Detroit Tigers rumors: John Axford getting sharper of late

Scott Boehm

Checklist for John Axford: Proven Closer? Check. Power Arsenal? Check. Pitching well lately? Check. Currently a hot trade commodity? Well...not really.

John Axford burst upon the scene in 2010 as pretty much an unknown guy with a great Civil War moustache and a big heater. However Axford found himself thrust into the Closer role and managed to hold it in fine fashion for two seasons before hitting the rocks during a season that saw the Milwaukee Brewers hopes dashed all too often by an extremely leaky bullpen.

Axford is still in the mix in Milwaukee but in a season that looks to be lost, it seems the Brewers will be looking to move players who have value and start the process of building their next contender. Relievers who can still light up radar guns like Axford should hold some value on this trade market. Let's take a look.

Stats

YEAR ERA SIERA K% BB% HR/FB% BABIP
2013 3.93 3.25 24.5% 8.6% 15.8% .319
CAREER 3.19 2.87 29.0% 10.6% 10.1% .302

(SIERA: Skills Interactive Earned Run Average; BABIP: Batting Average on Balls in Play.)

Stats via Fangraphs

Background

Axford, a Notre Dame product, seems to be a reliever in the Carlos Marmol category. The type who bursts upon the scene and strikes out every batter in sight for two or three years until suddenly the extra burst on the fastball or the extra bite on the slider is gone.

Axford had those two big years in 2010 and 2011. The '11 campaign saw him rack up 46 saves and a 1.95 ERA (plus Cy Young and MVP votes). But things started to unravel in 2012 when his walk-rate and homer-rate both spiked and suddenly Axford was a wobbly, at best, option for a Brewers club that blew more 9th inning leads than any other team in the game that season.

Axford started the '13 season in even worse fashion. An 8.44 ERA in the month of April looked like the end was in sight for him...but he has steadied himself by posting a 3.46 ERA in May and, as of this writing, a 0.00 ERA in the month of June. Many of Axford's peripherals, however, weren't a whole lot better during the decent month of May than they were during the ugly month of April. It's really questionable if he's turning things around or just in a stretch of good results that isn't sustainable.

Why he fits the Tigers

Axford brings along a heater that still hits 95-mph. He is featuring the fastball less and mixing in more slider/curve but it's still definitely a power arsenal to add to the bullpen mix. Being an NL-guy also brings along some level of mystery as AL clubs will have seen less of him the last few years.

Why he doesn't fit the Tigers

The Tigers have their current bullpen woes to fix but that doesn't mean they should take just anybody. Axford has been good for about 4 or 5 weeks of late. He had been struggling for over a season prior to this stretch. How much of an improvement is John Axford over Al Alburquerque or Bruce Rondon? Axford's walk rate is down this year a bit, but can he sustain it?

How likely is a trade?

Axford is still an arbitration eligible player who isn't making big money. The Brewers control his rights until 2017. They don't have to be in a big hurry to move him and they may feel they can resurrect what they once had in prior seasons.

Given the attrition rate of relievers and how bullpens can be fashioned on the cheap, it may be in the Brewers best interest to move Axford if the right offer comes across the table.

What should the Tigers give up?

Axford is making $5M this year and will likely get a bump in the arbitration process next year. Even though arb-awards tend to be about "saves" for relievers and Axford isn't compiling saves this year, he will still be a tad pricey next season and beyond for a non-Closer. The Tigers should be able to tap into their stable of young minor league outfielders to get an Axford Deal done if they decide he's the man. Perhaps a young relief arm gets added to the mix as well. No top prospects should need to be in an Axford acquisition.

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