I've spent the last two days discussing the pros and cons relating to a couple of potential offseason free agent targets for the Twins. Today I will discuss one more, and it's a name that most fans around here should be familiar with: Casey Blake. He's spent the majority of his career in the AL Central, and even spent some time with in the Twins organization back around the turn of the century. Like Orlando Hudson and unlike Orlando Cabrera, I think that Blake would a logical target for the Twins this offseason if they choose to address their infield holes via free agency.
Blake got his major-league career off to a late start, which is why he's just now entering free agency for the first time at the age of 35. His age might set off some red flags for some, as players reaching their mid-30s often experience rapid decline (see: White, Rondell), but it also might play to the Twins' benefit in that he may be willing to ink a shorter deal, which is exactly what the Twins should be looking for at third base.
Investing in a long-term deal for a player like Hudson would make sense, since the Twins' system is bereft of legitimate middle-infield prospects at this juncture. This isn't true of third base. Danny Valencia, who was this blog's Prospect of the Month in May and again in July this year, has emerged as a legitimate major-league third base candidate. He hit .336/.402/.518 in 60 games at Ft. Myers this year before moving up to Class-AA New Britain and finishing the season with a .289/.334/.485 line in 69 games there. It bears noting that there are concerns surrounding Valencia's attitude and contact rate (he struck out 70 times with just 18 walks in 69 games after being promoted to New Britain this year), and he's not particularly young, but he has reportedly made significant strides defensively and most scouts agree that he has the tools to play third base in the big leagues. He's also got legitimate power from the right side, a rare quality in this organization. Another third base prospect worth keeping an eye on is Luke Hughes, a 25-year-old who posted a stellar .309/.369/.524 between Double-A and Triple-A this year, though some wonder whether his offensive outburst this year is real and third base is not his natural position.
Both Valencia and Hughes are far from sure things and neither is likely to be ready to step in at the outset of the 2009 season, but both are promising enough that the Twins should be concentrating more on finding a short-term filler at third base rather than spending a lot in money or prospects to bring in a long-term solution. If neither of those two prospects pans out, the Twins can always look to address the position more permanently somewhere down the line.
So now, let's get back to Blake. As I mentioned, he seems like a good candidate for that filler role. As a 35-year-old, he can't really command a lengthy contract, so he might be open to something like a two-year deal with an option for a third year. He has history with this organization, and I've heard rumblings that he and his family would like to return to the midwest. His glove is decent at third base, and he can also adequately fill in at first base and the corner outfield spots. That versatility would be valuable on this team, which saw right fielder Michael Cuddyer miss much of the season while first baseman Justin Morneau started every single game.
Despite his age, Blake really has shown no signs of wear offensively. Since becoming a full-time player back in 2003, he has been very steady, consistently posting a hitting line right around his career average of .264/.334/.447. He has posted an 823 career OPS against left-handed pitching, which obviously makes him a good fit in the Twins' lefty-heavy lineup.
As much as I might dream of an Orlando Hudson signing this winter, Blake is probably a much more realistic possibility, given this organization's historical opposition to signing free agents to long-term contracts. Blake, who is currently in the NLCS with the Dodgers, made $6.1 million this season in his final year of arbitration. In free agency, he could probably net a deal averaging $7-8 million. That's something the Twins can afford over the next couple years. If the team feels that neither Brian Buscher nor Brendan Harris is the answer at the hot corner and elects not to address the issue with a trade (something I'll delve into next week), then Blake seems like a prime candidate to fill this team's need.