John Axford, Role Model

Baseball has a number of problems right now. The dropping attendance, the fact that spring training is under way now and yet some of the biggest stars- Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Craig Kimbrel etc. – still lack contracts, Rob Manfred’s obsession with the length of the game whether right or wrong…but there’s still a lot that’s right about the game, and about the individuals. Enter John Axford.

Axford is an aging relief pitcher of course. He turns 36 in April and is now 8 years removed from his career best (and league leading) 46 saves with Milwaukee and 7 years down from his career high 75 games. But the lanky rightie still pitches well and spent most of last year with the Jays, going 4-1 with Toronto with a 4.41 ERA over 45 games before being traded to the Dodgers where he looked bad in just 5 games. Oh, and did I mention, Axford was born in Ontario, not far outside of Toronto, and grew up a dyed in the wool Jays fan?

John Axford just signed as a free agent with Toronto, although only on a minor league deal. He says he had offers from other teams but the Canadian had said mid-winter he wanted to pitch in Toronto. He got his wish.

For me, it’s home,” he explained. “It was a dream last year. I wanted to get back into that situation any way I could.” Thankfully, the Blue Jays with their weak pitching staff agreed. Both sides mentioned how the old (in MLB terms ) pitcher could be a mature presence in the clubhouse and help the teenaged kids in Dunedin this March. Manager Charlie Montoyo says “he should be okay. He’s going to help the young kids too.”

He will. And he’ll enjoy playing in front of his hometown crowd wearing the colors he wore as a youthful fan. His kids won’t have to worry about getting bitten by rattlesnakes when home – but that’s a story for another day, and another baseball division. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong with Axford saying he wants to pitch in Toronto either.

The terms of the contact weren’t disclosed yet, but he’s only guaranteed minor league money- truck driver money- but he’ll probably get less than the $1.5 million US he got paid last year. Way less than the $5.5M he got from Oakland two years ago. But… c’mon. He likes Toronto. He was born near it. He’s made probably $20 million playing baseball in his lifetime. He shouldn’t have to worry about his finances until he dies. John understands this. So many don’t, complaining Bryce Harper doesn’t have a contract yet for 2019. Bryce was offered $300M by his old team. Let that sink in for a minute. 300 million. He told them to f-off. We should feel bad now that no one’s wanted to up the ante and ensure him multi-million paydays through 2030? I don’t think so.

No one says Harper should settle for the league minimum wage. Nor Machado, Keuchel or any of the other stars unsigned as of yet. But maybe they need an Axford reality check. They play a game they supposedly love. They’ve already made millions of dollars. They should never have to worry about being homeless or having to go to a shelter for a hot meal, even if they walk away from the sport today. Maybe settling for a little less and settling into a clubhouse and a city where they feel valued and like they can make a positive impact should count for more than an extra million dollars a year. Remember folks, if you’re driving a city bus or working at the neighborhood Target, an extra million dollars to you is not the same as an extra million dollars to them. I know if I had earned an eight-digit figure and I was still in my 30s, I’d value the city’s ambience, weather, fans and coaching staff way , way more than I would whether worry about making $3 million or $4 million! How about you?

John Axford may not be the best pitcher on the Blue Jays roster this season. He should be the favorite pitcher on the Blue Jays roster. And perhaps he should be a favorite for fans in Milwaukee, Chicago, San Diego…


  1. badfinger20

    I can not disagree with what you said moral wise… There are some tweaks that can be made to make the Free Agents move faster…but them asking for a 10-year contract is stupid. If they think GM’s are going to go back to the wheeling and dealing days of old…they are mistaken…and they have Pujols, ARod, Prince Fielder, M Cabrera and more to thank for that…also the owners that signed them. Long contracts hardly ever work…too many down years in the end.

    Now saying that…I do get some of the complaints…some teams are not spending what they can to win. That is an issue MLB needs to fix…not just for the players but for the fans of that city. All the owners are getting 50 million each this year from off of a sale of BAMtech …how many are reinvesting it with the team?

    I’m sure the union pretty much told the two to set the market.

    • Dave

      True indeed. I’ve said it often, the big problem is too many teams being content to not compete (and thereby being able to have a small payroll even if their revenue is comparatively large.) You’re almost certainly right about the union pressuring Bryce and Manny, and it could ultimately backfire. I have through the years read a few players who complained they wanted to take a smaller deal to go to a city they wanted but got a whole lot of flak from the unions and their player friends complaining they could drive down everyone’s salary if they did.

      • badfinger20

        Yes I’ve read about players doing that also…they want to keep the union happy. There is wrong on both sides and they need to figure it out.

    • Dave

      Yeah, assuming that’s correct (I read it too but Padres were saying they hadn’t got the deal done) I’m surprised on 2 levels. First, didn’t think he was going to get that much…I figured tops 8 years and about $220M (or about $27-28M a season) and second, even though I kept seeing SD being a “serious” suitor for the big name free agents, I didn’t really think they’d go all in like that. Improves their team a good deal but I think they still are 3rd at best this season? But supposed to have a great farm system so maybe a year or two they’ll be in the thick of things. What do you think?

      • badfinger20

        They supposedly have one of the best if not the best minor league system… so they can build around him…Now if it goes south they will be trying to dump him in 4 years or so…They gave a horrible contract to Hosmer last year…so now two of their players will be a big percentage of their payroll.

        If the prospects come through…they could be very dangerous in a couple of years.

      • Dave

        Wil Myers has a pretty big contract too, I believe. I think the Machado deal is a bit of a silly risk but can’ t be a hypocrite. Good to see a perennial also-ran pony up some money & make a real shot at being a winner. Now all they need is to bring back those ‘Randy Johnson’ yellow-and-browns.And maybe a pitcher like Jones, 1976 era…

      • badfinger20

        YES I want the late 70s uniforms!!!
        Well Dave it shows smaller market teams can…Pittsburg, KC, and other teams could do the same thing but refuse. The Padres fans are happy I’m sure.

      • Dave

        Ross Atkins, Jays gm had an interesting comment today vis a vis problem with free agency now is that too many premiere ones all have the same agent. Sort of makes sense…if dude is busy trying to ramp up a $200m offer for his top player & talking to half a dozen teams, probably not going to spend much time getting his middle reliever or .260 hitting shortstop a job…

      • badfinger20

        That does make a lot of sense. The agent is interested in one thing…like a lot of the players…more than the players really…money. The middle infielder is not going to bring it in as much.

      • Dave

        As a postscript to the Axford story, was pleased to see Khris Davis express similar sentiments about Oakland, saying he didn’ t want to ‘ break the bank’ and he’d sign for as little (i know, irony of that not lost on me but he’s not incorrect) as $10m a year if they extend his contract for 5Y, which I think would be a 4Y extension. Good on him, hope they go for it…he’s probably on list of only about 4A’s I could name right now.

      • badfinger20

        That is good to hear things like that. How much do they need? I’m surprised the Union isn’t all over him.

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