"I'm thrilled to be back with Detroit," Casey said via teleconference from his home in Pittsburgh. "My experience there was just first class all the way. I felt like it was my No. 1 choice to come back there, and I'm thrilled that they wanted to bring me back."
He wasn't nearly so hopeful that was going to happen after the World Series ended in St. Louis.
The Tigers acquired Casey from Pittsburgh at the July 31 trade deadline to provide a left-handed bat in the lineup and take over at first base. He hit .245 in 53 regular-season games for the Tigers down the stretch, but he produced, driving in 30 runs in that span.
That production reached an entirely different level once the calendar turned to October. He was the Tigers' best hitter during the postseason, batting .432 (16-for-37) in October, and his 9-for-17 performance in the World Series made him one of the few Tigers to hit well in the Fall Classic.
Casey had back-to-back three-hit games in Games 4 and 5 at St. Louis, including two doubles and a home run in the finale. His 17 total bases were the most by a Tiger in the World Series since Hank Greenberg in 1940.
As valuable as Casey was to the Tigers, their playoff run was just as valuable to Casey, who hadn't been in so much as a pennant race since he was a Cincinnati Red in 1999.
"I remember the morning I got the call from [president/general manager] Dave [Dombrowski]," Casey said, referring to the day he was traded. "I was so excited and so thrilled. And when I got there, it kind of exceeded my expectations. When I got there, I felt like, 'What a great fit, what a great bunch of guys.' A lot of talent, a lot of young talent. It just felt like I was accepted by all those guys and I fit right in. That's why it felt for me like coming back to Detroit was a no-brainer."
Ironically, the Tigers' offensive struggles around Casey worked against him once his contract was up. Detroit's desire to add a run producer to the middle of the order helped the Tigers decide not to try to re-sign Casey during their exclusive negotiating period. All the while, though, they kept the door open to possibly bring him back depending on the situation.
When Sheffield arrived, he swung the door all the way open.
"Sean did a fine job for us," Dombrowski said. "I think probably the only thing is we wanted to see the hitter we got, what position that person played, how it would affect our ballclub, [whether he hit] left-handed or right-handed. For us, I think it's a tremendous fit."
Though Sheffield played first base down the stretch with the Yankees this past season, his trade and contract extension came with assurances from the Tigers that he wouldn't have to play there for them. More importantly, the right-handed-hitting Sheffield tilted the lineup further out of balance.
It was the same left-handed need the Tigers had before they acquired Casey the first time. Once the Sheffield dealings were complete and Dombrowski headed to the general managers' meetings in Florida, he had vice president and legal counsel John Westhoff work out a contract with Casey's agent, Ron Shapiro.
That and a call from manager Jim Leyland were all Casey needed to hear. He made $8.5 million this season in the finale of a four-year contract he signed while he was still in Cincinnati, but he wasn't going to match that kind of deal this time around.
"Obviously, you weigh all your options," Casey said of a multi-year contract, "and I thought about that. But I told my agent when it was all done that my first choice was to come back here. I felt comfortble here. I felt like I fit in with the team, and I felt like being here with a one-year deal was where I wanted to be."
Not only is Casey expected to remain Detroit's everyday first baseman, but he's likely to be back hitting somewhere close to the middle of the lineup along with switch-hitter Carlos Guillen to break up the string of right-handed batters.
"I think that Sean Casey will be a big part of our team in 2007," Leyland said in a statement. "He is a tremendous teammate and had an outstanding performance in the World Series. You couldn't ask for a better combination of a person and player to retain in the Tigers organization."
With Casey back in the fold, the lineup is pretty much set. Chris Shelton, Dombrowski said, will come to camp with a chance to make the roster, but will have to show he can hit again. Otherwise, he'll be optioned back to Triple-A Toledo.
"We're not going to look to make any moves with our positional players," Dombrowski said. "We like our lineup. When we put Sean in there from the left-handed side, that gives us three left-handed hitters. Sean and Sheff are also two guys that have a good walk-to-strikeout ratio. I think our positional players are probably pretty well set."