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Piniella starts the ball rolling

The Tampa resident asks M's if he may talk to other teams, a possible first step in joining Rays or Mets.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published October 13, 2002

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Lou Piniella took the first step toward leaving Seattle by asking the Mariners to allow him to talk with other teams about managing next season, and the Rays likely will be one of those teams.

"I talked to Seattle about wanting to come closer to home and talked to them about the ability to get permission to talk to teams, and that's it," Piniella told the Times on Saturday from his Tampa home. "Until I find out who's interested, I don't know anything."

It is believed Piniella is seriously interested in coming home to manage the Rays, allowing him to be near his elderly parents, children and grandchildren. Several reports also have linked him to the Mets job.

The Mariners are expected to grant Piniella permission to explore other options. Team president Chuck Armstrong told the Seattle Times late Saturday that a Peter Gammons' ESPN report that they had already done so was "absolutely false," but it may just be a matter of days. Piniella said he expected an answer "soon."

The Mariners, according to Gammons, are likely to seek substantial compensation from a team that wants to sign Piniella.

Piniella said because he was under contract he could not discuss which teams he wanted to talk with or which situation he found more appealing, saying only that he wanted to leave Seattle after 10 years to be "closer to home" and his request in a meeting Friday was "the first hurdle."

"You're asking me things I don't know. Those decisions are not mine; those are decisions for any team that would contemplate hiring me," Piniella said. "I can't tell you if I'll be managing in Japan next year, I can't tell you if I'll be managing in South America next year."

The Rays -- with three interviews done, three more scheduled and others likely -- will wait to see what develops before taking any action. None of their announced candidates has major-league managing experience or anywhere near Piniella's reputation, appeal or marketability.

"As far as we know, Lou Piniella is still under contract with the Seattle Mariners and we plan to continue our interview process this coming week with the candidates we have lined up," general manager Chuck LaMar said Saturday.

If the Rays and Mets both want to hire Piniella, there will be several interesting issues, including the possibility of a bidding war.

Piniella, 59, would have to decide if it is more important to be at home with his family, as has been indicated, or if he merely wants to be closer to home and take what almost surely would be a more lucrative offer to manage a better team in New York.

Similarly, Rays ownership would have to decide if it is willing to spend the money it would take to sign Piniella, likely in excess of $2-million a season, and to compensate the Mariners, who may want players (Joe Kennedy might be a good start) and cash.

If this sounds similar to how the Bucs landed Jon Gruden, it is. But it has happened in baseball before. After the 1976 season, A's owner Charlie Finley let the Pirates hire manager Chuck Tanner in exchange for catcher Manny Sanguillen and $100,000. In 1968, the Mets sent pitcher Bill Denehy to Washington for manager Gil Hodges.

There has been talk that the Mariners would let Piniella out of the final year of his contract because he doesn't want to be there and that they already have their eye on San Francisco's Dusty Baker as a replacement. The Giants then could hire Jim Fregosi.

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