There are some sexy stories when you look at the 2007 Cleveland Indians.
Victor Martinez has established himself as perhaps the best two-way catcher in baseball this season after correcting some throwing issues from last season and by continuing to be a dominating presence at the plate.
C.C Sabathia is at the forefront of the American League CY Young race.
Grady Sizemore is becoming a Major League Baseball cover boy and deservedly so.
You’ve also had the births of what appears to be a couple of promising careers in respect to Franklin Gutierrez and Asdrubal Cabrera. These are two prospects who are producing now for the Tribe and have contributed mightily to what looks to be a division winning effort. Likewise, you’ve gotten outstanding efforts from Fausto Carmona, Rafael Perez and Jensen Lewis. Carmona is a story unto himself after millions watched him seemingly implode in Fenway Park last summer.
But while those players have all undoubtedly added to the Indians’ production this season, there’s another player on this team who is often a lightning rod when things go wrong and overlooked when they don’t.
Casey Blake is in his 5th season with the Indians. He’s a productive major league player on the 2nd best team in baseball but he’s under appreciated in his own back yard. Talk-show callers and message boards snipers find him an easy target whenever things get tough for the Tribe. They point to the fact he’s seemingly blocking Andy Marte, another young prospect, from taking the position and bringing power and defensive prowess to the 3rd base position. They harp on the fact that his average with runners in scoring position has been poor.
But Blake typifies more what this 2007 version of the Indian is than any other player on the roster. Blake is simply a professional ball player in every aspect and he runs out there every day and produces.
The fact is every team needs one Casey Blake. He’s hitting .266 with 18 HRs and 73 RBI. He’s made 14 errors in 257 chances and that’s while playing 3 different positions (RF, 1B, 3B). He’s likely to finish the season where he typically finishes most of them: .270 average, 20HRs, 80RBI and 80runs with an ops of .775.
The haters are quick to talk about the average w/risp, and that is low. But in the last 3 weeks those same folks have seemingly forgotten that Blake won two games with walk-off home runs, gave the Indians a lead late in the game with a bases loaded double off White Sox reliever Mike MacDougal, stole a key base late in a game this past Wednesday against the Tigers that produced a key run and played excellent defense throughout the last couple months.
All when the most was on the line.
Not only has Blake consistently performed despite playing multiple positions, but he’s also batted in every spot in the order except the leadoff spot in Eric Wedge’s lineup. All without a passing derogatory comment or complaint.
And that may be Blake’s biggest value to the Indians. His versatility combined with his production is a commodity any major league manager would kill for. Throw in the fact it all comes in a professional package and Casey Blake is a value for the nearly $4million per year he pulls down.
“When you’re on a good offensive team, someone has to bat ninth”, Blake has said on more than occasion. And his unselfishness and professionalism does not go unnoticed by opposing players and managers either.
Detroit 3rd baseman Brandon Inge recently gave Blake high praise when commenting on the Indians run toward the Central Division title and the contributions of the young players taking them there;
“Guys like that (young players) who play calm and relaxed, it comes from good veterans on the team that give that guy confidence,” Inge said. “If you are a rookie stepping into a situation where the veterans are bad guys, the rookie is going to be a little tight. “Cleveland has veterans like Casey Blake, Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore. All those guys are team guys who want the best for their teammates.”
As to Blake keeping a player like Marte down in Buffalo, that argument is ridiculous. Blake simply has out performed the younger third baseman both offensively and defensively and has done so even when you compare his major league numbers to Marte’s minor league numbers. Blake and Marte both made the squad out of spring training. Marte had the misfortune of getting hurt and then sent down after Blake had moved to third base and acquitted himself so well.
If anything, Blake’s ability, athleticism and versatility may combine to provide Marte a free, less pressurized roster spot next season. Blake’s ability to play right field as well as provide veteran leadership may make Trot Nixon, brought here to do exactly what Blake has proven to do better, expendable in 2008. That would allow Blake to move into more of a utility role where he spells a starter at 1B, Marte at 3B and also sees time in RF while Marte is transitioned into a major league role.
This was actually the role the front office had envisioned for the former Wichita State Shocker when they signed him as a free agent in the winter of 2002. But like a lot of people, they underestimated Blake’s intensity and desire. Other than last season when he was hurt, Blake has never played fewer than 147 games in any season with the Indians.