always so. That makes it worth noting, then, that John Axford passed his physical and finalized a one year, $4.5 million deal with the Cleveland Indians on Thursday.
Despite some mighty struggles and eventually a complementary role in the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen for the playoff run, the Indians intend to use Axford as their closer. That raises a question for anybody interested in baseball and the construction of Major League rosters.
What if Axford gets right again in 2013? He is less than two years removed from a season in which he saved 43 games for the Milwaukee Brewers. Will he really be that much different than guys like the aforementioned Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, or even guys like Jim Johnson or Joe Nathan? He might not be, right? If that is how this thing plays out, it will be a bargain for Cleveland.
You could make a perfectly reasonable case that Axford is poised for a turnaround. At age 30, he claims his arm was never fully ready for 2013. Even still his average fastball velocity held at 95.3 MPH (according to FanGraphs), which is only a tick off of his previous two seasons (95.5 MPH and 96.1 MPH in 2011 and 2012, respectively). Perhaps the most concerning trend is the spike in the number of home runs Axford has been allowing. After allowing no more than four in a season through 2011, he allowed 10 in 2012 and then again in 2013.
This deal could go either way, but if it pans out the Indians will look awfully savvy for the money they saved.