Kill Your Darlings: John Axford as Trade Bait


Here were are again — looking at another possible Milwaukee Brewers trade piece, and trying to steel ourselves against the possibility of losing him.

Today, the discussion hinges around Milwaukee Brewers reliever John Axford. If you are one of those fans that chases down rumors endlessly, the you know that it is possible that this particular article may be obsolete by the end of the day.

Axford is apparently already being thrown out in discussions with the Arizona Diamondbacks as a possible trade piece. We’ll get into that in a minute, but for now, let’s take a look at John Axford and what makes him so trade-able.

John Axford has done a lot in his career to keep the Milwaukee Brewers in the hunt — being traded may be the last thing he does for them. (Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)

The Situation: John Axford has been a regular part of the Milwaukee Brewers bullpen since 2010, having seen only seven games in his first year with the Crew in ’09. Since then, he has had a few bumps and bruises along the way, but ultimately has proven to be the kind of pitcher who can take charge in multiple relief roles.

He has notched 106 career saves, 301 strikeouts, and a 3.18 career ERA. 2013 started rough for him — much like 2012 — and he once again finds himself on the outside looking in when it comes to the closer role discussion. While his days of finishing out games may have temporarily come to a close (horrible pun not intended, I promise) he has performed wonderfully in the 7th and 8th inning. He is currently riding a streak of 23 scoreless appearances, totaling 21 innings of work. During that time he’s fanned 20 batters and walked only seven.

While we could argue the contextual significance of his appearances, it largely is beside the point. He is doing job and doing it well when the team is asking him to do it. He’s getting rid of batters, keeping the ball down, and giving the team a chance to win some games. There’s not much more you can ask from a guy.

Why He Could Go: There are a few things at work here. Mainly — a solid reliever is always a good way to sweeten a trade deal, because a bullpen is never, ever, good enough. And there’s no shortage of teams out there who wouldn’t take another consistent piece in the back half of a game. A guy like Axford, who can use good deception, mix his pitches, and has a high 90’s fastball is always going to be desirable.

Except, maybe, to the Milwaukee Brewers going forward. The Brewers have what they believe to be the closer of the near future in Jim Henderson – and with Francisco Rodriguez still hanging on and performing well it’s going to leave someone by the wayside in the short-term. John Axford may be that guy.

Axford is also going into another arbitration year, and when Milwaukee balked

Who would be willing to take on Axford as part of their bullpen — if you see what he’s done for most of 2013, the question is: who wouldn’t? (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

at a long-term extension for the then-closer, he signed a one-year, five million dollar contract and the pair kicked the can down the road. This presents a problem for the team going forward. If it is to be believed that the Milwaukee Brewers are rebuilding and focusing on youth, than a contract like Axford’s becomes somewhat unsustainable. Especially if he isn’t going to be holding a position that justifies that kind of salary. From a purely financial standpoint (which, trust me, covers almost everything in baseball) it makes a heck of a lot sense to deal Ax now.

While I believe that keeping Axford on the team would be the right decision going forward — he is a widely respected member of this team and the oft-mentioned leader of the bullpen, I couldn’t in good conscience watch a good deal slip through the team’s fingers because they didn’t want to part with him.

I don’t know for sure that he will be dealt along with Yovani Gallardo to Arizona – or if someone else from the NL West will try to scoop him up, or whatever other scenario you’d like to throw out. I do know that John Axford would make a consistent and effective reliever wherever he went. And I think every other team knows that, too.