CINCINNATI, OH - JUNE 3: Casey Blake #23 of the Los Angeles Dodgers warms up in the on deck circle during a game against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on June 3, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
William Casey Blake
Third Baseman/Right Fielder/First Baseman, 2003-2008
Acquired: Minor-League Free Agent, 12-18-2002
Left Via: Trade, 7-26-2008
If you look at the numbers and look at the beginning and end transactions, you'd say that the Indians hit a standup triple with Blake. He was at times a good player, and even at his worst adequate. He outlasted Corey Smith, Matt Whitney, Aaron Boone, and probably a couple other third base pretenders that I've forgotten about. The Indians got him for free and they got Carlos Santana for him when they traded him six seasons later. If you set aside your memories and emotions, this is a no-brainer selection for this section of the list.
But he was hard to appreciate if you saw him play every day. He was an adequate defender at third, had good power, worked counts, but wasn't a good contact hitter. Season after season, he posted good solid batting lines, and except for 2006, hardly missed a game. If Casey had played 50-60 years ago, I'd take those numbers at face value and move on. But because I watched just about every game he played in his six seasons with the Indians, I remember his struggles to hit with runners in scoring base, the strikeouts, the positional controversies, the Aaron Boone era, and his relationship with manager Eric Wedge.
Blake was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the seventh round of the 1996 draft after having a fine career at Wichita State. He was drafted as a college senior, so the Blue Jays sent him directly to their South Atlantic League club in Hagerstown, where he struggled, hitting .250/.318/.372. He moved up to Duedin of the Florida State League the following season, but struggled as well. It wasn't until his third pro season (1998) that he started to hit, first in a repeat at Dunedin, then in AA Knoxville; between the two levels, he hit .357/.421/.574, and was now on Toronto's prospect radar at age 24. Tom Evans, a prospect who was a year younger and a level above Blake, was exposed to waivers the following spring, and was claimed by the Texas Rangers.
He was moved to Syracuse in 1999, and although he had a decent season (.245/.357/.468), it wasn't very promising for a 25-year-old. But he was added to the 40-man roster and got the call to Toronto in mid-August for short stint, then spent the last couple weeks of the season with the big-league club. The problem for Blake was that earlier that season, Toronto had acquired Tony Batista from Arizona, and when Alex Gonzalez returned from injury the following season, Batista would move from shortstop to third base. Just before spring training began, they thought about dealing Gonzalez to Atlanta, but ended up keeping him. That placed Blake back in AAA, and he struggled early in his second season in Syracuse, hitting .217/.291/.349, but that was in just 30 games. But apparently those 30 games soured the Toronto front office on him, and they tried to sneak him through waivers in late May, but he was claimed by the Minnesota Twins.
Blake's new club already had an established starter in Corey Koskie, so he spent most of the rest of the season in AAA Salt Lake City, then spent 2001 in AAA as well. He put up excellent offensive numbers in both places, but there wasn't any opportunities to play at the major-league level in either season. The Twins tried to sneak him through waivers towards the end of the season, but Baltimore claimed him, and Blake appeared in 6 games with the Orioles in the last part of the 2001 season. The Orioles then tried to pass him through waivers, and the Twins re-claimed him; I'm going to guess Blake wasn't too happy with that, as he had to have known he'd have little chance of making a major-league roster the next season. And he'd be right, for he would only appear in 9 major-league games with the Twins in 2002 despite hitting .309/.383/.492 for Edmonton.
Blake was now 28 years old, and after the 2002 season, he was finally able to sign with the organization of his choosing, having passed through waivers at some point and having enough minor-league service time to become a free agent. He was one of the top minor-league free agents out there, and he ended signing with the Cleveland Indians in December. Travis Fryman had just retired, and because the Indians were trying to shed salary, they weren't going to sign a major-league free agent to take his place. For a career minor-leaguer looking for an opportunity, Cleveland was a perfect situation for Blake.
Blake made the team out spring training, and at age 29 was on a major-league roster on Opening Day for the first time in his career. He wasn't all that effective at the plate, but the Indians didn't have any other real options at that point, so he played in 152 games and was relatively secure going into the following season. The Indians had a couple third base prospects at the time, including Corey Smith (who by the way is still in professional baseball) and Matt Whitney, both high draft picks, but Smith was several years away and Whitney had messed up his knee while playing basketball that spring. Jhonny Peralta was in the organization, but he was being groomed to take over for Omar Vizquel at shortstop. So Blake was able to have a 93 OPS+ season and come to spring training the following year almost assured of starting.
2004 was probably Blake's best season. He hit .271/.354/.486, hit 28 home runs and 36 doubles, and played in 152 games. But half-way through that season, the Indians signed Aaron Boone, who had been released by the Yankees after injuring his knee in the off-season (which led the Yankees to trade for Alex Rodriguez). I'm still don't completely understand why the Indians signed him; my best guess is that they saw an opportunity to buy low on a player who was still relatively young and had had decent offensive seasons in the past, and didn't think that Casey Blake could sustain what was then a good half-season. My original thoughts at the time of the Boone signing was that Blake would move to first in 2005, but then Ben Broussard had a good second half. Blake might have ended up at second base, but the Indians signed Ronnie Belliard. He eventually ended up in right field, replacing an injured Jody Gerut.
Blake would remain a right fielder until the Aaron Boone experiment ended after the 2006. But it certainly didn't seem that way at the end of 2006, even though it was obvious that Boone wouldn't be returning. The Indians had acquired Andy Marte before the season in the Coco Crisp deal, and it was Marte who played at third in September. And Kevin Kouzmanoff was also on the roster. Blake hadn't played a game at third since 2005.
So what changed? The Indians signed Trot Nixon. That moved Blake to first base to start the 2007 season, as the Indians had concerns over Ryan Garko's defense there. And when Andy Marte went on the DL in April, Blake was moved back to his old position, and that's where he remained for the rest of his career. Casey would be the starting third baseman for the Indians in the ALDS and ALCS, and although he hit .346/.370/.538 in the ALCS, my lasting memory of him that postseason was the double play he hit into in the top of the seventh inning in Game 7. Down 3-2 and with Kenny Lofton at second base, Franklin Gutierrez singled to left field, but Lofton was held at third. Then Blake hit into the double play, ending the threat, and the Red Sox broke open the game in the bottom of the inning.
Blake had one of his better offensive season in 2008, so after the Indians fell out the race he was dealt to the Dodgers in late July. Blake was a pending free agent, so for what at the time was two months of control the Dodgers sent the Indians Jon Meloan, a AAA starter who seemed more suited for a relief role, and Carlos Santana, a 22-year-old catcher who at the time was tearing up the California League. Santana wasn't the type of prospect you can usually get for a rental, especially one the caliber of Blake, and in the four years since the deal, he's turned into one of the best catchers in the game. Of all the veteran-for-prospect trades the Indians made in 2008 and 2009, this one was the only one that actually brought back a core player.
So if you look at the six-year stint Blake had with the Indians, you have to count it as a rousing success. The Indians signed him in the winter of 2002 for minor-league money, he gave the Indians six years of average to above-average production at two positions (three if you count first base), and he was dealt a couple months before he could become a major-league free agent for a core player that is signed through the 2016 season (with an option for 2017).
But during those six years the Indians always seemed to have a replacement sitting in the wings, whether it was Smith/Whitney when he first got to Cleveland, Aaron Boone in the middle of his Cleveland career, or Andy Marte at the end of it. It certainly helped that he had a big backer in manager Eric Wedge, who kept him on the field even if that meant moving him to a different position. Wedge elected to play Blake every day even after Andy Marte returned from the DL in 2007. Blake, who never seemed to get a chance early in his career even when dominating AAA, got several while with the Indians, and took advantage of them.
Blake would re-sign with the Dodgers after the 2008 season, and was LA's regular third baseman through 2011. He signed with the Rockies this season, but called it a career after he didn't make the club out of spring training.
Indians Career Statistics
|CLE (6 yrs)||810||3358||2981||435||794||183||9||116||417||28||27||281||648||.266||.337||.451||.787||108||1343||50|
Cleveland Indians Career Leader
- 35th Slugging % (.451)
- 47th OPS (.787)
- 50th Games Played (810)
- 46th At Bats (2981)
- 47th Plate Appearances (3358)
- 41th Runs Scored (435)
- 50th Hits (794)
- 44th Total Bases (1343)
- 32nd Doubles (183)
- 17th Home Runs (116)
- 38th Runs Batted In (417)
- 48th Walks (281)
- 11th Strikeouts (648)
- 42nd Runs Created (450)
- 29th Extra Base Hits (308)
- 46th Times on Base (1125)
- 7th Hit by Pitch (50)
- 28th Sacrifice Flies (28)
- 25th Double Plays Grounded Into (67)
- 30th Power Speed (45.1)
Cleveland Indians Single Season Leader
- t-44th Games Played (156, 2007)
- t-13th Strikeouts (139, 2004)
- 30th Strikeouts (123, 2007)
- 45th Strikeouts (116, 2005)
- t-50th Extra Base Hits (67, 2004)
- t-36th Hit by Pitch (10, 2003)
- t-36th Hit by Pitch (10, 2005)
- t-36th Hit by Pitch (10, 2007)
- t-45th Hit by Pitch (9, 2004)
- t-32nd Sacrifice Flies (8, 2003)
- t-28th Double Plays Grounded Into (19, 2004)