We’re About to Sign the Wrong Old Guy

So, we’re getting settled in our new home over here. You know how it is when you move to a new place; you try to remember which box you put your underwear in, you wonder if your closet is big enough to hide all the dead hookers in – you know, the usual. Anyway, let us know if you’ve got any issues with the new house in the comments, while we get on to more important things: the most depressing Dodger offseason in decades.

In case Ken Gurnick’s latest prognostication of doom over at Dodgers.com hasn’t got you down enough, the hottest Dodger free agent right now seems to be… Casey Blake. Fantastic. MLBtraderumors has a few stories linked which basically say that Blake has two-year offers on the table from both the Dodgers and Twins. Who’s going to get him? ESPN’s Jayson Stark chimes in with this:

• The Twins and Dodgers both have essentially been told that if they’ll add a third year to their two-year proposals, they can reel in third baseman Casey Blake. It will be interesting to see whether either says yes. So far this winter, the only teams that have given free agents deals of three years or more are clubs that were retaining their own player (the Cubs with Ryan Dempster, the Yankees with Damaso Marte). The Dodgers, obviously, would fit into that category with Blake.

Most_Interesting_Man.jpgThree years for Casey Blake! That’s quite a lot considering that I don’t really want to see Casey Blake return for even one year. But here’s the thing; the Dodgers are in a pretty interesting situation, thanks to Blake DeWitt’s ability to play second and third. While his bat probably plays better at second, his glove absolutely plays better at third. Which means, you can get either a second baseman or a third baseman.

So let’s say you’ve got two guys who are free agents. Each are in their mid-to-late 30s, were traded during 2008, and spent at least part of the year in the National League West. One’s a third baseman who’s going to get at least a two-year deal and possibly three (yes. It’s Casey Blake. Please tell me you’d figured that out by now) and the other’s a second baseman who could certainly be had for two years, and maybe even one depending on how things shake out. 

Over the course of their careers, they’ve been remarkably similar hitters, with the third baseman putting up a 105 OPS+ and a slight power advantage as compared to the second baseman’s 104 OPS+ and slight OBP average. We could almost stop right there, because if you’ve got two guys with such similar numbers, the advantage always goes to the one who plays the position where it’s harder to get offense from, second base – not to mention he’ll take a cheaper and shorter deal. But let’s go further. In 2008, Blake put up an exactly average 100 OPS+ with the Dodgers with a weak .313 OBP (I’m cherry picking his LA stats only because of the difference in leagues – the other guy spent all year in the NL - and because there’s where he ended up) while the 2B had a combined OPS+ of 112 and an excellent OBP of .380.

On defense, well, neither are all that great anymore. Blake’s combined range factor and zone rating each put him at 14th of 20 qualified 3B; the second baseman didn’t have enough innings played to qualify, but would have ranked near the bottom in each category as well (though, it must be said, higher than Jeff Kent in range).

In case you’ve yet to figure it out, the second baseman is the ageless Ray Durham. And no, believe me, I’m not thrilled to be in a situation where we’re arguing between Casey Blake and Ray Durham. So explain this to me. If both guys are roughly as productive on offense and each pretty mediocre in the field, why wouldn’t we want the guy who will accept a shorter deal, will help the lineup by being a switch-hitter, will improve the defense by allowing DeWitt to play third rather than second, and will cost less?

I guess my point here is not so much to argue that Durham really needs to be the second baseman in 2009, because I’m hardly sold on that. It’s just that if it’s really not that hard for me to prove that Ray freaking Durham is a superior choice to giving Casey Blake a three-year deal, doesn’t that in itself show what a bad idea this is about to be?