In 2013, the Washington Nationals‘ bullpen was inconsistent, with key names having down years and the lack of a solid lefty presence coming back to bite them. When Rafael Soriano was signed, many believed Washington was strengthening something that was already a strength, but their 3.56 bullpen ERA ranked 17th in the majors, down 10 spots from 2012.
The Nationals obviously need a left-handed reliever or two, and much like last year, they have watched many of the top left relievers sign deals with other teams. There are still some names out there, but Washington has yet to reel one in for themselves. There have been some rumors that one of Washington’s top pitchers, Sammy Solis, could make the team in 2014 as a lefty reliever.
That could be a good idea, but a veteran presence is still needed, and throwing a 20-something in Solis into Washington’s bullpen should not be their first move.
After being acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers midway through 2013, John Axford was lights-out for the St. Louis Cardinals. He posted a 1.74 ERA in 13 games following the trade, and was solid in the playoffs for the Cardinals. MLB Trade Rumors has listed Axford as a possible non tender candidate since St. Louis is full of young, hard-throwing bullpen arms, which could make Axford the odd man out.
With his experience finishing games, Axford could be a major asset to any team. But, his track record of inconsistency with back-to-backs 4.00-plus ERA seasons, may cause teams to be unwilling to give him the years he may want.
The Nationals should pursue Axford not because of his closing experience, but because of what he can provide setting up games and as a clubhouse presence. He is known for his interesting facial hair, sporting a unique moustache during his years with the Brewers, as well as having a hard fastball and nice offspeed stuff.
Axford could provide a great clubhouse presence the team seemed to lack in 2013. Chemistry is important on a winning ballclub, and Axford could provide that as well as solid bullpen innings.