Upon reaching his first big payday, John Axford had a thought that would have crossed the minds of many young professionals.

"My wife and I can finally pay off our student loans," the Milwaukee Brewers closer said Saturday. "We both had several years of them. It's nice to close the book on that."

Axford will be able to pay off many debts after agreeing Friday to a $5 million contract for 2013, avoiding arbitration in his first year of eligibility. The lanky right-hander made $525,000 last season in his third year in the major leagues.

Once players reach arbitration, the financial hammer shifts in large part from the club to them. With a decent body of work over those first three years, a big raise is usually in store for players who reach that major-league service class.

Despite midseason troubles in 2012 that forced him temporarily from the closer's role, Axford had some big numbers to bring to the negotiating table, including a banner '11 season in which he set the franchise record with 46 saves and was named National League Rolaids Relief Man of the Year. Overall, in 206 relief appearances since his debut late in 2009, he is 15-12 with a 3.06 ERA, 106 saves and 264 strikeouts in 208 2/3 innings.

When agent Dan Horwits of the Beverly Hills Sports Council texted Axford with news of the agreement, it took a few minutes to absorb.

"It was a lot to take in," said Axford, a Canadian who resides in Ancaster, Ontario, in the off-season. "The Brewers gave me a good opportunity, especially in 2010 when I started closing, and I tried to take hold of it the best I could. Now, it has paid off.