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Axford a free agent after Cards don't tender contract

Team keeps three other arbitration-eligible players in Jay, Descalso, Bourjos

ST. LOUIS -- Unwilling to pay the salary John Axford would have commanded in the arbitration process, the Cardinals non-tendered the right-handed reliever Monday. As a result, Axford becomes a free agent a little more than three months after the Cardinals acquired him in an trade with Milwaukee.

While Axford now searches for a new contract, Jon Jay, Daniel Descalso and Peter Bourjos -- the Cardinals' other arbitration-eligible players -- are assured ones. Each was tendered a contract prior to Monday's 10:59 p.m. CT deadline. All three were arbitration eligible for the first time after reaching three years of Major League service time this past season.

The club's attention now moves to reaching a minimum one-year agreement with Jay, Descalso and Bourjos. If a player has not agreed to terms on a 2014 contract by Jan. 17, the two sides will exchange desired salary figures. If a resolution still can not be reached, an arbitration hearing will be held in February during which one of those two salaries is chosen in a binding decision.

The Cardinals have not closed the door on re-signing Axford, but they only would do so if he is willing to take a sharp salary cut. Axford earned $5 million in 2013 (his first year of arbitration eligibility) because he was able to point to his success as a closer. If he were to return to St. Louis, he would likely slide into a setup role.

Axford, who came to St. Louis in a trade that sent Michael Blazek to Milwaukee, posted a 1.74 ERA in his 13 regular-season appearances with the Cardinals as he helped solidify their bullpen. He then pitched 5 2/3 postseason innings and allowed one run on two hits.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB.

St. Louis Cardinals, John Axford, Peter Bourjos, Daniel Descalso, Jon Jay