Tribe sends Blake to Dodgers
Indians receive prospects Meloan, Santana in return
CLEVELAND -- Indians manager Eric Wedge called Casey Blake the "ultimate teammate." General manager Mark Shapiro called him the "ultimate professional."But when the Dodgers made a deal Shapiro couldn't refuse, the 35-year-old veteran simply became expendable. Blake, who took on a prominent leadership position in the Indians' clubhouse in what has been a disappointing season, was dealt to the Dodgers on Saturday for Triple-A right-hander Jon Meloan and Class A catcher Carlos Santana. It's the second and likely final big trade to come out of the Indians before the July 31 Trade Deadline.
"If there was any hesitancy at all that this was not going to be a good decision, we wouldn't have made it," Shapiro said. "It's the right decision, and a good decision for us. It's taking advantage of being in a situation we don't want to be in. It's about ensuring that we're not going to be in this position again."Shapiro said the deal came together quickly during Friday's game against the Twins and was finalized early Saturday. He said a number of teams had inquired about Blake, but he didn't have anything on the table until the Dodgers contacted him with the lucrative offer Friday. For Wedge, losing Blake hits just as hard as losing CC Sabathia -- both of whom were on the Tribe roster in Wedge's first season with the Tribe in 2003. But baseball's a business, Wedge said, and as far as he sees it, it's a move that had to be made. "When a deal like that comes along, you've got to take it," Wedge said. "We wouldn't have been in the position last year if it weren't for deals made before." Because of the career numbers he put up this season, along with his impending free agency, Blake became logical trade bait for the Tribe since the club fell well out of contention after a 10-game losing streak early this month. The 35-year-old right-hander, who joined the club as a non-roster invite to Spring Training in 2003, was batting .289 with 11 homers, 24 doubles and a team-high 58 RBIs. Numbers aside, Blake's presence will be missed in the Indians' clubhouse. But, just as it seems to have in the wake of Sabathia's trade, the team needs to move on, Wedge said. "[Blake] knows how these guys should act now that he's gone, and I think those guys understand that, too," Wedge said. "These guys have an opportunity to really find themselves." Wedge has said he wants to get a better look at third baseman Andy Marte, outfielders Franklin Gutierrez and Shin Soo-Choo and first baseman Ryan Garko as the team looks ahead to the 2009 season. But Blake's productivity and Wedge's vow to win as many games as possible in 2008 made that difficult, forcing the manager to leave at least one of the players on the bench per game while Blake played at a variety of positions. That shouldn't be a problem anymore. The trade clears the way for Marte, the key acquisition in the 2006 trade that sent Coco Crisp to the Red Sox, to play every day at third base. Marte is batting .186 with two home runs and four RBIs. But Wedge sees the deal benefitting Garko more. The only other first baseman on the Tribe's 40-man roster that will likely press Garko for playing time is catcher Victor Martinez, currently on the disabled list with right elbow inflammation. Andy Gonzalez, who was called up from Triple-A Buffalo on Saturday to fill Blake's vacant roster spot, will likely be used as a utility player and shouldn't press the struggling Garko. "Hopefully, Ryan will look at this as more of an opportunity to play on an everyday basis," Wedge said. "Hopefully, he runs with it, and we'll go from there." The gem of the Blake deal looks to be Santana, who currently leads all Minor Leaguers with 96 RBIs. Spending the entire season with the Inland Empire 66ers of the Class A California League, Santana was batting .323 with 88 runs scored, 34 doubles, four triples and 14 home runs. He has more walks (69) than strikeouts (59). Shapiro said he has looked at Santana extensively, as the Dodgers, in their attempt to acquire Sabathia, offered up the 22-year-old switch-hitting catcher. Shaprio has liked what he's seen, likes that he can catch and, obviously, he likes the big numbers. "We had a very good feel for [the Dodgers'] system and a clear understanding of guys we liked," Shapiro said. "Carlos was clearly toward the top of the list." Santana, who will report to Class A Kinston, just recently became a full-time catcher. Shapiro said he has above-average arm strength but has struggled a bit in receiving. But "with his bat and what he's accomplished," Shapiro said. "At the level, he is at its elite, regardless of the position." Meloan, 24, is 5-10 with a 4.97 ERA in 21 games, including 20 starts, at Triple-A Las Vegas this season. Recently converted to starting work this year, the 24-year-old right-hander has been transferred to Triple-A Buffalo and will be converted back to a relief role. Last year, at Double-A Jacksonville and Las Vegas, he was a combined 7-2, with a 2.03 ERA and 20 saves in 49 relief appearances. "We really have very strong reports on him as a bullpen guy and we feel like his higher upside is as a bullpen guy," Shapiro said. "We'll look at him in the 'pen this year and re-evaluate his role in the offseason." The Indians will also re-evaluate Blake this offseason. When Shapiro informed Blake that he would be shipped to Los Angeles, he also made him aware that the Indians plan on pursuing him to come back in the offseason. "He was a great teammate and understood what it's all about," Wedge said. "He'd been here six years. That's a long time in one place."
Andrew Gribble is an associate reporter for MLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.