A bat for both Bay teams

The prize is Pittsburgh first baseman Sean Casey. Both the Giants and A’s covet him. When he becomes a free agent at the end of the season, the Giants will pursue him, but when it comes to “renting” him for this season, the A’s have the advantage.

Though the organization philosophies are quite different, the Giants and A’s have some similarities as the season is at its halfway point. Both are pitching-oriented with shaky offenses, both are playing in a division where 88 or 89 victories could be enough to win.

And both have a dead hole at first base.

The Giants had high hopes for Lance Niekro, who had hit well at every minor league stop, but Niekro has been injury-prone (as he was in the minors, too) and hasn’t hit well when he has been healthy. Entering Monday, He stands at .245 with four homers and 26 RBIs in 159 at-bats.

Dan Johnson has been even worse for the A’s. In his second season, he is hitting .244 with six homers and 24 RBIs in 225 at-bats. To make it worse, he’s playing on an injured left ankle that caused errors that resulted in two Oakland losses last weekend.

Casey, who was injured this season but is now healthy, is not a big power hitter. His major league high is 25 homers with Cincinnati in 1999, and he had 24 two seasons ago for the Reds. This year, he has just three homers in 143 at-bats.

But he’s a very consistent hitter. His career batting average, over eight-plus seasons, is .305, and he’s hitting .301 now. He has hit very well at AT&T Park because he’s a line-drive hitter who puts the ball in the gaps.

The Giants have little chance to trade for him. They won’t give up their top young pitching prospects, and their resolve is no doubt reinforced when they look at former farmhand Francisco Liriano burning up the American League.

A’s general manager Billy Beane has used players from the A’s deep minor league system as trading chips, as he did when he sent Andre Ethier to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Milton Bradley and Antonio Perez. That trade hasn’t worked out, but it won’t stop Beane from trading for immediate help.

The Pirates are always looking for pitching, and the A’s have another hotshot in their system: Jason Windsor, whois 7-0 with Sacramento. Maybe Beane could throw in another player, like infielder Mike Rouse, who could be a valuable reserve.

That’s a trade I think the Pirates would jump at. They know they

aren’t going to re-sign Casey, who turned 32 Sunday. They’re trying to rebuild with good young players like Jason Bay, an All-Star selection. Casey doesn’t fit their future plans or budget.

But he would be a perfect fit for the A’s. He’s known to be a good guy in the clubhouse, another plus, and he would give the A’s a much-needed solid hitter in their lineup. Johnson could go back to Sacramento to get his swing and confidence back.

Next year? The A’s probably won’t pursue Casey in free agency, so it’s possible he would go across the Bay to the Giants. That won’t bother the A’s if he gives them the boost they need for their stretch run.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at glenndickey@hotmail.com.

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