DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays officially added another veteran to their bullpen Saturday morning by signing right-hander John Axford to a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training.Axford hasn't received any guarantees with the short-term contract, but he is a strong candidate to make Toronto's 25-man roster
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays officially added another veteran to their bullpen Saturday morning by signing right-hander John Axford to a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training.
Axford hasn't received any guarantees with the short-term contract, but he is a strong candidate to make Toronto's 25-man roster and head north at the end of camp. He would slot into a middle-relief role alongside Ryan Tepera, David Phelps and possibly Tim Mayza.
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The Minor League deal had been expected since last month when Axford made some surprisingly honest comments to the media about wanting to sign in Toronto. The 35-year-old didn't seem too concerned about leverage and flat out said at a Baseball Canada banquet that re-joining the Blue Jays easily was his top priority.
"For me, it's home," said Axford, who posted a 4.41 ERA for the Blue Jays last season before being moved at the non-waiver Trade Deadline. "I live in Burlington, so I'm not far from Toronto. Spending as much time as I did with family and friends and my kids was perfect and ideal. It was really a dream last year, so I wanted to get back into that situation any way that I could."
Toronto's bullpen contains a lot of unknowns and there was a clear need for some type of veteran presence. Ken Giles and Tepera are the only relievers with jobs locked down. Phelps is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and remains questionable for Opening Day, while everyone else on the list will have to compete for a job.
The group of bullpen candidates includes Mayza, Joe Biagini, David Paulino, Elvis Luciano, Jacob Waguespack, Javy Guerra and Danny Barnes. Axford comes with far more experience than anyone on that list, and with even more youth on the way coming from the Minor Leagues, the Blue Jays see some benefit in having the former closer around the next wave of talent, while also eating up some valuable innings along the way.
Axford is openly embracing the role as well. Trevor Hoffman and LaTroy Hawkins were mentors earlier in his career and now the 10-year veteran believes it's time to return the favor and pay it forward.
"A lot of new faces in there that I haven't seen," Axford said in reference to Blue Jays' clubhouse. "Looking at the roster and seeing that I might be the oldest, potentially, on that list -- [that] is something that I really liked [when I was] a rookie, and I had some really great mentors.
"I had some guys who pitched in some really big and great games and pitched for a long time in their career. Listening to them and taking in as much as you could as a rookie, learning as much as you can, whether you're in Spring Training or the big leagues, I felt that was personally one of the best things I could have had and I think it really helped me to get to where I am in my career."
Axford said he had several offers from other teams and negotiations started to really gain steam in the last couple of weeks before Spring Training. He never got close to signing with another ballclub though, because once Axford knew there was possible interest in a reunion with the Blue Jays, everything else was put on the backburner.
"He pitched well last year," Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said. "That's why we traded him, because people wanted him. I expect the same from him. He's going to battle for a job, but if he pitches like he did last year, he should be fine and he's going to help the young kids, too."
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.