Today is the day where we will learn the fate of several non-tender candidates on the Cubs, but it is also the day where a few new targets for the Cubs might emerge. A name that might be of great interest for the Cubs is John Axford. The once dominant closer for the Brewers struggled through 2012 and most of 2013, but seemed to regain his form in St. Louis. The Cardinals are poised to let him go due to his salary which stands at 5 million heading into arbitration. Acquiring Axford makes a lot more sense than another Cardinals reliever that the Cubs have been linked to already this offseason, Edward Mujica.
Axford is a much better fit for the Cubs for a variety of reasons. Axford has not lost the power arm that made him dominant in 2010 and 2011. Axford averaged 95.3 on the fastball last season, and that was even following a period of dead arm to start the year. The Cubs have made a point to stockpile power arms for the bullpen, and Axford would fit right in. The other attractive thing about acquiring John Axford is that the Cubs would control his rights for the next three years even if he signs a one or two year deal. He would be a minimal risk investment with a large amount of upside available to the Cubs.
Axford would also provide veteran leadership in a young bullpen. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have made it clear that all the leadership cannot come from the coaching staff. Axford would provide plenty of experience having pitched on winning teams in the past with both Milwaukee and St. Louis last year. He also would provide a voice of a man that has gone through some serious struggles before regaining his form on the biggest stage.
The reason Axford would choose the Cubs over other organizations is pretty simple. The Cubs would be one of a limited number of opportunities to close given his erratic performance the past two years. An erratic performance that was largely fueled by a ridiculously high HR/FB ratio 19.2% and 17.2% in 2012 and 2013. Axford also has worked with Chris Bosio in the past when both were part of the Milwaukee Brewers organization in 2009. Given Bosio’s reputation that should only make the Cubs a more attractive landing spot for Axford.
Axford should want to come here, and the Cubs should make it happen. Axford is the type of pitcher the Cubs have been targeting for the bullpen. He would allow Pedro Strop to remain in a setup role, and give the Cubs a dynamic hard throwing 1-2 punch for the end of ball games. His statistically indicators point to greater success in the future but he should remain undervalued in the marketplace given the proven closers that are available. His run with St. Louis suggests that the dangerous reliever at the back of the Milwaukee bullpen in 2010 and 2011 is still there.The Axman should indeed cometh to Chicago.