The Cardinals have announced that they have traded a player to be named later for former Milwaukee closer John Axford.
Two years ago when Axford had a 1.95 ERA and 45 saves that might have been a really big deal. But last season his ERA ballooned to 4.67 while he managed 35 saves -- and in 2013 he lost his closer role, earning not a single save while compiling a 4.45 ERA.
Axford is only 30. But he's faded dramatically the last few years with his strikeout totals down, his walk numbers up and his number of hits per inning trending in the wrong direction. He allowed 59 hits in 73 2/3 innings in 2011. Last year he gave up 61 hits in 69 2/3 innings and in 2013 he's allowed 54 hits in 62 innings.
He's matched his career high in home runs allowed -- 10 -- this season with a month left to go. Not a good sign for a late inning relief pitcher.
Why the drop off? Well, according to reports in the Milwaukee press, he's lost five or six miles an hour off his formerly 97 MPH fastball. Brewers manager Ron Roeneke told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Axford has insisted that his arm is fine. But Brewers leadership has been concerned that the formerly dominant closer hasn't been right since the World Baseball Classic put extra strain on his arm early in spring training.
It seemed like Axford started to come around in the middle of the season. But he's been struggling again lately. With mechanics guru Dave Duncan gone from his longtime role as Cardinals pitching coach, I am less optimistic that a magic bullet solution will be found.
I sure hope the Cardinals didn't give up a good prospect for a pitcher who appears to be damaged goods. I would have preferred to see that prospect saved for a potential Dan Haren offer.
Axford is in his second season of arbitration eligibility. So, if he's healthy, the Redbirds could keep him under control for a few years. And that's what worries me about what St. Louis might have agreed to give up for the tall righty. But Axford has reached the $5 million mark this season. And I don't see St. Louis GM John Mozeliak making that sort of investment to keep a player whose health is uncertain.
The Redbirds are likely to try to be working Jason Motte back into the mix next year after a torn elbow ligament ruined the St. Louis closer's season. And it seems unlikely that the Cardinals would be able to keep a guy like Axford if they have to buck up and keep interim closer Edward Mujica who greatly enhanced his value with an All-Star season at the back of the bullpen.