Larkin, Casto, Wilson file for free agency
CINCINNATI -- Sean Casey isn't going anywhere.
The popular first baseman had his contract extended through the 2006 season on Friday, the clearest message yet that the Cincinnati Reds have no intention of trading him. Instead, they picked up an $8.5 million option for the additional year.
"The fact that they picked up the contract shows me they want me to be here," Casey said.
Shortstop Barry Larkin formally cut ties with his hometown team on Friday, filing for free agency along with infielder Juan Castro and starting pitcher Paul Wilson. Larkin has spent all 19 years of his career with the Reds, who declined to offer him another contract two weeks ago.
Since he came to the Reds in a notorious 1998 trade, Casey has become a three-time All-Star and one of baseball's most beloved players -- even opponents call him The Mayor because he acts like he's close friends with everyone.
He's also been one of the Reds' most reliable hitters. He batted .324 with 24 homers and 99 RBI last season, when he was chosen for his third All-Star team.
As the season wound down, there was speculation the Reds might trade Casey, opening first base to solve their logjam in the outfield. Wily Mo Pena had a breakout season after Ken Griffey Jr. tore his hamstring while chasing a ball in center field.
With Griffey getting hurt each of the last four seasons, it seemed a good fit to move him to first base to save his legs and trade Casey. Even Casey wondered if that might happen.
"For the past few years, there's always been a rumor that I'm going somewhere," Casey said. "I hadn't heard anything (from the front office). I thought if that's the direction --that they would put Griff at first -- then that's the business end of it."
His contract also played into it. Casey made $6.8 million this year, the second of a three-year deal. That trailed only Griffey's $12.5 million base salary as the biggest on the roster.
Casey was guaranteed to make $7.8 million next season. The club had until Nov. 1 to decide whether to pick up his option for 2006 at $8.5 million. General manager Dan O'Brien called him Friday to give him the news.
Casey, 30, has played for only two organizations. He was one of the Cleveland Indians' top prospects when they traded him to the Reds on the eve of the 1998 season opener for Dave Burba, who was scheduled to start the next day.
The trade confirmed that the Reds were rebuilding and making Casey one of their cornerstones. He has developed into one of their leaders, known for doing a wacky dance in the clubhouse after wins.
"Aw, man, I'm so excited," Casey said. "I'd been thinking about it during the season, whether they'd pick it up. I want to stay in Cincinnati.
"I've been here for seven years and really feel like a part of the city. When you're part of the Reds, you're part of the community. It means the world to me," he said.
Larkin made a $700,000 base salary last season and lobbied for a one-year extension, but the Reds decided to go with younger players at shortstop. Larkin, 40, could retire if he doesn't find a suitable fit with another team.
Wilson was the Reds' top starter last season, going 11-8 with a 4.36 ERA and a $3.5 million salary. The Reds have told him they're interested in signing him to another deal.
Castro made $1 million last season, when he hit .244 and made 66 starts.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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