Who is better to have: John Axford or Carlos Marmol?


Yesterday’s Milwaukee Brewers — Chicago Cubs game featured the two ex-closers in this 2013 I-94 rivalry, John Axford and Carlos Marmol. Both were removed from their respective late inning roles (links here and here) within the first week of the season. From comments made by each team’s manager, it sounds like the plan for these two fallen relievers is to use them in low-pressure or mopup situations. Interestingly enough, both saw time in the middle innings of yesterday’s game when the score was close.

Axford came in after the game was tied, and eventually gave up 3 earned runs on 2 walks. Marmol pitched in the 8th when the score was also tied – certainly not a low-pressure situation – and had an incredible (by recent Marmol standards) inning, giving up a hit and no walks while recording three fairly quick outs.

Bleacher Nation commenter Ankeyhawk had this to say after the game:

I’ll throw one out there: how about Axford for Marmol. Not sure what Axford is making or length of his current contract. Might be a plus for both guys and both teams?

How about it? Both have struggled early this season and are now just middle relievers, a mighty fall from their roles of old. In their careers, they’ve combined for 222 saves. If Jed Hoyer and Doug Melvin sat down right now to discuss Ankeyhawk’s suggestion, which player is better to have right now: John Axford or Carlos Marmol?

Let’s set aside the 2013 stats. Both lines are ugly. How about those career numbers? Here are a few charts from FanGraphs illustrating K/BB, WHIP, and FIP.

Source: FanGraphsCarlos Marmol, John Axford

Source: FanGraphsCarlos Marmol, John Axford

Source: FanGraphsCarlos Marmol, John Axford

In all three of these stats, Axford has been superior to Marmol. That was probably pretty easy to guess – Marmol’s wildness and walks, even when coupled with tons of strikeouts, will yield a higher K/BB and WHIP. Still, I would argue that these stats are not important in this particular discussion as well. That is why I’m not going too deep into them. (Plus, I may or may not have just discovered these graphs and simply wanted to try them out.)

For me, the answer to Axford or Marmol lies in their contracts. Marmol is in his final year of a contract given out by Jim Hendry, he makes $9.8 million in 2013. After this season, Marmol will be a free agent. I have read nothing about extension talks for Marmol, in fact, it seems the Cubs are looking to trade him (they had a deal in place for Dan Haren from the Los Angeles Angels some time ago, but that fell through due to Haren’s medical report). Marmol is, at most, a one year commodity.

Axford is making almost half of Marmol’s 2013 take-home pay. He has just over two years of service time under his belt and qualified as a Super Two over the offseason. Instead of spending another season near the minimum, Axford earns $5 million this year. After that, he’s got three more years of arbitration before hitting free agency.

With the amount of turnover that accompanies the “closer role,” I’m not a fan of paying relief pitchers big money aside from icons like Mariano Rivera. Especially when big money amounts to ten million dollars. The salaries for Axford and Kyuji Fujikawa are much more reasonable but that’s still quite a bit. So if I’m a general manager and I have an opportunity to pick between Axford’s salary and Marmol’s salary, knowing either of them could continue to struggle or turn it around, I pick the smaller one.

Taking it a step further, Marmol will certainly be a free agent at the end of the season, and there’s a very likely chance that the team he finishes 2013 with will not be the team he starts 2014 with. Axford, on the other hand, still has three years of club control.

If he continues to suck, why would you want him around for three more years? That’s the beauty of those first six years. If a team trades for Axford, and he does not turn it around in 2013, they have the option to non-tender him in the offseason and be off the hook for a 2014 arbitration year. Axford would then be a free agent just like Marmol and able to sign whatever contract he wants. If, however, Axford does rebound, then a team can go year-to-year with him until he’s a free agent, traded, or non-tendered.

If I have Carlos Marmol and I am offered John Axford for him, I take the deal. Regardless of their history and future, the old Brewers closer is a better bet than the old Cubs closer.

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