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Casey Blake: Your Next Minnesota Twin?

Over at the Strib, LEN III believes the Twins could level an official offer this week.  Meanwhile, Kelly Theiser at reports the organization is already in discussions with Blake's agent Jim McDowell.

This has to be just a little bit of poetic justice, right?  Although the Twins didn't actually draft Casey Blake.  And even though they already had a third baseman in place who was only one year older.  And they took a chance on Blake, twice.  Hmm...this isn't quite the "full circle" I expected.

I know that Blake spent less than three years in the Minnesota farm system, which could be construed as "we let one go" when we see how he performed for triple-A clubs Salt Lake and Edmonton:  1150 at-bats, .311/.389/.499, 41 homers, 71 doubles, 127 walks, 203 strikeouts.  But the Twins still didn't keep him around, and he landed with the Indians as a free agent at age 29.  In 2004 he had his first truly good offensive season, which happened to coincide with the last good (see:  full) offensive season for one Cordel Leonard Koskie.

Now there's a very real chance that Blake, at age 35, could return to Minnesota and, quite likey, close out his career with the team that will be charged as the one that let him get away.  In 2008, Pecota projected Blake to perform as a typical 34-year old third baseman in decline, with a .264/.333/.432 median line; instead he nearly hit their 75th percentile...or essentially, over his head.  Pecota hasn't yet released forecasts for 2009, but suffice it to say it's likely they'll still be expecting a significant drop in performance.  Bill James, who included Casey Blake in his '09 projections for the Dodgers, looked into his crystal ball and saw .259/.336/.432, with 12 homers in 336 at-bats.

Should the Twins move forward with Blake, and right now it certainly seems that they are, they're doing so with the idea that he'll be able to fill a hole at third base for at least a year or two...until someone named either Luke Hughes or Danny Valencia is ready to step in.  Hopefully.

Looking back over the last five years, Blake's played significant time at the hot corner in three of them, and while he's never been a true defensive whiz by any stretch of the imagination he's certainly reliable.  Every year he'll make a handful of great plays, make a few outs by getting to balls outside of his zone, but getting to his age as a third baseman when does mediocre start to take a turn for the worse?  I understand that it's not necessarily the glove or the arm that the Twins are looking at here, but rather the idea of an everyday third baseman who can provide decent offense from the right side of the plate.  Otherwise, the team would just be platooning Brian Buscher and Brendan Harris.

So it's not the possible dropoff in the field that cautions me against Casey Blake.  It's the offense.  Although other than being a bit more aggressive around the plate (check his percentages for swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone here), taking a glance through the numbers there's nothing that stands out too much from his recent history.

Year BB% K% ISO LD%
2005 7.6 22.2 .197 20.9
2006 10.1 23.2 .197 23.2
2007 8.4 20.9 .167 17.7
2008 8.4 22.4 .188 22.1

The biggest factor here for me isn't even the money, because I know the Twins aren't going to break the bank.  The biggest factor is simply age.  If we were discussing the Twins signing this exact player at age 30 or 31, it'd be a no-brainer.  But we're playing the odds on a 35-year old.

In some ways it's a perfect situation.  With the Twins in the unique position of actually having prospects in the system who could potentially take over third base in the next 12 to 24-months, they're able to look at a player that doesn't constitute a long-term committment.  They're able to look at a player who can bridge a gap to the future.  And while Casey Blake is that player, I'm still wondering if that's the best direction for the Twins to take.  It's not the player that concerns me, it's the direction.

Ultimately this direction will come down to two things:  money and performance.  Before Blake even steps up to the plate in a Minnesota jersey, his tenure with the team will be judged on his contract.  Then he'll be judged on how he actually plays.  Bizarre, but true.

Now we just have to wait and see what happens before we start complaining.  Or applauding, depending how optimistic you are.