The Detroit Tigers are believed to be one of several teams interested in Rockies reliever John Axford and have inquired on the 32-year-old, according to FOX Sports' Jon Morosi. Axford has 16 saves in 17 opportunities for Colorado this season, along with a 2.36 ERA.
Of interest with Axford is team control. He's under contract through 2016, so trading for him would be much like Joakim Soria or hypothetically Jose Veras -- a lockdown reliever who isn't just a rental. The extra team control would make the price tag for Axford higher, but potentially not as high as the premium (Corey Knebel and Jake Thompson) for Soria.
Axford is no stranger to changing teams mid-season. He was traded from the Brewers to the Cardinals in 2013 and was claimed off waivers by the Pirates after starting 2014 with the Indians. The Rockies mark the fifth team that Axford has played on in the last three seasons.
The reason for the turnover is the former bullpen ace has struggled the last few years. Always a high-strikeout, high-walk pitcher, Axford walked 5.93 hitters per nine innings last year on his way to posting a 4.34 FIP for the second straight year. This year, he's dropped the walks to 3.71 per nine innings.
Even more important in Axford's resurgence has been his ability to keep the ball in the park -- just 0.34 home runs allowed per nine innings, which is odd considering his home park is Coors Field.
Axford's performance is not without red flags. His career strikeout rate is 10.57 K/9, but he sits at just 8.44 K/9 this year -- on pace for a career low. His BABIP is also lower than average, at just .273 this season. His ERA is therefore probably a little unsustainable, but that doesn't mean he's not valuable.
Axford does have experience closing, if you subscribe to the proven closer method. He's got 132 career saves, including a streak of 49 in a row that's fourth in major league history (right behind Detroit legend Jose Valverde).
He currently occupies the closer role for the Rockies, but it's unlikely that Tigers manager Brad Ausmus would supplant Soria as the closer for Axford. However, Axford would make a valuable setup guy, a positioin currently up in the air for the Tigers.
What would Axford cost the Tigers? As previously mentioned, Soria cost two premium prospects (Thompson is moving up the prospect ranks, and Knebel has had the future closer label attached to him). However, it would cost at least one of Detroit's stable of prospects, and probably two.
As always, there's no way to say for sure this deal will happen. However, it shows that Detroit's interest in upgrading the bullpen as we approach the trade deadline is strong. We'll see what comes of it in the following days.