The Cleveland Indians have agreed to terms on a one-year contract, with free-agent reliever John Axford, as Buster Olney of ESPN.com first reported. He will make $4.5 million in guaranteed money next season, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com, and Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com notes that he can earn an additional $1.75 million in incentives to raise the deal's total value to $6.25 million.
Axford's status as a non-tender with three years of arbitration eligibility remaining (prior to signing) means that he will be under team control with the Indians for two seasons beyond 2014 if they want to keep him around. Cleveland will pay Axford his set salary for 2014 and effectively hold team options for him in 2015 and 2016, when he is arbitration eligible.
The Indians have been looking for late-inning relief in recent weeks, and have been linked to Axford, Joaquin Benoit and Fernando Rodney. The team has been looking to replace closer Chris Perez, who was released after the season after a slew of on- and off-the-field issues ended his tenure in Cleveland.
Axford, who turns 31 at the beginning of next season, drew interest from almost half the league since being non-tendered by the Cardinals. In addition to the Indians, the Orioles, Cubs, Mets and Mariners were among the teams who were reportedly pursuing Axford throughout last week's Winter Meetings.
Axford will presumably take over the Indians' closer role in hopes of regaining the form that led him to being one of the best closers in baseball in 2011. In 74 games with the Brewers that season, the Canadian recorded 46 saves and a 1.95 ERA on his way to finishing ninth in the voting for the NL Cy Young award.
After struggling with Milwaukee for a good part of the 2013 campaign, Axford was shipped to the Cardinals at the end of August in exchange for right-hander Michael Blazek. He was terrific in thirteen appearances for St. Louis in September, posting a 1.74 ERA in 10.1 innings of work before allowing only one earned run in 5.2 playoff innings.
For his career, Axford is 22-19 with a 3.29 ERA and 106 saves in five seasons with the Brewers (2009-2013) and Cardinals (2013).