After watching Stolmy Pimentel and Brandon Cumpton turn close games into sure-fire losses on back-to-back days, the Pirates acquired John Axford from the Indians this evening. It doesn’t appear that the Indians will get anything in return for Axford other than salary relief, as the Pirates are now on the hook for what’s left of the $4.5 million the Indians owed him this year.
Axford is quite a long ways removed from his previous heyday as the Brewers’ closer; since 2012 he’s walked nearly five batters per nine innings and his home run rate is nearly triple what it was in his career-year of 2011. This year he’s walked 30 batters and allowed six homers in his 43 2/3 innings, though he’s also got 55 strikeouts to go with those other numbers. It’s worth noting that Axford had a really nice run for the Indians between May 13th and August 4th, where he had a 2.22 ERA in 31 appearances (28 1/3 innings) and his walk and homer problems were at least somewhat under control, though that ended last week when he walked three hitters and allowed a grand slam in 2/3 of an inning against the Yankees.
Matt Hague was DFA off of the 40-man roster to make room for Axford and it looks like Stolmy Pimentel has an injury or maybe an “injury” that will send him to the disabled list to make room for him on the active roster. Axford is a better option in a close game than Pimentel, Cumpton, Jeanmar Gomez, or Ernesto Frieri (who recently accepted an out-right assignment to Triple-A after clearing waivers), but it’s hard to imagine he’ll be much more reliable than Justin Wilson, given his control problems. In fact, he’s much more homer prone than Wilson, so he’ll probably be a little more frustrating than Wilson is. That’s what qualifies as an upgrade in the Pirates’ bullpen right now: “Will probably only be a little more frustrating than Justin Wilson.”
Still, an upgrade is an upgrade and if anyone can help get Axford’s control on track, it’s Ray Searage and the Pirates’ pitching coaching staff. It’s certainly possible that this trade will work out really well for the Pirates, it’s just that I’m not necessarily sure I’d count on it.