Veteran reliever John Axford was designated for assignment by the Rockies on Friday amid a flurry of roster moves to set their 40-man roster prior to the Rule 5 Draft deadline.
The Rockies selected the contracts of right-handed pitchers Carlos Estevez and Antonio Senzatela, infielder Trevor Story and outfielder Raimel Tapia, adding them to the 40-man roster so they won't be eligible to be selected in the Dec. 10 Rule 5 process.
To make room, Axford and fellow right-hander Tommy Kahnle, left-hander Rex Brothers and catcher-infielder Wilin Rosario were all designated for assignment. The club has 10 days to trade, waive or outright those players.
Axford was the biggest surprise as the 32-year-old saved 25 games with a 4.20 ERA last season and has 141 saves and a 3.52 ERA in a seven-year Major League career.
"That was a tough decision," general manager Jeff Bridich said. "His arbitration number was going to jump way up. We did have conversations trying to keep him here on a deal, but at the end of the day there just wasn't a meeting of the minds. We have a ton of respect for John and parted on good terms. And the door isn't necessarily closed, either."
Axford made $2.6 million last year, but MLBtraderumors.com projects he'll earn about $6.5 million in arbitration in 2016.
Brothers, a 2009 first-round Draft pick, posted a 1.74 ERA in 17 appearances during two stints with the Rockies last season and is 16-11 with a 3.42 ERA over 286 games in five years with the club.
Rosario, 26, hit .268 with six homers and 29 RBIs in 87 games in 2015 and had a career .273 average in a five-year span with Colorado. Both Brothers and Rosario are entering their second year of arbitration eligibility.
"It'd gotten to the point where an opportunity and fresh start somewhere else probably is going to be best for them and us in terms of who we need to protect today and things we're looking to do," Bridich said. "It's still early in the offseason.
"We drafted Rex with a high pick and signed Wilin as a teenager. Both those kids have been around here a long time and it's tough to see those type of guys go."
Kahnle, 26, has gone 2-2 with a 4.41 ERA in 90 games since being acquired as a Rule 5 Draft pick in 2013. He posted a 4.86 ERA with two saves in 36 games last year.
Of the four players added to the 40-man roster, three are among the Rockies' top-rated prospects by MLB Pipeline -- Tapia at No. 8, Story 11th and Senzatela 13th.
"All those guys are among our top prospects," Bridich said. "Story is knocking on the door here as a middle infielder at the Major League level. Tapia did very well in the Fall League, as did Estevez. And Senzatela is one of our best and brightest pitching prospects. He'll move into the Double-A and Triple-A level next year."
Tapia, signed as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2010, has hit .314/.363/.443 with 97 stolen bases over five seasons in the Minors. The 21-year-old outfielder batted .305 with a career-high 12 homers plus 71 RBIs and 26 stolen bases last season for Class A Advanced Modesto and followed that up by hitting .330 and being a Rising Stars selection in the Arizona Fall League.
Story, 23, was a first-round compensation pick (45th overall) in the 2011 Draft and advanced to Triple-A last season, batting .277 with 10 home runs and 40 RBIs after being promoted to Albuquerque in midseason.
Senzatela went 9-9 with a 2.51 ERA in 26 starts with Modesto last year, as the 20-year-old struck out 143 in 154 innings. The Venezuelan native has gone 37-18 with a 2.50 ERA in 81 games in four seasons with the organization.
Estevez split last season between Modesto and Double-A New Britain, combining for a 5-3 record and 3.40 ERA with 18 saves. The 22-year-old struck out 68 in 55 2/3 innings.
With the moves, the Rockies' 40-man roster is now at 40.
Players not on the 40-man roster who were signed when they were 19 or older and have played in pro ball for four years are eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft, as are players who were signed at 18 or under who have played for five years.