Casey Blake Brings the Beard to the Mountains

I’d be lying if I said I very badly wanted Casey Blake back with the Dodgers, considering that he’s spent the last two years being underwhelming and injured since his solid 2009 campaign. That said, now that we’re learning he’s signed with Colorado for one year and $2m, I can’t help but thinking the Rockies are getting a pretty good deal. With the top four players on the third base depth chart moving on from 2011 – that’d be Ty Wigginton, Ian Stewart, Jose Lopez, and Kevin Kouzmanoff – the Rockies needed someone to help Jordan Pacheco keep the seat warm for hotshot prospect Nolan Arenado, at least assuming they weren’t really going to play Michael Cuddyer there. (Though who knows, maybe they’ll still sign up for that particular brand of hilarity.)

Blake’s not an everyday starter any longer, though he does love playing at Coors (career line of .311/.368/.631 in 113 PAs) and could make for a decent enough bench piece, especially considering Colorado is full of lefties at the four corners, like Todd Helton, Jason Giambi, Carlos Gonzalez, and Seth Smith. (At which point he’ll be traded back to Cleveland for Carlos Santana. That’s how this works, right?)

And if not? If he gets hurt, or is just plain awful? Well, it’s a $2m commitment, which is to say, not really much of a commitment at all. Considering some of the contracts the Dodgers have handed out this winter, it’s hard to argue this from Colorado’s end.

So long, Casey, and best of luck… right up until you inevitably crush a game-winning homer off Mike MacDougal. It’ll happen. Mark it.

******

Of course, two minutes after I published this post, far more important news comes out. Might we finally see Ronald Belisario again?

Reliever Ronald Belisario, who missed last season because he was unable to gain entry into the United States, has been granted a visa and is expected to be in camp for the start of spring training, according to his agent.

“He should be ready to go,” said Rick Oliver, who represents Belisario.

I’ll believe it when I see it, but if true, it could be an enormous boost to the bullpen.

MSTI’s 2011 in Review: Third Base

Today we move on to third base, and man, it ain’t pretty. The six Dodger third basemen combined for just a .624 OPS, good for 25th in MLB. Sensing a theme yet?  We already touched on the second biggest offender at the hot corner, Aaron Miles, with the second basemen, so today we’re left with the hungry, the tired, the overpaid wretches. This isn’t going to be pretty.

Juan Uribe (F….ing Juan Uribe)
.204/.264/.293 .557 4hr -0.1 WAR

(Like I was really going to use anything other than the “Emo Juan Uribe” picture, even ahead of the “Juan and Ned awkwardly shaking hands” photo.)

I’ll say this for Juan Uribe: even though we all absolutely hated the three year, $21m contract Ned Colletti so generously bestowed upon him last winter, none of us ever expected this. Oh, we knew he’d have a lousy OBP and be in no way worth the contract, but this? The fourth worst TAv and wOBA in baseball, along with two stints on the disabled list? I don’t think so.

At the time, I did note that there could be some positives from the deal, mostly in that it would ensure Ryan Theriot would be gone and that it’d give the club flexibility in an uncertain infield situation going forward. I also said this, of course:

Now that we’ve got the positives out of the way… what in the hell is this team doing giving three years* and $22m to Juan Uribe?! (*standard caveat of “it’s just a report, and not an official deal yet” applies.) Uribe’s never had even a two-year deal in his life. He was quite good in 2005 with the White Sox (111 OPS+, 23 HR), but after four consecutive years of not having an OBP over .301, he was cut loose after 2008. The Giants got him for 1 year, $1m in 2009, and he was quite good again – 112 OPS+ – so they resigned him for 1 year, $3.2m in 2010. Other than increasing his HR, he completely regressed  at he plate. His OPS fell from .824 to .749, and his wOBA fell from .351 to .322.

That doesn’t make him useless, but as I’ve said every other time I’ve talked about him, I like him for one year and I’d accept an option for a second. But now we’re taking a guy whose age 25-28 seasons were all basically a waste, had one good year at 29 and couldn’t quite keep it up at 30 three guaranteed years? Why? Because he was a Giant? Because he hit a homer in the World Series (despite doing little else in October)?

Nearly a year later, I’m having a hard time disagreeing with any of that, except to note that since his deal was back-loaded, he still has $15m coming to him, so we’re far from done with him. The best part is, three of Uribe’s four dingers came in a five-game span at the end of April. Outside of that five-game stretch, he hit one homer in 72 games, and was awful no matter how you split the stats. No, really: look at his splits. Try and find one this isn’t execrable. Day, night, home, road, lefty, righty, black, white, up, down – he was atrocious at the plate in every possible way, though he was something of a pleasant surprise defensively. Sadly, thanks to his contract and the uncertain state of the Dodger infield with the possibility that as many as five veteran infielders won’t return (Loney / Carroll / Furcal / Blake / Miles), you’re probably still looking at your starting third baseman next year. And lord help us all, because the most positive outlook anyone could have on him is, “well, geez, he can’t be that bad again, right?”.

Casey Blake (D)
.252/.342/.371 .713 4hr 0.6 WAR

It’s hard to say that Casey Blake underachieved in 2011, since coming off a disappointing 2010 and with the injury history of third basemen his age being what it is, expectations were pretty much as low as they could be; if anything, we’ve been saying “Casey Blake” + “2011″ = “disaster” since as far back as December of 2008.

Yet while there was almost no hope that having Blake as the everyday third baseman was going to work out this year, there was still the chance that he could a productive member of this year’s team. If the chips had fallen in the right way, having Blake as a four-corners type who mainly faced lefty pitching could have turned out to be a very nice role. Of course, it didn’t happen that way; Blake started the season on the disabled list thanks to a back injury suffered while trying to bunt during a spring training game. (Which, ugh.) Upon his return, he lasted just 14 games before undergoing surgery to relieve a particularly nasty staph infection in his left elbow, which cost him more than a month. Finally getting past that, he returned in late May to hit .195/.278/.310 over the next five weeks before succumbing to a pinched nerve in his neck on July 3, sidelining him until the final day of the month. He played in just 19 more games before finally undergoing surgery on the neck, which would have been his fourth trip to the disabled list of the season if not for the fact that the September 1 roster expansion rendered such a move moot.

With all the injuries, Blake never really had a chance to contribute, and so his 2011 was basically a lost season. It’ll almost certainly end his Dodger career, and at 38 it might very well be the end of his MLB career as well. Despite the wasted 2011 and lousy 2010, Blake ends his Dodger career as one of the better third baseman in the history of the club, and while that may say more about the history of the hot corner for this organization than it does about Blake’s performance, it’s still evidence of a successful Dodger stint from one of the more popular players on the team.

Blake will be missed. From a baseball sense, I’m glad he’s not going to be on the club going forward, because I don’t think he can still be a useful performer, but I’ve enjoyed watching him for 3+ years, even if the circumstances of his acquisition were less than ideal. Best of luck, Casey.

Russ Mitchell (inc.)
.157/.259/.294 .553 2hr -0.1 WAR

It’s not a huge secret that I’ve never thought much of Mitchell, dating back to what I said when he was first recalled in September of 2010:

To be honest, I can’t say I’m a huge fan of Mitchell. He’ll be 26 before next season starts, yet he had a line of just .241/.298/.406 last year, his second season in AA. Overall, his career OBP in the minors was just .321. Somehow that was good enough to get him to AAA, where he took advantage of the ABQ environment to rake: .315/.363/.535, with 23 homers. That’s not an accident, either; his OPS at home was 1.164, but on the road it was just .834, and it’s not like ABQ is the only park in the PCL that caters to offense, either.

Mitchell repaid that trust by getting six hits in 43 MLB plate appearances last season; this year, in his age-26 season, he hit just .230/.318/.401 away from the friendly confines of Albuquerque. Then, in two separate stints in the bigs this year (once for a month in April and May when Blake hurt his elbow, then the last month of the season) he managed just eight hits in 58 plate appearances, though to his credit one was a game-tying homer against the White Sox to avoid a sweep in the 9th inning in May.

If anything, Mitchell’s offseason will be more interesting than his season, since he had surgery on his left wrist and will be headed to winter ball to attempt to add “emergency catcher” to his resume. If he hopes to have a major league career, the transition better work, because I’m just not seeing it. Even with two ABQ-fueled years, his minor league OBP is just .326, and two MLB cups of coffee haven’t gone well. I can’t imagine he starts 2012 anywhere but back in AAA, and if he doesn’t, that’s a big problem.

******

Next! Rafael Furcal bids adieu! Jamey Carroll picks up the slack once again! Dee Gordon‘s flashy debut! And Justin Sellers‘ uncertain future! It’s shortstop!

Dodgers Decline Options on Casey Blake & Jon Garland

This isn’t so much “news” as it is an “absolute inevitability, but the offseason doesn’t really start for another month, so we might as well note it anyway” piece of interest, but the Dodgers did make some roster moves today:

Today, the #Dodgers declined the 2012 club options on both Jon Garland and Casey Blake and also outrighted Eugenio Velez to Triple-A

That costs $1.25m to buy out Blake, and $500k for Garland. It may seem annoying to pay players $1.75m to go away, but remember that the alternatives were $6m for Blake and $8m for Garland, numbers which never made sense on any level. So this was a given.

I don’t expect either back, though it’s not completely out of the question. Ken Gurnick of Dodgers.com noted that Blake “could figure for a bench job if he heals from neck surgery”, while Garland is “ahead of schedule in his return from shoulder surgery”. On the other hand, ESPN/LA’s Tony Jackson said there is “no chance Dodgers try to re-sign” Garland. So there’s that.

As for Velez, it’s merely a procedural move. He’s out of options and would seem to be more likely to be outrighted to a Siberian labor camp than a professional baseball team, so don’t worry too hard about seeing him back next season.

Dana Eveland Ships Casey Blake to China


There’s so much news today that the fact that the Dodgers won 6-4 over Pittsburgh in today’s rare one-game stop almost seems like an afterthought. Okay, I suppose it wasn’t for Dana Eveland, who allowed just one run over eight innings in his first major-league appearance in over a year. (As rain clouds loomed before the game, threatening to rain out a rain out, I briefly pondered whether Eveland would lose his chance to be a Dodger at all this season.) Eveland wasn’t what you’d call dominating, striking out just three, but whenever you can avoid a single walk and keep the ball in the park against a lowly offense like Pittsburgh’s, you’re going to have a good shot at success. (And whenever you’re inserted into the ninth inning of a 6-1 game, Blake Hawksworth, it helps to not allow a hit and a dinger in your two batters.)

On the offensive side, the Dodgers essentially put the game away in the top of the first, as singles by Dee Gordon (in his first game back off the disabled list), Matt Kemp, & Andre Ethier, along with a sacrifice fly from Tony Gwynn, put them up 3-0 before the Pirates came to bat. James Loney, continuing his hot streak with two more hits, would add the fourth run when he came home on a Ryan Doumit passed ball in the seventh inning. That was followed by Dee Gordon doubling in two more in the eighth after Chris Resop somehow walked Eveland to load the bases, which I think is grounds for deportation. Along with Loney, A.J. Ellis, Gordon, and Kemp each had two hits; for Kemp, that came along with his 35th stolen base of the year as we watch to see if he can somehow get to 40/40 on the season, which may just be the only way he can grab that National League MVP award from a losing team.

Of course, the game wasn’t even close to being the biggest news of the day… and you know I’m talking about Casey Blake‘s decision to have neck surgery to resolve the pinched nerve which has plagued him for weeks. I suggested this was inevitable weeks ago, though that was mostly for roster purposes at the time; now, it’s a disappointing end to one of the more popular Dodgers we’ve seen in recent years. As I mentioned in the piece linked, Blake was by most measures one of the better third basemen in the club’s history, in addition to his reputation as an excellent person. The miniscule chance that the Dodgers were going to exercise his $6m option for 2012 is now all but officially zero, and it remains to be seen whether his baseball career will end alongside his Dodger career. He will be missed.

…and then there’s the news that set hearts aflutter, as Bill Shaikin of the LA Times reported that Frank McCourt had received a $1.2 billion – yes, with a b, and yes, you do need to read that in a Dr. Evil voice – for the team from a group headed by Bill Burke and Chinese investors.

It’s hard to ignore that dollar figure, since it completely destroys the previous record sale price of $845m for the Cubs several years ago, and since not even Frank McCourt could thumb his nose at that much money. It’s also hard to think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell of this happening:

The bid terms proposed by the Burke group call for an all-cash payment to buy the Dodgers, all real estate related to the team and the team’s media rights, according to the letter. Attorneys for McCourt have said he could try to keep Dodger Stadium and the surrounding parking lots even if he sold the team.

The bid would expire in 21 days, according to the letter, with the goal of closing a deal within 90 days, subject to the approvals of the bankruptcy court and Major League Baseball.

The letter did not specify who would finance the Burke bid, other than to say the money would come from “certain state-owned investment institutions of the People’s Republic of China” as well as unidentified American investors. Foreign investment is not necessarily an obstacle to MLB ownership; the Seattle Mariners’ ownership group includes a significant Japanese presence.

So let’s get this straight: a bid with a short timeframe, coming from “state-owned investment institutions” in China? Oh sure, nothing shady about that. (Shaikin added on Twitter that MLB is “skeptical” of the offer, with more detail to come.) Though the Shaikin column references Seattle and their Japanese ownership, that’s a little different, since the M’s are owned by the public company Nintendo, and not an unknown “state-owned” source. (That said, the wealth of Communism jokes to be made as applied to baseball would be endless.) Either way, foreign sports owners – not just coming into America, but also Americans owning teams elsewhere, such as in European soccer – never seem to work out well. Until we know more, this is a great example of not just rooting for any sale, we need to be rooting for the right sale.

It’s Time To Move On From Casey Blake


Hey, I like Casey Blake. Despite the regrettable circumstances of his arrival, his lousy 2010, and the fact that his inability to stay healthy in 2011 was predictable from about a million miles away, Blake’s been a solid enough player and by all accounts an even better person and teammate. All of the nice things you’ve heard about Jim Thome‘s off-the-field demeanor lately? I’ve never met Casey Blake, but every last word I’ve heard about him suggests that they all apply to him as well.

Believe it or not, Blake is, by most measures, one of the three best Dodger third basemen in the last century. Think about that for a second, but it’s true. Among those with as many plate appearances as he has, with at least 50% of them coming at third, Blake has the third highest OPS+. (It was pointed out to me that Jim Gilliam provided plenty of value as a third baseman as well, though he does not appear on this list because less than half his time came at the hot corner.)

Rk Player OPS+ PA From To Age AB H 2B 3B HR OPS
1 Ron Cey 125 6108 1971 1982 23-34 5216 1378 223 18 228 .804
2 Red Smith 110 1667 1911 1914 21-24 1467 409 84 25 14 .743
3 Casey Blake 108 1592 2008 2011 34-37 1393 362 72 9 49 .768
4 Adrian Beltre 108 3818 1998 2004 19-25 3462 949 176 18 147 .794
5 Cookie Lavagetto 104 3241 1937 1947 24-34 2777 763 143 28 35 .756
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/22/2011.

Change that to WAR in order to get defense in, and that drops him to fourth, though you could argue that Cookie Lavagetto barely beats him out yet had the benefit of twice as many plate appearances to do it.

Rk Player WAR/pos PA From To Age AB H 2B 3B HR OPS
1 Ron Cey 46.2 6108 1971 1982 23-34 5216 1378 223 18 228 .804
2 Adrian Beltre 22.6 3818 1998 2004 19-25 3462 949 176 18 147 .794
3 Cookie Lavagetto 12.4 3241 1937 1947 24-34 2777 763 143 28 35 .756
4 Casey Blake 10.6 1592 2008 2011 34-37 1393 362 72 9 49 .768
5 Joe Stripp 8.3 2800 1932 1937 29-34 2567 758 129 30 13 .719
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/22/2011.

And while I don’t have a table for it, his VORB – that’s Value Over Replacement Beard – is off the charts.

(Here’s where we’ll get the arguments that Blake’s historical ranking somehow justifies the Carlos Santana trade. No, it doesn’t; that trade was good for only two months of Blake’s time, not his full Dodger career, and it’ll never be okay that Cleveland got more from the Dodgers for Blake than they did from Milwaukee for C.C. Sabathia at the same time. Besides, considering that Blake’s 2010-11 span has been awful and he’s still ranking where he does, it should be clear that third base has not exactly been a position with a glorious history for the Dodgers.)

Anyway, the point of all this is not to reflect upon Blake’s position in Dodger history, such as it were, but to suggest that perhaps it’s time to shut it down, for the benefit of all involved. Blake has missed substantial amounts of time this season, from starting the year on the DL with a back injury to missing over a month with a left elbow infection to his current malady, a pinched nerve in his neck. 

As Dylan Hernandez writes, the neck injury has Blake thinking about his long-term health:

Casey Blake hit off a tee Sunday, the start of his latest comeback from a pinched nerve in his neck that has bothered him for a significant part of the season.

But Blake, who has missed the Dodgers’ last four games, is proceeding with caution.

“Obviously, this neck thing is pretty serious,” he said. “I want to be able to move my neck when I’m 50.”

As recently as last month, the 38-year-old third baseman said he wasn’t entertaining the idea of retirement. But he said this weekend that his condition was making him reconsider.

“Sure,” he said. “Obviously, I don’t want to go out like this. Hopefully, with rest in the off-season this thing goes away and I can get ready to play another season. I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.”

He said he is unsure whether he would continue playing if it meant jeopardizing his long-term health.

Blake, who has made three trips to the disabled list and is batting .250 in 58 games, said his goals for the remainder of the season have also changed.

Earlier in the year, he talked about wanting to play well enough to essentially force the Dodgers to exercise the $6-million team option in his contract for next season. He said this week that his priorities have now shifted.

“I’m not even worried about that right now,” Blake said. “The main focus is just getting healthy and doing what’s best for my neck and my future.”

He said doctors have warned him that his condition could worsen if he continues to play.

“The more I play, the more chance I have to really put more pressure on that nerve,” Blake said. “If you put enough pressure on it, you bang it enough, you can cause some damage.”

While you certainly feel for Blake as a player, because no one wants to see their career possibly end like this, you do have to wonder what exactly the point is for the Dodgers. I hardly need to remind you how short the bench has been over the last few days, particularly with Rod Barajas banged up, the bullpen exhausted, and Eugenio Velez continuing to be Eugenio Velez. Remember, James Loney had to throw a bullpen session yesterday and Aaron Miles was prepared to be the backup catcher, simply because there were no appropriate bodies to do the job. Considering that Barajas couldn’t catch and Velez can’t play, the Dodgers have been essentially going with a 22.5-man roster in part because Blake is taking up a roster spot yet can’t contribute.

Even if he can, how does that help the Dodgers? Blake’s clearly not going to be with the team in 2012, so the focus should be on finding out right now if you have anything in the system who can help. (I know, I know - there probably isn’t, but what’s to lose? The team is already in last place.) Disable Blake, and call up Russ Mitchell. DFA Velez, and call up Ivan DeJesus. DFA Dioner Navarro – or donate him to science, I don’t care – and call up A.J. Ellis. Play Justin Sellers every day at short (which, to their credit, they generally are) until Dee Gordon returns.

If Blake’s ready to make a few appearances before the end of the season, that’s fine, because rosters expand a week from Thursday, and since he last played on August 17, he’d be eligible to return the very next day. Letting him take up a roster spot isn’t helping the team now, and it’s not helping him by pushing him to rush back and risk further injury.

It’s time to move on.

******

Speaking of minor leaguers we’ll likely see soon, Christopher Jackson’s latest – this time for MiLB.com – is a feature on catcher Tim Federowicz which is a must-click if only for the photo of the mustache that I pray Federowicz brought with him from Boston.

To his credit, Federowicz seems to understand that the trade which brought him to the Dodgers wasn’t necessarily welcomed by a lot of fans:

The stated intent by Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti was to acquire a catching prospect, something Los Angeles lacked in its farm system. Federowicz said he understands the frustration of Dodgers fans.

“Yeah, they gave up Trayvon — he’s a great player and now he’s in the big leagues, doing his thing up there,” Federowicz said. “That’s tough to lose.

“I guess there is a little bit of pressure to show fans what I’ve got. But I think it’ll eventually work out the way the Dodgers want it to.”

My guess is that Fedorowicz is probably not going to be ready to start 2012 in the majors, and since he’s not eligible for the Rule 5 draft, he most likely will not be called up in September, since that would require him to be added to the 40-man roster. But could we see an Ellis/Federowicz tandem by this time next year? It certainly couldn’t be worse than Barajas/Navarro.