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Rockies failed to cash in on John Axford

In his first year as Rockies general manager, Jeff Bridich was unable to turn one of his first signings into an asset going forward.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

In Jeff Bridich's first season as the Rockies new GM, he quietly acquired a low-risk veteran reliever in hopes that this player would not only better the team, but in hopes that he would be able to build some value and be flipped for a future piece. The decision to acquire the hard-throwing right hander looked like a good one early on, but poor timing and failure to see the warning signs left the Rockies empty handed.

John Axford was a dominant closer in his early years in the major leagues with the Milwaukee Brewers, earning 106 saves from 2009-2011 with an ERA of 2.26. Unfortunately, Axford started to struggle heavily with command in 2012, which resulted in nine blown saves in 44 chances. He allowed a little over five walks per nine innings to go along with a 4.67 ERA.

Both of those descriptions could be used to tell the story of John Axford in 2015.

On Feb. 2, 2015, the Rockies made a low-risk play on the veteran reliever, signing him to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. No longer an elite late-innings reliever, Axford found himself playing for three different teams over the previous two seasons, putting up mediocre numbers during an extended battle with command issues.

At the outset of the season, those problems appeared to be behind him.

Axford broke camp with the big league club after throwing six solid innings while allowing just one hit and striking out eight during Cactus League play, making the Rockies' low-risk move look like a shrewd one to help what was already decent bullpen depth. More importantly, if Axford continued to look good through the first half, the Rockies would be set up to trade him to a contender willing to part with a young minor league arm.

The veteran right-hander started to take on a lot of responsibility in the bullpen in the month of May, as LaTroy Hawkins struggled to get batters out and Adam Ottavino hit the disabled list after he partially tore his UCL, ending his season. Axford stepped up and took over the closer role for the Rockies and looked outstanding in the month of May, collecting six saves over 10 games while allowing just one unearned run.

While the outcomes of these appearances were good, Axford's command issues started to slowly creep in. He allowed six hits and four walks over that stretch, but was able to find success as he allowed a BABIP of just .207. The rising walk rate and low BABIP-against suggested Axford could be due for some future bumps in the road.

The numbers started to work against Axford, as in the final two weeks of June, Axford allowed five earned runs in just 3 1/3 innings, four more runs than he had allowed all year to that point.

★★★

On July 1, Axford was placed on the 7-day family medical emergency list for the second time this season. Axford had been on the list earlier in the year when his two-year-old son was bitten by a rattle snake (His son has since recovered and is said to be doing well). The reason for his leave was unrelated to his son, but was for another personal matter in which he needed the time off to address. Though it's impossible to know for sure, given the timing of the situation to his struggles, whatever Axford was going through may have been affecting his ability to perform on the field.

After an eight-day break from pitching, Axford started to completely unravel in the month of July, which carried on into August, crushing any trade value he had. The struggling right-hander hit rock bottom when he walked in the game-winning run against the St. Louis Cardinals on July 20th to blow his fifth straight save. As of August 17th, Axford has an ERA of 4.66, which has likely scared off any possible suitors.

Prior to the trade deadline, the Tigers had shown interest in Axford, and he also could have been a fit for teams in contention with bullpen issues such as the Rangers, Dodgers, Twins, and Padres. Unsurprisingly, the Rockies were unable to strike a deal.

It’s likely the return on Axford would never have been that much to begin with, as he wasn’t going to be a closer on a contending team, but likely a late-inning guy. Regardless, the Rockies could have stocked another young arm in their flourishing farm system. Even if it was a guy with low upside, it would have further built this team for the future.

Now with just a little over a month left in 2015, the Rockies have nothing to show for their signing of Axford. Although the trade deadline is in the rear-view mirror, Axford has successfully cleared waivers and is eligible to be traded to any team. The Rockies will cross their fingers and hope Axford can string together a few more solid outings in hopes that they can get a deal done before the end of August.