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12/09/08 9:26 PM EST

Blake, Dodgers finalize three-year deal

Return of third baseman means DeWitt can stay at second base

LAS VEGAS -- Of the many Dodgers concerns at these Winter Meetings, third base is no longer among them.

The club officially announced the re-signing of free-agent third baseman Casey Blake Tuesday to a three-year contract plus a fourth-year option for $17.5 million guaranteed and a possible $23.75 million, including performance incentives.

The 35-year-old Blake, acquired from Cleveland July 26, was a stabilizer during the club's second-half surge, slugging 10 homers with 23 RBIs and a .258 average in 58 Dodgers games after hitting .289 with 11 homers and 58 RBIs for the Indians.

"His character and the way he goes about it is great for our younger players," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. "There really was a lack of third basemen available. He gives us flexibility."

Colletti said Blake DeWitt will become the primary second baseman, although the club still is expected to add free agent Mark Loretta to take over Nomar Garciaparra's utility role and possibly work his way into a platoon.

Colletti said DeWitt is better defensively at third base but "profiles" offensively more as a second baseman. For DeWitt to play third, Colletti said he would have needed to acquire a power-hitting second baseman like predecessor Jeff Kent, but they are rare and expensive.

Colletti praised Blake's grittiness, which included playing through most of September with a painful biceps tendon resulting from being hit with a pitch. Team doctor Neal ElAttrache signed off on Blake's physical exam Tuesday. Blake previously played exclusively in the American League with the Indians, Twins, Baltimore and Toronto.

Blake, acquired for reliever Jon Meloan and Minor League catcher Carlos Santana July 26, earned $6.1 million in 2008. His new contract calls for salaries of $5 million, $6 million and $5.25 million. The option year salary is $6 million with a $1.25 million buyout. Additionally, agent Jim McDowell said there is a series of escalating performance incentives that could add as much as $1.5 million annually based on plate appearances.

With James Loney at first base, Colletti's next priority is to resolve shortstop. Rafael Furcal's agent said the Dodgers are one of four finalists, along with Oakland, Toronto and Kansas City. Furcal, who played one month because of back surgery, seeks a four-year contract. The Dodgers are proposing either a two- or three-year deal with incentives because of concerns about his health.

Without Furcal at shortstop, the Dodgers could go internally (Angel Berroa, Chin-lung Hu, Ivan DeJesus Jr. or Tony Abreu) to fill the spot and reserve resources to acquire a pitcher or outfielder. Abreu, healing from hip surgery, is working out in the Dominican Republic and the hope is he will compete for a job in Spring Training.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.