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Decision time for the Beard

Lots of reports coming in Casey Blake's eventual landing spot. The Indians appear to be competing with the Dodgers and Twins for his services, but not very aggressively.

Minnesota's Star-Tribune reports that the Twins have offered him a two-year deal for $12 million, with a club option for 2011.  Jayson Stark reports that the Dodgers have also offered a two-year deal, and that both clubs have been told that Blake will basically go to whichever team guarantees a third year. Castrovince, meanwhile, devotes eight paragraphs on to letting Blake's agent stir the pot, making sure Indians fans know that the Indians are not trying as hard as the other two teams.

It's hard to see the Indians not offering Blake two years guaranteed, and the price certainly is reasonable. The Indians were quite clear in their desire to acquire either a quality second baseman or third baseman this offseason, and they've reportedly already eliminated both of the available quality second basemen from consideration. The Indians basically never trade away talent for a veteran player nearing free agency, so barring a major deal involving younger players, their selection essentially is down to Blake and Joe Crede. (Are they in fact talking to Joe Crede? Hello, reporters?)

Seems to me the Indians are essentially in the same place with Blake as they were with Paul Byrd, who three years ago was a serviceable player with a positive past history with the Indians, and specifically with GM Mark Shapiro. They are not going to lower themselves to compete with the Dodgers, clearly one of the worst-run organizations in the game, or the Twins, who unceremoniously dumped Blake in favor of Corey Koskie. The Twins are the reason Blake nearly didn't have a big-league career, while the Indians are the reason that he does have one.

This is not to suggest that Blake owes the Indians anything — far from it.  From everything we know about him, he's given the club everything he has and everything they've ever asked for in terms of effort and attitude. He established himself as an everyday player by far exceeding expectations back in 2004, and more than most ballplayers about to get a new deal, he really seems to deserve everything he's going to get. The Indians, meanwhile, got far more out of him than they actually paid for, having paid him less than $10 million total for his first five full seasons with the Indians. This past season, he made $6.1 million in his last arbitration year, and he  posted better-than-solid numbers (116 OPS+) going into the All-Star break that allowed the Indians to get a premium return in prospects.  All in all, both sides should be very happy with what they got out of this six-year relationship.

What this gets back to, then, is how much Blake values that relationship, his connection to his teammates, and the quality of the organization.  Blake has played 820 out of 917 career games in an Indians uniform, yet he's also been through Toronto, Minnesota, Baltimore and L.A.  He knows the Indians gave him his best and only chances at a big-league career, that they supported him through terrible slumps and personal problems, that they ultimately preferred him repeatedly (and somewhat inexplicably) to prized prospect Andy Marte.  Unlike many players reaching free agency for the first time, Blake's been around enough to know that the grass may not in fact be greener somewhere else.  He knows the talent in the organization — Shapiro is in the fun position of being able to talk up the prospects Blake netted them — and very possibly has a sense of unfinished business here.  Having come so close in 2007, how could he not?  Have the Dodgers or Twins done any better lately?

As for the Indians, they're going to go wherever the greatest value lies in the market.  Given potential performance issues at four positions that Blake can play, and an apparently resolute unwillingness to give Marte an extended look, Blake seems to be a fairly sensible acquisition, as long as the terms are reasonable. Which brings us back to Paul Byrd.  Odds are that Blake, like Byrd three years ago, will get offered a three-year guarantee in the neighborhood of $20 million by at least one team, and also like Byrd three years ago, will get offered two years by the Indians.  In fact, it would not be surprising in the least to see Blake sign the exact same deal with the Indians that Byrd signed — two years for $14 million, plus a third year option for $8 million.

As with Byrd, the Indians are not going to attempt to outbid the other clubs, because making the top offer would mean going beyond a threshold of reasonable value. Like Byrd, Blake is going to have to decide how much playing for the Indians is really worth to him.