By DEJAN KOVACEVIC
June 5, 2006
The Pittsburgh Pirates are planning a push to sign first baseman Sean Casey to a long-term contract, a team source said.
Management has not yet contacted Casey or his agent, Ron Shapiro, but the source said ownership has authorized general manager Dave Littlefield to pursue a deal sometime this summer that would keep Casey from leaving through free agency, as he is eligible to do following this season.
Casey said in March he would be amenable to staying in Pittsburgh - he was born in Upper St. Clair, Pa. and makes his home there - and reiterated that Monday.
"Sure. No doubt about it. Definitely, I would," he said. "But my main goal right now is getting back to playing at the top of my game. If something came up, I'd look at that."
Asked if he had made up his mind to try free agency no matter what, he replied: "No, no, no, I haven't made up my mind. This is obviously my first time I'll have an opportunity at free agency, with my being with Cincinnati the whole time before this. But it's just not something I've thought about."
Casey, 31, is making $8.5 million this season in the final season of a four-year contract. The Reds are paying $1 million of that, as per the terms of the teams' December trade.
Management has liked what it has seen of Casey, although he just missed six weeks to a fractured back. He is batting .274 with three home runs and 10 RBIs in his 17 games.
An equally large issue for the Pirates, it appears, is that their internal options for first base seem limited.
The team has rebuffed offers from veteran Craig Wilson to negotiate an extension, and it is highly likely he will be dealt by the July 31 trading deadline. If not, he is a virtual lock to depart through free agency after the season.
Brad Eldred, the system's top power-hitting prospect, probably is out for the season after his thumb was dislocated in April. This was to be a pivotal year for his development, given the team's wish to see him improve his eye at the plate, and he will be 27 by the middle of next season.
No one else in the organization is on the cusp of making an impact at first base. The Pirates tried catcher Ryan Doumit there briefly last month, but management's long-term aim is to keep him behind the plate.
Littlefield said in March that he was open to trying to keep Casey, based on his performance and the progression of Eldred, and he's sticking to that stance.
"Nothing's changed in that regard," he said. "Obviously, what has taken place to this point in time is that Sean did well early, was out for six weeks and has come back and done a nice job. Obviously, Eldred is now hurt for four months, so those are some of the issues that play into it."