CLEVELAND (AP) — John Axford had other choices where he could pitch next season. The Indians closed the deal.
Axford, who had 46 saves for Milwaukee in 2011 but lost his closer's job last season and was traded to St. Louis, finalized a $4.5 million, one-year contract Thursday and will close for Cleveland in 2014.
The 30-year-old Axford had other teams interested in signing him, but he decided to join the Indians because of their turnaround in 2013, a strong clubhouse and manager Terry Francona, who sold Axford with his typical straightforward approach.
"He was very, very up front with me about the team, the organization, the city," Axford said. "It just sounded to me like a situation I want to be a part of."
Axford replaces two-time All-Star closer Chris Perez, who was released in October after Cleveland made its first playoff appearance since 2007. Axford agreed to the contract with Cleveland earlier this week, and completed the deal after taking a physical on Wednesday. The right-hander can earn another $1.75 million in performance bonuses based on games finished: $250,000 for 38 and $300,000 apiece for 43, 48, 53, 58 and 63.
The Indians initially considered filling the closer's role within the organization — right-handers Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen were the top candidates — and pursued several veteran free agents before working out a deal with Axford. The Indians weren't scared off despite Axford struggles last season, when he started horribly and was demoted by the Brewers before eventually being traded to St. Louis in August.
"We thought he was the right guy to take a chance on," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "We feel like we added an experienced, power arm to the back of our bullpen."
Antonetti said the team wasn't reluctant to give the job to Shaw or Allen, it's just that Axford was a better option and the club feels he can "bounce back" and be an elite stopper again.