Dodgers Add Third Baseman Blake

The Deal
Like the Yankees in their trade for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte, the Dodgers struck quickly in acquiring free-agent-to-be third baseman Casey Blake (and cash to offset the remainder of his $6.1 million salary) from the Indians. Los Angeles surrendered two solid prospects in Triple-A Las Vegas righthander Jon Meloan and high Class A Inland Empire catcher Carlos Santana.
The Big Leaguer
A gritty (and now bearded) minor league veteran made good, Blake provided the Indians with steady production for five seasons—beginning in 2003 at age 29—batting .264/.333/.449 in 2,656 at-bats for Cleveland. A willingness to play any corner position thrown his way (in order of frequency: third base, right field, first base) marked Blake’s tenure with the Indians. A righthanded batter who was the Blue Jays’ seventh-round pick in 1996 out of Wichita State and who was claimed on waivers and discarded by the Twins (twice) and Orioles, Blake spent the majority of his first seven pro seasons in the minors and didn’t equal his minor league at-bat total in the big leagues until this season. The 34-year-old Blake, who grinds out quality at-bats and has modest power but offers limited range at third, batted .289/.365/.465 with 11 home runs and 58 RBIs in 325 at-bats for the Indians this season. In 10 big league seasons, he’s hit .266/.336/.447 with 118 homers and 424 RBIs in 3,096 at-bats.
The Prospects
Meloan, 24, has struggled this season at Las Vegas with a conversion to a starting role after dominating as a reliever in his first three pro seasons. Entering the season, the fifth-round pick out of Arizona in 2005 had struck out 236 batters in 157 innings (13.5 per nine), mostly out of the bullpen, and limited opponents to a .168 average. This year, he was 5-10, 4.97 with 99 strikeouts and 60 walks in 105 innings. Opponents were hitting .289, but despite a below-average ground-to-fly rate (0.90) and calling Vegas’ hitter-friendly Cashman Field home, Meloan had allowed just seven home runs. Coming out of the bullpen, his 89-94 mph fastball and nasty mid-80s slider were more than enough for batters to contend with. Throw in a cutter, a changeup and a curveball and you’ve got a five-pitch reliever—and some perspective on why the Dodgers gave him a test drive in the rotation.

Russell Martin and Lucas May aren’t the Dodgers’ only third base-to-catcher conversions. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2004 as a third baseman, Santana converted in 2007 to catcher, where he is an athletic receiver with plus blocking ability and arm strength. The 22-year-old switch-hitter destroyed the California League this season, batting .323/.431/.563 with 14 home runs in 350 at-bats for Inland Empire, all while making consistent contact (59 strikeouts). Santana’s game is well-rounded, as he leads the minors with 96 RBIs, ranks second with 88 runs, sixth with 34 doubles, eighth with 69 walks and tenth in on-base percentage. He threw out 22 of 97 (23 percent) of Cal League basestealers.

Quick Take
The Dodgers’ rookie platoon of Blake DeWitt and Andy LaRoche at third base has resulted in substandard production for the position, especially in terms of power, and it’s a void that Blake instantly fills. The move, though it comes at a not insignificant cost, allows the Dodgers to package one of their third basemen in a trade for a shortstop, if they so desire. Blake’s impending free agency also could yield two premium draft picks for Los Angeles, seeing as the veteran third baseman ranked atop the Type B rankings among his American League peers (non-first base infielders) following the 2007 season and could move into Type A territory this time.

Meloan should be a quality bullpen arm for the Indians, a club ravaged by inconsistent relief pitching this season, while Santana shoots to the top of the organization’s minor league catching depth chart. The fact that both prospects are closer to the big leagues than two 2009 draft picks (for the free agent loss of Blake) would be, makes it a worthwhile trade-off for Cleveland.

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