Axford saved 46 games in 48 chances for the Brewers in 2011. In fact, the right-hander did not blow a single save after April 18 against Philadelphia. He compiled a stellar 1.95 ERA and 2.41 FIP over the course of the season and was one of the main reasons why the bullpen was sixth-best in all of baseball last year with a cumulative 3.32 ERA.
It should not be surprising that the two sides are discussing a multi-year deal. Doug Melvin has been searching for stability at the closer position since he offered a four-year, $42M contract to Francisco Cordero back in 2007. An extension would likely begin at five years because Axford is under team control through the 2016 season.
The potential deal could be similarly structured to the extension signed by Sergio Santos of the Toronto Blue Jays earlier this offseason. He agreed to a three-year contract that covered his arbitration years, but the contract also included club-options for 2016 and 2017. That gives the Blue Jays an opportunity to simply exercise the options if Santos is meeting or exceeding expectations and the price for closers on the open market continues to climb. It also provides Santos financial security for his future in baseball, which consistently is an underrated motivator for young players to sign away their arbitration years below market value.
Granted this is pure speculation, but Axford and the Brewers could fashion something similar, in which he agrees to a five-year extension to buy out the remainder of his arbitration-eligible seasons and add one or two club-options to further incentivize the deal for both sides.
As of now, though, nothing appears close to completion. Assistant GM Gord Ash mentioned that the two sides will likely talk through the month of March and explore options until an agreement can be reached.