Hot corner looks like bargain basket
Blake leads group that could bring big rewards at little risk
Manny Ramirez wasn't the only key acquisition made by the Dodgers prior to the July 31 Trade Deadline. Throw Casey Blake's name into that conversation, too.
Five days before Ramirez came aboard, Los Angeles dealt with the Indians for Blake, who proved to be a stabilizing force as the Dodgers fought off the D-backs in the National League West and blew by the Cubs before finally being stopped by the Phillies in the NL Championship Series.
Blake held down third base in good shape and was a positive clubhouse presence. That makes the 35-year-old one of the more intriguing possibilities on this year's list of free agent third basemen.
Blake has been one step shy of the World Series in each of the past two seasons. Clubs looking for help at third will try to project whether Blake could be the same type of glue performer who factored into the playoff equation for both Cleveland and Los Angeles.
It's not certain whether the Dodgers will expend resources on a free agent third baseman. Manager Joe Torre has said he sees Blake DeWitt, who finished the season at second base, as a third baseman for the future.
Joe Crede will be another to watch in the third-base crop. Crede was plagued by a bad back in the second half of the season and missed a significant portion of the final two months with the White Sox. When he's healthy, Crede has demonstrated an ability to show pop at the plate and play a stellar third base.
While the market for third basemen isn't loaded with marquee names, there could be some value among veterans with solid track records. This isn't a group that figures to break any budgets, so clubs might be able to add significant pieces without an exorbitant amount of financial risk.
The two-week window to file for free agency, which opened the day after the conclusion of the World Series, closes Thursday. In the interim, only their 2008 teams are able to extend offers to free agents, only two of which have re-upped thus far. At precisely 12:01 a.m. ET Friday, the exclusive negotiating window for teams expires and free agency begins in earnest. At that point, any team can sign any of the 182 players who have filed for free agency.
Head of the class
Blake, Type B: .274, 21 HRs, 81 RBIs; Played 10 seasons with Toronto, Minnesota, Baltimore, Cleveland and the Dodgers. Last contract: 1 year, $6.1 million. Comment: It's no coincidence that Blake has played in October the past couple of years. Count on him for a solid day's work both at the plate and in the field. Quiet, unassuming and productive -- the kind of consistent guy that a manager loves.
Crede: .248, 17 HRs, 55 RBIs; Played all nine MLB seasons with the White Sox. Last contract: 1 year, $5.1 million. Comment: Crede is a clutch hitter and a hard-nosed player who helped the White Sox win it all in 2005. But he has to prove the back issues won't resurface. He has played just 144 games combined over the past two years and the durability aspect can't be overlooked.
Hank Blalock, Type B: .287, 12 HRs, 38 RBIs; Played all seven seasons with the Rangers. Last contract: 5 years, $15.25 million with a $6.2 million club option for 2009. Comment: The Rangers are expected to pick up the option. Having Blalock on a one-year deal would give Texas flexibility and could make the often-injured slugger more attractive as a trade candidate. Another guy who can hit, but health is the big concern.
Rich Aurilia: .283, 10 HRs, 52 RBIs; Played 14 seasons with the Giants (two stints), Mariners, Padres and Reds. Last contract: 2 years, $8 million. Comment: If teams don't come after Aurilia early, look for the Giants to get back into the mix. San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean calls the versatile Aurilia a "tremendous asset" to plug holes.
Nomar Garciaparra: .264, 8 HRs, 28 RBIs; Played 13 seasons for the Red Sox, Cubs and Dodgers. Last contract: 2 years, $18.5 million. Comment: The former All-Star may retire because of mounting injuries. He appeared in just 55 games last season.
On the market
Willie Bloomquist (Mariners), Aaron Boone (Nationals), Russell Branyan (Brewers), Craig Counsell (Brewers), Mark Loretta (Type B, Astros), Mike Lamb (Brewers), Chris Gomez (Pirates), Pablo Ozuna (Dodgers), Ramon Vazquez (Rangers), Juan Uribe (Type B, White Sox).
Ready to buy
The Indians didn't see what they wanted as Andy Marte tried to make a case for himself as the third baseman of the future. Marte hit just .221 in a career-high 80 games for the Tribe in 2008. Cleveland is therefore expected to explore the free-agent market or look for a trade to solidify third base.
Milwaukee declined Counsell's $3.4 million option, but the Brewers have expressed interest in continuing talks about a return at a reduced price. Counsell played a lot at third base last year after Bill Hall didn't gain control of the everyday duties. With the situation in flux, the Brewers are expected to take a hard look at the third-base market.
The Twins aren't inclined to move Michael Cuddyer back to third at this juncture, so they'll be looking for a power bat at third base.
Pittsburgh's Andy LaRoche got a shot at the third-base job last year, but hit just .166 after joining the club. Neil Walker is a top prospect, but management isn't sure he's ready yet for the grind of an entire Major League season.
Dodgers (if DeWitt were to stay at second base); Giants (especially if Aurilia moves on); Rangers (need defense); White Sox (with Crede and Uribe on the market).
Adrian Beltre (Mariners), Chone Figgins (Angels), Chipper Jones (Braves), Melvin Mora (Orioles), Ty Wigginton (Astros).
Robert Falkoff is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.