The Indians have been making lots of "little" moves this offseason in trying to address their shortcomings from last year. And by little I mean moves that aren't going to attract national or (in some case) local attention. The signing of David Murphy was barely a blip on the national baseball radar, as was last week's signing of John Axford.
Axford's best season in the big leagues came back in 2011, when he posted a 1.95 ERA and only allowed 4 home runs in 73.2 innings. He actually got some Cy Young award votes that season. After that came a season with a much worse ERA but with 35 shiny saves, then a season in which he was sort-of demoted from the closer's role when the Brewers acquired Francisco Rodriguez. Last season, after losing the closer's job completely, he was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinal at the end of August largely because they wanted to get something for him before having to non-tender him after the season. He pitched batter for the Cardinals, but he was non-tendered anyway, St. Louis having several better closer options on their staff.
Like with David Murphy, the Indians are acquiring Axford after a bad season in the hopes that that bad season was just a temporary downturn rather than evidence of a career-ending trend. Axford hasn't lost any velocity since his dominant stretch early in his career, he's still missing lots of bats.The Indians undoubtedly chose to target Axford rather than Joaquin Benoit (who has been a very good reliever over the past 3-4 years) because Benoit will probably sign a two or three-year contract with a $7-8M AAV over the life of the deal while Axford's deal is only for one year, they'll only on the hook for $4.5M if he's a disaster, and if everything works out they could keep him through the 2015 season. In other words, it's about the money. But Axford is not Joe Borowski, a guy without much stuff that seems to get buy with pure moxie. There's a decent chance that Axford is one of the better closers in the AL next year. Or he could flame out, and by May Cody Allen is closing games.
After the Indians signed David Murphy, it was only a matter of time until they dealt Stubbs. He was going to be more valuable to other teams as a center fielder, so unless the Indians traded Michael Bourn instead, Stubbs was going to be on someone else's roster by the start of Spring Training. The Rockies should give Stubbs more playing time than the Indians were going to give him, though it looks like he's going to be more of a fourth outfielder. I'm not sure that's going to work out, as Stubbs has never been a true backup, but he'll probably be playing quite a bit in center field.
The Indians get two things from the trade: salary relief, and Josh Outman, a second LOOGy (Left-handed One Out Guy) for Terry Francona. Outman's splits are rather dramatic, with left-handed batters hitting .189/.251/.272 and right-handers hitting .303/.376/.468 against him over the course of his career. Outman's acquisition means that Nick Hagadone, Scott Barnes, and Colt Hynes will likely be spending a good part of their seasons in AAA. It also means that there will probably be only a couple spots in the bullpen open for competition this spring.
Latest 25-man/40-man rosters (click to embiggen):
For now I've projected the Indians to carry eight pitchers in the bullpen with three position players on the bench. That configuration seems to be Terry Francona's best-case scenario, and with many more position players available on the 40-man roster this season, that may be doable. But with the Indians likely adding Jason Giambi to the roster and with their interest in Wilson Betemit, they'll probably end up with a standard 7-man bullpen by the time the season begins in Oakland.
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Unfortunately the city of Nantucket is not included.
The White Sox seem to be bucking the trend of bullpens that miss bats. Instead, they're going with power arms that induce weak contact.