Via Patrick Mooney at CSN Chicago, Theo Epstein and the Cubs are seriously considering signing ex-Brewers reliever John Axford:
There's mutual interest between the Cubs and Axford, according to sources familiar with the situation, as Theo Epstein's front office heads into next week's winter meetings hoping to upgrade the bullpen and bench while adding another starting pitcher and outfielder. Who' the closer? Epstein said he probably won't be able to answer that question until the offseason's over. But Axford is one of the names the Cubs are considering for the ninth inning.
Mooney's article features this tweet from Axford:
MST (Man Seeking Team) - Tall athletic male with blue/green eyes and a love for film and mustaches seeking loving team for employment!— John Axford (@JohnAxford) December 3, 2013
If nothing else, Axford would provide some comic relief; his Twitter feed is one of the more popular player accounts. Plus, you have to like a player who wears his socks like you see in the photo at the top of this post. Meanwhile, this series of tweets quoting Theo Epstein give you a good idea of what Theo thinks of the "closer" role:
Theo on closers: It's always better to find talent that hasn't been given opportunity yet in 9th inning & then give them that responsibility— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) December 6, 2013
Theo on saves: Just because a guy has saves on his résumé & might cost a little more, he still might be a nice option. As long as (more)— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) December 6, 2013
Theo on saves: As long as you're making sure you're paying for talent and not a stat that Jerome Holtzman made up.— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) December 6, 2013
The first tweet, to me, is a hint that the Cubs might like to give Pedro Strop the closer spot. Strop has talent and seems suited to the role. But it's the last tweet in that sequence of three that's the key, and I agree with that completely. Too many times, the save stat dictates pitcher usage in modern baseball, instead of having the situation dictate pitcher use. I hope Theo is serious about this; someone should ask Rick Renteria if he'd use pitchers in the proper situation, rather than simply have someone throw the ninth because he's a designated "closer."
Regarding Axford, he appears healthy and he pitched very well for the Cardinals after they picked him up in a waiver trade at the end of August (13 appearances, 10⅓ innings, 1.355 WHIP, 1.74 ERA). If the Cubs wanted to give him that "closer" role, I'd be OK with that, or if they just wanted to put him in the bullpen mix, that'd work too. He's probably going to be in line for about $7 million via arbitration; that's not too onerous a contract.
At some point, a modern manager is going to break the 20-some-year-old trend of having a designated "closer" who only throws the ninth inning, regardless of situation. Why can't that be Rick Renteria and the 2014 Cubs?