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…