Oh, what a tangled web we weave…
Choosing the Cleveland Indians All-Aught third baseman was no easy task. The decade started off promising when the 31-year-old Travis Fryman had the finest season of his career. In 155 games, the Tribe third-sacker rolled out a shiny .321 average with 22 homers, 106 RBI and 93 runs. He also won the gold glove that year, and it looked like the Indians had found a guy that would anchor their positions for years to come.
Unfortunately for Fryman and the Indians, he would struggle through two injury-filled seasons in 2001 and 2002, and would never come close to that impressive decade starter.
From that point on, the Indians filled third base with a hodgepodge of players, ranging from the multi-position Casey Blake, to the oft-injured Aaron Boone, to the overhyped Andy Marte, to short-timer Mark DeRosa, to the former shortstop, Jhonny Peralta. With Fryman’s numbers diminished by injury, and the rest of the lot bargain ballplayers…
…backing into the team of the decade as the All-Aught Indians third baseman is Casey Blake.
I’ve got to be honest here, I probably should have rolled out the red-carpet for Fryman’s single season brilliance because Casey Blake certainly didn’t have the types of numbers that stand out as being necessarily All-Aught anything.
Don’t get me wrong here, Blake was a workmanlike third-sacker, and was all about being the blue-collar player. He wasn’t going to hit for much, but had some power. He wasn’t going to win a gold glove, but most certainly would get his jersey dirty to make a play.
His first year with the Indians, in 2003, he had already turned 29, and hadn’t logged any major innings or games with either Toronto or Minnesota.
He had a good 2003 season, posting 17 homers, while hitting at a .257 clip. He had an equally solid season in 2004, with a career-high 28 homers, 88 RBI and a .271 average. The Indians thought so much of his third base prowess, that they gave Blake a two-year leave from being their every day player at the hot corner. Aaron Boone, who had tore his knee ligament during the off-season in 2004 playing basketball, filled the role for two seasons, while Blake moved to the outfield.
Blake returned to third in 2007 because the Indians simply didn’t have anyone else to play there. Blake had another yeoman effort in ’07, batting .270, with 18 homers and 78 RBI, but saved his best for last during his final season as an Indian in 2008.
Yes, Blake played in only 94 games for the Tribe in 2008, but he left an impact that has lasted in Cleveland for all the years since. Sure, he had some numbers. He threw out a .289 average for the Tribe, and was on pace for a 20-dinger season (with 11 when he was traded), but his biggest impact had nothing to do with his numbers.
The Indians and Mark Shapiro managed to deal Blake to the Dodgers for an unbelievable prospect, catcher/lead guitarist Carlos Santana. Santana was busy shredding the minor leagues offensively, and was quickly becoming one of the top prospects in all of baseball. Santana immediately became the top prospect in the Indians organization, and likely will be a cornerstone for years to come.
Blake wins the award out of sheer bulk. His three-and-a-half seasons of slightly-better-than-moderation beats out Fryman’s one HUGE year and two injury-plagued bombs.
Blake did bring tenacity to the Indians and was the guy in the clubhouse that kept the ship steady. He’s in the mold of the uber-utility guy, a la Aubrey Huff. That goes to show many just why the Indians haven’t been contenders. Blake should likely have been rolling off the bench daily, instead, he was a regular out of necesity. I will say this, when his bat would heat up, he was one of the best in the game. Sure, it would only be for a couple of weekends every couple of months, but it was good enough to grab 3B tenure for the decade, and bag the Tribe their best prospect of the next decade.
The Two Thousand, Aught Third Basemen: Travis Fryman, Enrique Wilson, Russell Branyon, Jolbert Cabrera, Mark Lewis, Bill Selby, Greg LaRocca, John McDonald, Earl Snyder, Casey Blake, Jhonny Peralta, Ricky Gutierrez, Angel Santos, Lou Merloni, Aaron Boone, Jose Hernandez, Ramon Vazquez, Ron Belliard, Andy Marte, Hector Luna, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Mike Rouse, Chris Gomez, Jamey Carroll, Andy Gonzalez, Mark DeRosa, Tony Graffanino