In K-Rod Trade, Brewers Bet on Axford

Brewers GM Doug Melving might have been diplomatically non-committal when discussing Francisco Rodriguez‘s role, but it’s clear to just about everyone that he will not be the team’s closer. He’s qualified, to be certain. Although his stuff has diminished a bit he still strikes out more than a batter per inning and for the second straight year is walking fewer batters than in the past. The Brewers, however, have two strong reasons to keep him in the setup role: the presence of John Axford, and the $17.5 million 2012 option that will vest if Rodriguez finishes 21 more games this season. But if something goes wrong with the former, it could lead to the latter.

For the past two seasons Axford has been Rodriguez’s superior. While Rodriguez has held his own with a 2.61 ERA and 2.78 FIP, Axford has been a measure better with a 2.63 ERA and 2.18 FIP. He has also struck out more while walking just a shade more, and has allowed home runs at about half of Rodriguez’s rate. The Brewers don’t even have to use Rodriguez’s vesting option as an excuse to use him in the setup role. They have their man, and as long as he’s healthy and effective Axford will remain in the closer’s role. What happens, though, if one of those conditions is no longer true?

As it regards remaining effective, the Brewers should have little to fear. There was some anxiety on Opening Day when Axford, who came out of nowhere in 2010, allowed four runs in 0.2 innings and blew the save. We’ve so often seen relievers storm onto the scene one year and then recede back to the place from which they came the next. But Axford quickly showed that he was no flash in the pan. Through his next 41 appearances he has allowed just 11 more runs, leaving him with a 2.83 ERA and 2.26 FIP. Even with his still-low home run rate, 0.44 per nine, he still has an xFIP of just 2.53. In other words, it appears as though Axford did make a breakthrough last year and will continue serving the Brewers well as their closer.

Still, we’re dealing with just under 100 innings in the last two years, meaning ye olde small sample size caveat still applies. Again, it doesn’t appear to be that great a concern, especially for the remainder of 2011, given Axford’s results and peripherals. But maybe it took 100 innings for the league to get a read on him. He wouldn’t be the first relief pitcher to dominate for a season and a half and then fall off the face of the earth. Injury is another concern — not specifically to Axford, but to pitchers in general. You never know when a guy will need to miss time. If either of those things were to happen, the Brewers could not justify keeping Rodriguez from the closer role. That could have enormous implications for the 2012 team.

The Brewers already have $61.5 million committed to six players in 2012, and that doesn’t count some third-year arbitration raises, including a presumably large one to Shaun Marcum. They’ll also need a new shortstop, lest they pick up Yuniesky Betancourt‘s $6 million option (which, since he has a $2 million buy-out, would raise the payroll to $65.5 million for seven players). The biggest concern, of course, is first base, which Prince Fielder will leave vacant. Should Rodriguez’s option vest, the Brewers would be on the hook for $79 million to seven players in 2012. If they picked up Betancourt’s option that would be $83 million, which is the size of their 2011 payroll.

Everything might seem fine in Milwaukee, with Axford protecting the Brewers from the payroll killer that is Rodriguez’s option. But all it takes is a small strain or a bout of ineffectiveness for that to change. The Brewers are clearly all-in this year, and if something happened to Axford they’d have to use Rodriguez as the closer. There is no way around it, both in terms of need and in justification (the union could conceivably file a grievance if the Brewers turned to, say, Takashi Saito as the closer in Axford’s stead). If that were to happen, the Brewers could find themselves in an unenviable position for 2012. Unless they greatly expanded payroll, they’d head into the season with major weaknesses.

Earlier today, Steve said the trade made “a surprising amount of sense” for the Brewers. In a vacuum, it’s tough to disagree. They strengthen their pen with one of the game’s better relievers, and they don’t even have to use him in the closer role. But if anything happens to Axford, the entire outlook changes. What once made sense now looks like an enormous burden on the Brewers. Really, the deal was a big bet on Axford. If he remains healthy and effective the deal should work out well. If not, well, the Brewers could be scrambling for solutions in the 2012 off-season.




Print This Post



Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.


46 Responses to “In K-Rod Trade, Brewers Bet on Axford”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. theperfectgame says:

    Potential draft pick compensation helps further justify the risk for the Brewers, but it’s definitely still a big bet on Axford staying healthy. Whatever, I’m just happy the option is no longer the Mets’ problem.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Nate says:

      Milwaukee won’t offer arbitration, and therefore no draft pick(s).

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • theperfectgame says:

        Too bad for Milwaukee. You think Rodriguez would hire Boras if he intended to accept arbitration? You think Boras would let him?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Sultan of Schwinngg says:

        I’ll bet this trade undermined Boras’ hiring. I don’t think K-Rod expected it at all, not that the relationship can’t pay dividends next year.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. jorgath says:

    Honestly, I expect the Brewers to be “scrambling for solutions in the 2012 off-season” in any case. I honestly don’t think they’re looking to compete in 2012. It’s a now-or-nothing strategy.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Telo says:

      It’s not quite that do or die, but this certainly is a big year for them.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jay says:

      Fielder to Gamel is probably a -3 win move. Aside from that I don’t see much change from 2011 to 2012. 2013 is the cliff.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • LionoftheSenate says:

        Exactly. 2013 is the cliff. Sheep fans don’t have minds of their own, keep repeating the lie that 2012 is it. Really? Everyone is back next year but Fat Prince. If the team finds a replacement SS and league avg 3b and 1b, they will not miss a beat.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • topper009 says:

      Right now Prince + Yuni + McGehee = 3.7 + (-0.6) + (-0.8) = 2.3 WAR. So if the Brewers can replace these 3 players with 3 players that add up to 4.6 WAR (only 1.5/player) their overall team can be just as good as this year, except hopefully next year Zach Greinke’s results will look like Zach Greinke instead of Dave Bush

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Frankie says:

    There is absolutely no reason barring injury to shakeup the closing role in MIL right now. All of this banter is because we are 1. in a slow week due to the break and 2. Boras is stirring the pot. Axford is the guy in MIL and there is nothing in his short history to suggest any type of collapse. On the flipside, there is all kinds of history to suggest K-Rod will collapse either mentally or physically. If MIL messes with the 9th inning roles on non-back to back days they are asking for big problems. K-Rod said he would set-up for a contender. So that’s what he gets. Boras is the one suggesting that he won’t.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • joser says:

      No, the “banter” is because the Brewers traded for K-Rod. It’s not like this is all agent-fueled speculation. The trade happened, so it’s natural and appropriate to ask “what’s next” and “what happens if”? Axford may be in little risk of collapsing, but unless he’s secretly an android sent back in time by Skynet, he’s just as subject to injuries and accidents as any other pitcher. Obliques get strained, comebackers cork the guy on the mound, pitchers get whacked covering plays at first or home. Crap happens. It’s not “stirring the pot” to think through the implications.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. William says:

    There is no way in hell the brewers would pick up betancourt’s option.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • joser says:

      Maybe not, but then they need to find another shortstop (and they’re still on the hook for the $2M buyout). They can certainly find something better than Yuni but (with that $2M factored in) it’s unlikely to be cheaper.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Telo says:

    “They strengthen their pen with one of the game’s better relievers, and they don’t even have to use him in the closer role. But if anything happens to Axford, the entire outlook changes”

    There’s what, a 5% chance he gets hurt? It’s called taking a risk, and this is a tiny one.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Guy says:

      How’d you figure that out?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • LionoftheSenate says:

        K Rod needs to close for nearly 6-8 weeks to get 21 games finished. Axford only has to make it through the next 3-4 weeks and this issue is moot.

        The Yankees already wasted more money on Jeter’s deal than this, relax.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Bill says:

        The Yankees can afford to waste a lot more money than the Brewers.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. STEALTH says:

    Awfully pessimistic…

    Even if Axford were to get injured, as long as it wasn’t right away, that might give them enough time to slow K-Rod’s games-finished pace (off the top of my head, I want to say he’s finished 34 games, 55 is the clause?). If Axford were to go down in mid-August, K-Rod might get close to his target. And even if that happened, they’d just have to use Saito if K-Rod had gone the night before, and all would be well. I really don’t see a way that K-Rod gets his $17.5 mil unless Axford gets seriously injured in the next couple weeks.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. Franco says:

    FanGraphs…. more like BrewerGraphs around here lately. 5 of the last 7 posts are about them lol

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Rob says:

    Saito of course was better than Rodriquez last year so I’m not even sure that using Saito to close can cause a grievance. And Hawkins has been great this season. The biggest issue is that both are old enough that they might not go too many days in a role. Really the Milwaukee bullpen before this was good save for Roenicke insisting on trotting Loe out vs LHers.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. Rick says:

    I wonder if an Axford injury might actually force the Brewers into embracing the notion of changing the commonly accepted bullpen structure.

    I can picture the grievance hearing now. “When Axford got hurt, it forced us to re-evaluate the way we used our bullpen. While we will stipulate to the fact that Rodriguez was our most effective reliever, we had a legitimate baseball reason for not using him exclusively in the ninth inning. There is a wealth of baseball research showing teams would be better off if they used their best reliever in the highest leverage situations instead of simply to accumulate ‘saves.’”

    The brief would have footnotes to Fangraphs, THT, The Book, and a bunch of other stat-based sites and publications. Sure, the reason would be to avoid paying the money, but they might stumble onto a proper position by accident. A guy can hope, right?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. DirtyDisa says:

    If a team buys out a player (in this case, Rodriguez has a 3.5 million dollar buyout if the option doesn’t vest), the player is still able to be offered arbitration, correct? (Sorry if this was already covered somewhere.)

    If that is the case, it could lead to an interesting standoff at the end of the year. By most accounts, the Brewers would not want to Francisco to accept arbitration, but they would take the comp pick(s). By most accounts, Boras would not want to either be offered or accept arbitration. Boras doesn’t want a 1 year deal at Francisco’s age, and he doesn’t want the compensation pick to drive down Francisco’s value. Boras could threaten the Brewers by telling them he would accept arbitration, but he likely wouldn’t call their bluff. Or maybe Boras would accept the arbitration and take the 1 year 10-12 million he might get. Since Boras wasn’t the agent for Rodriguez at the time of his last deal, one would think Boras will make sure he hits the open market and gets locked into another 3-4 year deal before his performance regresses any further.

    Of course, if a player who is bought out can not be offered arbitration, I have wasted my time typing this, and I am thoroughly embarassed.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • balagast says:

      That’s a good question and one I was wondering myself.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • DD says:

      He can be offered arbitration, but won’t accept. He hired Boras to get a big FA contract.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Mcneildon says:

      I’m not sure of the arbitration/buyout specifics either, but I don’t think there is any way Rodriguez will

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Mcneildon says:

        get another 3-4 year, high dollar contract. If he were in a position to get 10-12 million in arbitration, that very well could be as much as he would get on a 2 year deal on the open market.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. Dave Fleming says:

    Just a question: does K-Rod’s games finished clause count postseason games? I assume it doesn’t.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. MikeD says:

    The vesting option is pretty much non-existant here, which is why the Brewers made the deal. They have control over how K-Rod is used, which means they are the least concerned about the option kicking in. Certainly there is the possibility that Axford will injury his arm, but the Brewers still have control over how K-Rod will be used.

    K-Rod has appeared in 34 games closed do far. The Brewers have played 92 games, leaving 70 to go. Even if Axford starts pitching poorly, they’re not going to pull him from the closer’s role right away. He’ll have to do it over a period of weeks, and then even if they pulled him, they’d give him another shot to regain it. The Brewers are within about three weeks of not having to even vaguely think of the vesting option. By that point, we’ll be a week into August and too much of the season will be behind us for K-Rod to get his vesting option, even if he becomes the full-time closer in August.

    So unless Axford blows his arm out in the next couple of weeks, the Brewers have nothing to worry about.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Hank says:

      You can still finish games as a setup guy….
      - extra innings
      - coming in in the 9th of a tie game and giving up the lead?
      - If you are down 1 in the 9th do you bring in the closer instead or Saito(if he hasn’t been in the game yet)?
      - not sure if pitching the 8th on the road counts (where the home team doesn’t bat in the 9th)…. but a setup guy can get some of these chances to keep a game close (or give up a run in coming into a tied game in the bottom of the 8th)
      - You also could have double headers or situations where Axford’s worked several days in a row

      While it will eventually take an Axford injury or complete ineffectiveness for him to get the remaining 21, he may rack up a few finished games as a setup guy, meaning a potential injury/ineffectiveness by Axford may not have to come as quickly as most people are assuming

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • topper009 says:

        The guy the Brewers have been almost exclusively using, besides only the last week, as the setup guy this year has been Kameron Loe. So far this year Loe has 10 GF in 92 team games. If K-Rod is used the same way he wont come close. Loe also has 1 save this year.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • MikeD says:

        Hank, it’s possible, but my point is it really isn’t possible. The Brewers made the deal knowing they’ll never let K-Rod get those 21 finished games. It’s not going to happen. Even if Axford shows up tonight with his arm in a sling!

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. DirtyDisa says:

    As topper points out, Loe has been exclusively used (most likely overused) in the setup role this year. If he continued as the set-up guy at his same rate, he would have less than 8 more games finished going forward. The Brewers will definately more aggressive with Rodriguez finishing games out of the set-up role than they were with Loe, but it looks as if about a month or so in the setup role will secure the un-vesting of the option. I think he will end up with 46-49 games finished. The Brewers will make sure Rodriguez finishes games semi-regularly so they don’t seem as if they are going out of their way to make sure he doesn’t finish games, if that makes any sense.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. Abraham says:

    This article is just noise. Nothing says the Brewers can’t put Hawkins or Saito in at closer if needed. He’s not going to “save” 21 games the rest of the way even if Ax blew out his am now. And there would be no credence to allegations that the Brewers were not putting him in position to “finish” games. Non-story. Fangraphs is slipping.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. Robbie G. says:

    If I could take out all of my money in savings, take out as many loans as possible, and bet all of it on K-Rod’s vesting option not kicking in next season, I would do it, and it would be the most conservative financial decision that I have ever made in my life.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. Ian says:

    I like him better when he’s named “Doug Melving.”

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  17. LionoftheSenate says:

    The Brewers would have to be as stupid as the NY Mets to let the K Rod option vest.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  18. pft says:

    The Mets had no choice but to trade K-Rod because they had no way to prevent the option vesting without a grievance being filed.

    Brewers traded for him to be a set up guy and can use him anyways they want, and hell will freeze over before he finishes 21 games with the Brewers.

    Even if Axford got hurt at some point, they would only need to use K-Rod in save opportunities.

    I am surprised the Yankees did not try to do this deal, but I suppose the Mets would prefer to do it with the Brewers to curry favor with Bud.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  19. DaveinEg says:

    Everyone talks about the Brewers as if they were still a shoestring operation owned by the Seligs.

    Brewers figure to draw 3 million this season, which they will have done in 3 of the last 4 seasons. Their local tv ratings, while the market is small, are near the top in all baseball. Attanasio has far deeper pockets than the Seligs ever dreamed of having.

    Attanasio can afford to take a risk like this. He also, contrary to conventional wisdom, is not going roll over and let Fielder walk without offering a substantial amount for him to stay.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current ye@r *