Free agent John Axford, who had 46 saves for Milwaukee in 2011 but has struggled the past two seasons,
CLEVELAND — After considering some in-house options, the Cleveland 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, agreed to a one-year, $4.5 million contract with the Indians, pending a physical. Axford is expected to undergo a medical exam Wednesday.
Also, the Indians signed free agent starter Shaun Marcum to a minor league deal and will give him a chance to win a starting job in spring training.
As long as there are no issues, Axford will likely 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 performance bonuses.
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 fighting for an AL wild-card berth.
Perez, who had 124 saves for Cleveland, became an off-field distraction following his arrest in June on misdemeanor drug charges.
Marcum’s deal includes an invitation to spring training, where the 32-year-old right-hander will be in the mix to join Cleveland’s rotation. Marcum would receive a $1 million salary if he’s added to the 40-man roster, and he can earn another $3 million in bonuses.
Marcum, who has a 58-46 career record in the majors, was limited to 14 games — 12 starts — this year for the New York Mets before he underwent season-ending shoulder surgery. He went 1-10 with a 5.29 ERA before having the operation in July.
Marcum has also pitched for Toronto (2005-10) and Milwaukee (2011-12). He was selected by the Blue Jays in the third round of the 2003 June draft. He pitched more than 150 innings in four of five seasons from 2007-11.
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