It always seems like the Cardinals are looking for bullpen help by the time August rolls around, and this year isn't any different — St. Louis is acquiring John Axford from Milwaukee for a player to be named later.
The 30-year-old Axford is having a second straight up-and-down season, currently carrying a 4.45 ERA in 54.2 innings. That ERA was at 9.20 on May 15 before going on a 23-game, 20.1-inning scoreless streak that dropped his ERA to 3.86. That number got as low as 3.38 before jumping to its current mark with a rough month of August.
Axford wasn't always this volatile — in 2011, Axford helped the Brewers win the NL Central crown by locking down the 9th with a 1.95 ERA in 73.2 innings, striking out 10.51 batters per nine innings and carrying a strand rate of 82.9%. Following a 9th-place finish in the NL Cy Young voting that year, he was due for regression, but the past two years have shifted to the opposite extreme. FanGraphs has Axford at replacement level or below the past two seasons, and Baseball Reference has him below replacement level in both.
Axford is making $5 million this year after his first year of arbitration as a Super Two player. Considering the emergence of Jim Henderson and young arms like Brandon Kintzler and Rob Wooten, Axford was a likely non-tender candidate this winter. With that in mind, getting anything for Axford at this point is probably a bonus for the Brewers, especially when you consider they originally signed him out of independent ball and had no reason to expect this kind of success in the first place. Axford leaves Milwaukee second on their all-time saves list with 106, behind only Dan Plesac's 133. He also ranks second in games finished and eighth in appearances.
Considering his arbitration status and the Cardinals' system full of cheaper, younger, better arms, it's hard to imagine Axford sticking around in St. Louis beyond this season. He has pitched in the postseason before, though, and has shown this year he's still capable of getting hot for short stretches — for all the control issues, the stuff hasn't changed all that much from 2011 to now. Another well-placed hot streak, and the Cards may have a shutdown option for the 7th or 8th inning in October.