Closer Axford, Indians reach terms on contract

TOM WITHERS AP Sports Writer Published:

CLEVELAND (AP) -- After considering some in-house options, the Indians may have found their new closer on the outside.

Free agent John Axford, who had 46 saves for Milwaukee in 2011 but has struggled the past two seasons, has agreed to terms on a one-year, $4.5 million contract with the Indians, pending a physical. Axford is expected to undergo a medical exam on Wednesday.

As long as there are no issues, Axford will close for the Indians in 2014, replacing Chris Perez, who was released on Oct. 31. Axford can earn an additional $1.75 million if he reaches incentives.

Cleveland initially considered moving either reliever Bryan Shaw or Cody Allen into the closer's spot, but at last week's winter meetings manager Terry Francona said he preferred to keep the two reliable right-handers in their setup roles.

The 30-year-old Axford lost his closer's job last year with the Brewers and was traded to St. Louis in August. He blew six save chances in 62 games last season with the Brewers before they dealt him to the Cardinals, who used him in a late-inning role.

Axford had a 1.74 ERA in 13 games for St. Louis.

The 6-foot-5 right-hander had his best season in 2011, when he went 2-2 with a 1.95 ERA and 46 saves in 74 appearances. Axford had 106 saves in five seasons with the Brewers. He has a 1.42 ERA in 12 postseason appearances.

In addition to Axford, the Indians showed interest in free agents Joaquin Benoit, Grant Balfour and Fernando Rodney.

Cleveland's bullpen has been in flux this offseason. The club released Perez, a two-time All-Star, following a turbulent 2013 season. Cleveland lost valuable right-hander Joe Smith, who signed a three-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels.

Perez was eligible for salary arbitration, but the Indians decided to cut ties with him following a rough year. The colorful closer lost his job in the final week of the regular season as the Indians were battling for an AL wild-card berth.

Also, Perez, who had 124 saves for Cleveland, became an off-field distraction following his arrest in June on misdemeanor drug charges.