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Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Pirates Acquire John Axford

The Pittsburgh Pirates have acquired John Axford, per Ken Rosenthal.

Axford has had some good surface numbers with the Cleveland Indians this year, posting a 3.92 ERA in 43.2 innings. He also has a 10.5 K/9 rate. However, he’s posting a 6.2 BB/9 rate and was demoted from the closer’s role earlier in the season. He’s making $4.5 M this year, and is under team control through the 2016 season.

This looks like another Ernesto Frieri situation where the Pirates are trying to turn things around with a formerly established relief pitcher. In this case, there’s less risk, since Axford isn’t doing horrible. Even with the walks, he has a 3.98 xFIP. That’s better than what some of the guys have in the Pirates bullpen. If they can find a way to drop the walk rate, he could be the relief pitcher they need in the 7th inning. Last year Axford struggled with the Brewers, only for the Cardinals to acquire him and see him turn into a dominant reliever down the stretch. The Pirates can only hope for the same result.

No word yet on who the Pirates are giving up in the deal.

UPDATE 4:29 PM: It’s a waiver claim, according to Buster Olney. So no players are given up in return.

UPDATE 4:43 PM: Rob Biertempfel says that Stolmy Pimentel is the corresponding move.

David Manel tweeted at the same time that Pimentel just left Hurdle’s office, so this appears to be informed speculation.

If that’s the case, then this would cover the 25-man and 40-man spots needed for Axford.

UPDATE 5:02 PM: It’s still unconfirmed that Pimentel is the corresponding move. If that is the case, then it’s not a good swap. Axford’s addition as a waiver claim isn’t bad. Minus the $1.1 M he is owed, it’s basically a free shot at a guy who has shown at times that he can be a good reliever in the majors. Axford has struggled this year, and is a project. He could quickly turn things around, but there’s no guarantees. He’s less of a project than Frieri, but still a project.

Pimentel is also a project. He’s got a lot of upside, but is out of options. He hasn’t had the best numbers this year, but also really hasn’t been given much of a shot. The Pirates have used him like a Rule 5 guy for most of the year, getting him in games about once a week. Lately he has been getting more regular appearances, and by “regular appearances” I mean he’s only had three days in between appearances. It’s hard for a reliever to establish any kind of a rhythm with that going on. It’s even more difficult for a guy like Pimentel, who has been a starter for most of his minor league career.

If this was a debate between an established reliever and a project, it would be one thing. Both of these guys are projects, neither provide guarantees, and there’s more long-term benefit with giving Pimentel a real shot than there is with giving Axford a chance. It wouldn’t make sense at all if the Pirates don’t give Pimentel a real chance, only to give real shots to guys like Axford and Frieri.

That said, right now there is nothing confirmed on Pimentel. Right now all we know is that he was in Clint Hurdle’s office, and it’s assumed that he’s the corresponding move.

UPDATE 6:12 PM: Matt Hague was DFAd for Axford. Pimentel is expected to go on the DL tomorrow to create a 25-man spot.

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Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.


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William Wallace

I love reclamation projects. Not enough is done in this country to reclaim land, older building or abandoned railroad beds. As for the Pirates and their reclamation efforts do you think as fans we deserve better. Perhaps Houston Street would have been nice. Go online line and try to get four tickets together for any remaining home. Good Luck. PBC is raking money and we get a bone to chew on. Nutting owed Selig a favor and as a good ole boy lead the Manfred parade. Don’t complain about the Dodgers or the Yankees they spend what they make.Although they make a disproportionate amount the the PBC at least they spend it. We are under the belief that we have a chance to keep Martin – no way PBC is dishing that money out. Oh by the way – Jayson Nix – why do we trot this guy out.


While I find it fundamentally inappropriate that teams who receive taxpayer funds to build stadiums, etc., have private books, there does appear to be some relationship between income and expenditures on player salaries by the various MLB teams. Although the information at the following sites is incomplete and partial, it is somewhat helpful: http://www.forbes.com/mlb-valuations/list/ and http://www.usatoday.com/sports/mlb/salaries/2014/team/all/ Two notable outliers – how do the Brewers outspend the Pirates so significantly on player salaries, and how unhappy would we be if we were Cubs fans? For example, it would be nice to have the Brewer’s Ramirez playing third base for us now, and Harrison at second. As for your question about Jayson Nix, I can’t answer that – its pretty bad when a player, supposedly in the game for his “defense,” during a span of ten games, pretty much loses two games (Arizona and Detroit) with defensive errors/misplays. On the other hand, he is hitting a “hard” .138 with a 386 OPS!


Seems like there’s a reasonable chance this could work out. Last year with the Brewers, Axford had a worse era and WHIP than he does this year with an AL team playing in the DH league – he was acquired by the Cardinals and pitched well for them down the stretch and pitched even better in the 2013 post season (1.59 era and 1.06 WHIP) including two scoreless appearances against the Bucs. It also seems like the law of averages would suggest that its about time for the Pirates to fix a relief pitcher this year. He certainly has a power arm. He looks like a guy who if he walks someone he needs to come out of the game unless maybe he has two outs in the inning. Statistically, he’s pitched substantially better this year than Stolmy so he is a step (maybe a small step, maybe more than a small step) toward improving the bullpen for the stretch run (assuming Cutch and Walker get back reasonably soon). At least the Pirates are doing something to try to correct a serious problem in the bullpen – I mean, hey, they’re even picking up some salary!

R Edwards

Why? Another ex-closer who we think we can fix?? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to go inhouse with Mazzaro or Oliver? Why not use Cumpton or Sadler? Why does this team distrust its own prospects so much??
This is starting to look comical…..if it wasn’t so pathetic.

Bryan Graham

Did anybody honestly think they would be able to get any real pitching help after the non-waiver trade deadline? If there is any real help that clears waivers, you can rest assured it’s because of their contract situation and we all know the Bucs aren’t going to go there. They made their bed and now they have to sleep in it.

Monsoon Harvard

Hopefully Searage & Benedict can do something with him. He’s still better than Frieri at least.

Chicken on the Hill

So, it is possible that Axford is the PTBNL when Pirates traded Chris Dickerson from Indianapolis to Cleveland?


No, the Indians ran him through waivers and the Pirates put in a claim. The Indians decided to save a million and change.

John Lease

Axford blows. He’s been throwing gasoline on fire for years, the absolute worst kind of pickup. I’d rather have Stolmy than him, and that’s not saying much.


SMFH at that one ! Who are you kidding ? Weren’t you watching 2 out of Pimental’s last 3 appearances,or do you think he will improve in a playoff chase ? The guy has no command,absolutely ZERO !


I am not sure I really want to be too critical on Pimentel. He has awesome stuff…and when he’s on he really does put on a show.


You don’t have to criticize Pimental. I will accept the duty. I watched him last season in AA, and he benefitted greatly from being at a level with in inexperienced hitters. He has NO consistent command.


Hague? Not McGuiness or Morel or Angel Sanchez? Ok…..


I’m with you Jared— why do you DFA your best AAA hitter?


But you don’t spell Lambo H-A-G-U-E. So when did they DFA their best AAA hitter?


I do not mean to imply that Hague is going to be some world-beater or anything…but against the exact same competition as McGuiness and Morel this year Hague is clearly outhitting them and can play multiple positions: 1B, 3B, and OF.

McGuiness: .255 and .731 OPS
Morel: .246 and .665 OPS (why was he in the Majors again?)
Hague: .267 and .814 OPS

Let’s DFA the guy with an .814 OPS…


Not a fan.


two words: can’t hurt.

John Lease

One word, can.


The pirates biggest area of need is middle relief, axford goes a long way towards shoring this part of the pen up. Do I wish they would get somebody that is not a castoff or reclamation project? Sure I do but let’s face it the fo is not going to do that as the track record this year shows, starting with the off season to the present. Look at the bright side, axford can’t be any worse than what they have been trotting out there in the seventh to get shelled.


Stormy isn’t pennant ready, at the least a ford has been a decent playoff arm. It’s an upgrade and that’s all you can ask for.


It’s lots of walks AND home runs.

He does have a very good Contact% and SwStr%. I think the Bucs front office like that.


I’ll say it again, it almost seems like they (management) just aren’t really on board with winning. I realize this teams needs bullpen help in the worst way, but come on. If they really wanted to win, they could have put in a waiver claim on Papelbon, he is a complete ass, and has a crap contract, but does anyone really get the feeling that Amarillo would just dump him? I don’t, put in the claim and try to work out a deal where Philly eats some money and give up a low level prospect.

John Axford is not the answer and Searage does not have enough time to work with him. Of course, this is only my opinion, and I am not trying to be all doom and gloom. I just don’t see the point in this particular move.


Amen! It feels like the FO is trying to toss crumbs at the starving fan base in an effort to keep us from storming the Bastille in anger over no moves at all. So, they sign a blunted Ax, thinking we will recall his days in Milwaukee when he would torch us. Time out of mind…


Yeah, because Amaro having an insanely high price on Marlon Byrd and refusing to move him as a result means he would give away a much better player for “low level prospects and money”. Amaro is stupid and asked for insanely high returns which is why he was unable to rid himself of any of his guys. You dont get Papelbon away from philly for a low level guy.


why not send Cump back down? Or the dreaded “arm sorness” for Stolmy (just ask the Brewers how to do it) until 9/1? Can’t believe they can’t stash him for 17 days. If that’s the case this is a bad deal – gotta give Stolmy a chance next year – if it doesn’t work out then you cut ties


Exactly right. Wouldn’t be terrible to get Pimentel to Benedict. We can’t be a little creative here? We have enough crap on the 40-man that we could easily part with without having to give up someone with actual talent.

Ian Rothermund

What Pimentel needs beyond that meeting with Benedict is some serious time in a winter league to either get regular time as a reliever or work on getting back in the rotation. Personally I think it would be great if he could somehow get back down to AAA for the beginning of next season and work on being a rotation option.


I agree. You cannot improve or expect to be consistent without consistent reps.


I like the move alot. Hopefully this will shut up the cynics, and help this bullpen


Cynics??? Look at his awful stats for goodness sake. The 2014 version of Ax is a dull, blunted version of a once sharp and powerful closer. Good grief, I suppose you got all misty-eyed when the Bucs signed Nix and Cabrera, too. BN, FC and NH thank you for your “blind” support.

John Lease

Remember that the first time he pitches.


How about I remember it the 5th or 6th times he pitches. One bad outing proves nothing


Couldn’t they just as easily send Cumpton back down and get rid of a 40 man filler like Angel Sanchez? Or McGuiness or Morel?


Poor, poor Clint Hurdle…


Um…….I’m ok with this. The walks scare me but he’s worth a shot since they just picked up salary. They may have handpicked him and noticed something on his mechanics. I imagine this is how it works. Jim and Ray sit in a dark room looking at 28 hours of film in a 24 hour day looking for projects. They pause the film and point to something and say – we can fix that. Let’s get him.

S Brooks

Considering what the Tribe got back for Cabrera and Masterson, I don’t expect it to be much.

John Lease

Hardly, he’s worse than Wilson.

S Brooks

He had one huge meltdown on August 8 that skewed his stats. Through August 4 here they are side by side:

ERA Ax 3.14 Wilson 4.46
FIP Ax 4.22 Wilson 3.46 (Ax has had a high HR/FB rate)
xFIP Ax 3.73 Wilson 4.00
WHIP Ax 1.40 Wilson 1.42
K%-BB% Ax 12.6% Wilson 11.5%
Shutdowns:Meltdowns Ax 15:8 Wilson 12:8

The next time Wilson melts down (as he does every 4 appearances or so), Axford will once again have the statistical advantage.

He’s. No. Worse. Than. Wilson.


Are we really debating who’s the cream of the crap?

S Brooks

Sadly, we’re debating whether Axford is the 4th or 5th best arm in a 7-man bullpen on a contending team.


Axford and Wilson have the same number of meltdowns on the year, nine. I find this move interesting, maybe the Pirates see something, maybe they like that cutter he started throwing that has a solid ground ball rate, maybe he is tipping pitches again and think they can fix that.


However it is a little disingenuous to claim Axford is had been better than Wilson, since Wilson entered the league in 2012.

Pitcher ERA / FIP / xFIP / K% – BB%

Wilson: 3.03 / 3.34 / 3.82 / 11.2%
Axford: 4.25 / 4.32 / 3.56 / 14.3%

He made his name suppressing home runs in Miller Playground, that seems to have left him. It could be the park, it could be that he throws hard fastballs and doesn’t always know were they are going. Maybe PNC helps, but the rest of season projections favor Wilson, and I doubt the adjusting them for PNC will significantly alter the numbers.

S Brooks

Let’s leave aside the pointlessness of projecting performance for a 16 inning sample for the moment.

For ROS the FIP for Wilson is 3.85 and Axford is 4.04, which over 16 innings is well within the margin of error (about 1/3 run). ZIPS thinks Wilson will outperform his FIP by a lot, and Axford will underperform his, and I don’t buy that for a second. Axford is leaving behind an historically bad defense in Cleveland (look at the runs below average, not the ranking, the Pirates are 31 runs better so far this season). Yet the projections call for his BABIP to rise 65 points. Some of that is regression, but it would also be the 2nd highest BABIP of his career, and 20 points higher than his career norm. That’s worth 1-3 hits over the rest of the season, anywhere from 20-60+ points off that projected ERA.

He’s also leaving behind the 9th friendliest HR park for the stingiest. All but one of his HR allowed have come in launching pads: 3 in Cleveland (#9), 1 in Yankee Stadium (#2), 1 in the Cell (ranks #16 this year, but was #7 , #4 and #5 the prior years). Only 3 of the 6 HR’s he’s given up would have cleared the fence in PNC (2 in the field of play, 1 against Clemente wall).

If you normalize the dingers – Ax’s HR/FB % is 3x Wilson’s – Axford is the better pitcher. Of course, Ax is more homer prone than Wilson, so that’s not really sporting. But bring Ax’s HR/FB% down to just 2x Wilson’s and they’re identical. And I would submit that, pitching in PNC, his HR/FB will decline.

Wilson has greater upside, as he showed last year. He just hasn’t been that guy in 2014.


When I said we needed a RH RP back in July, I wasn’t thinking of this. Six walks per 9, yikes.


BTW, Frieri’s xFIP when acquired was 3.18 and he wasn’t walking everyone in sight. This is a bigger risk than Ernesto, not the stuff you really want to do this late in a pennant chase. BTW, who is going to make room?


What did we give up? I’m afraid we gave up Mercer.

edit: oh ok, waiver claim. that’s fine then.


Mercer for John Axford? LOL! Just as much chance of it being Cutch. Axford is a mediocre middle reliever at this point. They wouldn’t even give up Barmes for him.



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