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Casey to be at the bat

Sox agree to terms with veteran, who will back up Youkilis

SEAN CASEY Career .301 hitter SEAN CASEY Career .301 hitter
Email|Print| Text size + By Gordon Edes
Globe Staff / February 2, 2008

Sean Casey, who lost his job as Detroit's everyday first baseman when the Tigers elected to move sore-kneed Carlos Guillen from shortstop to first, will be coming to the Red Sox as a backup to Kevin Youkilis and as a lefthanded bat off the bench.

Casey and the Red Sox agreed yesterday to terms on a one-year, $800,000 contract pending a physical, which is likely to take place Tuesday in Boston.

Casey, a three-time All-Star with the Cincinnati Reds who batted a career-best .332 in 1999 and ranks 19th among active players with a .301 career batting average, is still young enough (34 in July) to play as a regular for some teams. But with numerous free agents still unsigned, Casey leaped at the chance to play for the Sox, who would have liked to have added a reserve who could play first base and the outfield, which is why they made a run at Brad Wilkerson. But Wilkerson appears bound for the Seattle Mariners, and the Sox decided Casey's bat made him a worthy addition.

While neither Casey nor the Sox were commenting until the deal is official, the Sox also were drawn to Casey because they have few doubts he'll accept a secondary role. Casey, whose nickname is "The Mayor," last season was named the nicest player in baseball in a Sports Illustrated poll of his fellow players, and as one Sox official said, "He's off the charts in the clubhouse."

Former teammate Aaron Boone once compared him to Forrest Gump.

"He's just really good at life," Boone said. "He has this way of making everyone around him feel important. He's awesome, man."

Casey played for Brewster in the Cape Cod League in 1994 and stocked the frozen food section in a local supermarket that summer. He also became friends with a priest named Paul O'Brien, whom he would later support in Labels Are for Jars, O'Brien's campaign to feed the hungry in Lawrence, where O'Brien is pastor at St. Patrick Parish. That effort ended with the opening of Cor Unum Meal Center, which in 16 months has served 160,000 meals and continues to receive Casey's financial assistance.

Casey does not hit for power. Last season, while batting .296 for the Tigers, he hit just four home runs and drove in 54 runs. The Tigers batted him mostly in the No. 7 hole, where he made 59 starts. He started slowly, batting .192 in April, but finished the season batting .408 (20 for 49) in September, by which time the Tigers were already auditioning Guillen at first base.

Casey, who began his big league career with the Indians, was traded on the eve of the 1998 season to the Reds for pitcher Dave Burba. He remained with the Reds until a trade to the Pirates Dec. 7, 2005, then became a trading-deadline pickup by the Tigers July 31, 2006. The Tigers were rewarded when Casey batted .529 with two home runs in the World Series against the Cardinals. The batting average was the highest by a Detroit player in Series history.

Casey's signing will bring the Sox' big league roster to 40 with pitchers and catchers set to report to spring training Feb. 14.

As of now, the Sox' bench is made up of Casey; veteran infielder Alex Cora, in the second year of a two-year deal; catcher Doug Mirabelli, who was re-signed last month; and Coco Crisp, unless the incumbent center fielder beats out rookie Jacoby Ellsbury or there is a trade. On Opening Day last season, the Sox' bench included Wily Mo Peña, who was traded to Washington, and Eric Hinske, who remains unsigned as a free agent, as does outfielder Bobby Kielty, who joined the club in August and had a pinch-hit home run in the World Series.

Gordon Edes can be reached at edes@globe.com.

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