Less than a week after trading Jim Johnson to the Athletics, the Orioles have interest in free agent closers John Axford and Grant Balfour, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. Heyman notes Chris Perez could be a fit as well.
Johnson, who led baseball in both saves (50) and blown saves (nine) this season, was traded in a money saving move. He is projected to earn $11 million or so in 2014 and Baltimore is bumping up against their payroll limit. Axford and Balfour won't be cheap, but they also won't command $11 million salaries.
The Orioles have an internal closer option in right-hander Tommy Hunter, who had a 2.81 ERA (150 ERA+) in 86 1/3 innings in 2013. Others like Darren O'Day or the recently signed Ryan Webb could be in the mix if the team is willing to go into the year with an unproven closer. Bud Norris is an outside-the-box solution.
Axford, 30, was non-tendered by the Cardinals last week. He pitched to a 4.02 ERA (98 ERA+) for St. Louis and the Brewers this past season. Axford led the NL in saves in 2011 (46) but lost his ninth inning job over the last two years because he's become more hittable and his control has been an issue.
The 35-year-old Balfour saved 38 games with a 2.59 ERA (145 ERA+) for Oakland in 2013. He has only a season and a half worth of closing experience.