Saturday, July 26, 2008

Casey Dealt to Dodgers

Super-utility man Casey Blake has been dealt to the Dodgers for two minor leaguers. Cleveland also sent cash to round out the deal to pay for the remainder of Blake's salary (about $2 million). The Dodgers were one of several suitors for Blake including the Rays, Mets, and Phillies. All four teams were looking for a veteran infielder or corner outfielder.

Blake’s immediate value got a boost after New York snagged outfielder Xavier Nady from Pittsburgh on Friday. According to Jayson Stark of ESPN, Blake was the most sought after bat on the market, after Nady.

Blake’s rise in value can be attributed to the amount of competition among contenders for his services and an extended hot streak. The Dodgers had lost faith in their young third basemen, Andy LaRoche and Blake DeWitt, and were looking to upgrade their offense. L.A.’s offense ranks towards the bottom of the National League (13/16 teams) in runs scored.

The 24 year old LaRoche had posted a 68 OPS+ in just 59 AB, while 22 year old rookie DeWitt had a 79 OPS+ in 280 AB (strange that L.A. opted to trade two prospects for a veteran when they never even gave their own young players a chance to play, oh well). The loss of Rafael Furcal and the fragility of Nomar Garciaparra further whittled down their infield’s offensive production.

Blake has been on fire for nearly two months now and will take over at third full-time for the Dodgers. Blake posted a .366 BA, .420 OBP, .535 SLG line with 3 HR in 101 AB for June. As the trade deadline neared Blake stayed hot with a .328 BA, .413 OBP, .594 SLG line with 4 HR in 64 AB for July. Perhaps even more interesting to some teams was Casey’s prowess for bringing in runners this season. Blake has hit .393 with a 1.198 OPS with runners in scoring position and leads Cleveland with 58 RBI.

The downside of acquiring Casey is that he is obviously running hot right now. He will be at least a slight upgrade offensively for the Dodgers’ current options at third, but could cool down significantly by the time the playoffs arrive (.697 career OPS in September/October). Blake is just an average defender at third base, but his offense likely trumps any defensive concerns for the Dodgers.

Blake is wrapping up a one year, $6.1 million contract, but his role with the team next year was uncertain. Moving Blake leaves no competition in Cleveland for Andy Marte and will allow the team to properly evaluate the young third baseman for the remainder of the season.

Cleveland’s third base situation for 2009 could hang heavily on Marte’s performance with rising, 23 year old prospect Wes Hodges not yet in AAA. Jhonny Peralta’s future position may also be impacted by the Blake trade depending on how Marte and Asdrubal Cabrera pan out, but that’s another story.

The Prospects

Cleveland appears to have won this trade no matter which way you slice it. Both prospects seem to have a good ceiling based on their respective peripherals, ages, and positions. John Meloan is a 22-year old pitcher who was converted from a reliever to a starter in AAA this season. 2008 is Meloan’s first stint as a starter, but Rotoworld reports that Cleveland will convert him back to the bullpen. Meloan had a cup of coffee with L.A. in 2007, throwing 7.1 forgettable innings out of the pen.

John Meloan Stats

Year (Level) Age ERA WHIP IP K/BB K9 HR9
2007 (AA) 22 2.18 0.93 45.1 3.88 13.90 0.60
2007 (AAA) 22 1.69 0.98 21.1 2.33 8.86 0.84
2007(MLB) 22 11.05 2.18 7.1 .875 8.59 1.23
2008 (AAA) 23 4.97 1.70 105.0 1.65 8.49 0.60

The fact that the Dodgers wanted to try this guy as a starter speaks to his potential (even if the move doesn’t make a lot of sense), but Meloan’s peripherals would be scary good in a late-inning relief role. As a Class-AAA reliever, Meloan posted a 1.69 ERA, .98 WHIP, and 8.86 K9 rate over 21.1 innings. These numbers are comparable to his time in AA where he had an outstanding 13.90 strikeouts per nine innings to match a 2.18 ERA and .93 WHIP.

Meloan saw a drop off in his K rate between AA and AAA, but his K9 rate held steady from then on. He reportedly has some control issues, as indicated by a worsening K/BB rate at each level, but has managed to lower the number of homers surrendered over this span and is still developing as a pitcher.

According to Paul Cousineau, Meloan sports “a fastball that sits around 92-94 and has touched 97 with a curveball as his secondary pitch.” Meloan should greatly improve across the board once he is converted back to a reliever and has the potential to be a closer someday. He was also ranked as the fifth best prospect in the Dodgers’ organization by John Sickels of Minor League Ball.

Carlos Santana Stats

2007 (A) 21 292 7 5 .223 .318 .370 .688
2008 (A+) 22 343 14 7 .318 .424 .563 .987

Carlos Santana has not played past Class-A+ and was converted to a full-time catcher last season. Santana saw a drop in offense during his first year as a backstop, but has come on strong in his second year. At age 22, Santana is putting up some impressive numbers with 14 HR and a .318 AVG, .424 OBP, and .563 SLG over 343 AB. The fact that he is this young and has both patience at the plate and some power makes for a prospect with some serious potential down the road. Santana is also a switch hitter (sound familiar?).

Just out of curiosity, I pulled up Victor Martinez’s numbers at Class-A+ Kinston at age 22. Besides also being a converted infielder and switch hitter, Martinez shares similar numbers to Santana at the same age and minor league level with 10 HR and a .329 AVG, .394 OBP, and .488 SLG line in 2001. Santana is too raw to make any concrete conclusions, but I thought this was kinda cool.

Like I said earlier, I think Cleveland came out way ahead in this deal considering all they gave up was an aging utility player with an expiring contract. Mark Shapiro, we salute you.


The 34-year old Blake has been with Cleveland since the 2003 season and has long been a fixture in the dugout. Casey has always been a team-first player and was always willing to play where ever the team needed him that season, be it third, first, the outfield, or even shortstop. He never had the makings of a super star, but Blake endeared himself to the fans because of his gritty, selfless style of play and awesome beard.

I’ve had my fair share of criticism for Blake over the years, much of which stemmed from how the team utilized him rather than his actual performance. I’m actually a fan of Blake’s versatility, leadership, and how he approaches the game and am glad he was a part of the team, even if he seemed to be in over his head at times (again, not his fault). Blake will probably go down as one of the more colorful characters that emerged from the rebuilt Tribe and despite the occasional frustrating moment I was happy to root for him.

Good luck in L.A. Casey!

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