Veteran closer Axford could boost Toronto's bullpen

Right-hander grew up a Blue Jays fan, lives in nearby Ancaster

Veteran closer Axford could boost Toronto's bullpen

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays continue to search for help in the bullpen, and while a lot of prominent arms have recently gone off the board, right-hander John Axford is one option that remains available.

Axford, who was in town this week attending the annual Baseball Canada awards banquet, said Toronto has reached out to his representatives, but no formal offer has been made. If that changes, Axford would be more than willing to listen to his hometown team.

The 31-year-old grew up in nearby Port Dover, Ontario, and he currently resides in Ancaster, which is less than an hour's drive from Rogers Centre. In a lot of ways, a partnership with the Blue Jays would be a dream come true for the veteran reliever.

"I'm never going to shut out a team, that's for sure, but living and growing up not too far away ... growing up a Blue Jays fan, that would be a big deal for me," Axford said. "It would definitely be big for me, but I'm not going to shut out any team. I'm going to keep everything open."

The Blue Jays are still searching for a closer, and the vacancy is sure to be appealing to what's left of this year's free agents. Most of the big-name relievers have signed, but Axford -- as well as bullpen arms Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano -- is looking for work.

Toronto is limited in what it can do because of concerns about payroll, but Axford is someone who could be available on a low-risk, short-term deal. He's coming off a rather disappointing season in Cleveland (49 outings) and Pittsburgh (13), which saw him lose the closer's job by early May, with lack of command being his biggest issue.

Axford walked a career-high 5.9 batters per nine innings last year, and the high rate of free passes dates all the way back to 2012. Prior to that, he was one of the best relievers in the game, as he combined to record 105 saves for the Brewers from 2010-12.

A problem with Axford's mechanics could be one reason behind the sometimes inconsistent performance, and that's something he hopes to rectify before the season begins. Another concern was his relatively low weight, and he's already added 13 pounds of muscle with the goal of not wearing down in the second half of the year.

"Obviously, I'd like to be where I was earlier," Axford said of getting back to his previous form. "Last year, I felt like I had that spot, and I was working very well towards it. I led the league in saves for the first month of the season when I was with the Indians. I just had a hiccup of a week, just had a bad week and unfortunately lost my job. ... A few ups and downs, but the season ended up OK."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.