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Rays, Piniella on the same page

Agent says there are few roadblocks to a deal to make him manager; Tampa Bay likely to make an offer Tuesday.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published October 21, 2002


ANAHEIM, Calif. -- A desire to talk with the Mets could be the only thing that keeps Lou Piniella from accepting an offer from the Devil Rays this week.

After continued talks with Rays general manager Chuck LaMar on Sunday, agent Alan Nero said there are no issues, including financial compensation, that appear insurmountable.

"Everything we've discussed is workable," Nero said. "If both parties want to get this done, there is enough common ground. I could be wrong, and I might see this differently in two days, but I'm enthusiastic that if there's a deal to be made it can be made. ... It's well within the realm of possibility that we'll come to an agreement with Tampa (Bay)."

The Rays are likely to make the offer Tuesday, after Piniella returns from Phoenix, where he attended a Sunday memorial service for a friend who had worked for the Mariners.

LaMar agreed there did not appear to be any "philosophical or structural" issues, but he said "the biggest part of the negotiation is to come." He would not go into any specifics expect to describe the coming offer as both "fair" and "extremely good." That could mean a three- or four-year deal at an average salary of around $3-million, enough to place Piniella among the games's highest-paid managers.

Nero said he expects the offer to be "fair and reasonable" but likely requiring further negotiation -- and, thus, additional time for the Mets to make a deal with Seattle for permission to join the pursuit.

In essence, it seems that unless the Rays' offer is overwhelming, Nero is going to try to wait for the Mets, or at least official word they won't be involved.

"At this moment, having not received an offer, I would say we wouldn't make a decision unless we know if the Mets are in or out," he said. "But I may feel different in a couple days."

The Rays could try to force the issue by placing a deadline on the offer, but they may be reluctant to do that initially. If it drags on, they probably have to so they can get the answer to the core question: Does Piniella want to come home to manage in Tampa Bay?

Nero reiterated Sunday that Piniella is extremely interested in doing so, saying he "would not insult the people of Tampa," LaMar and managing general partner Vince Naimoli if "his clear intent was to do something otherwise."

Nero said he feels that he and LaMar can work through every possible concern, from finances to how much promotional work would be expected. And he said Piniella's desire for a challenge, his talent evaluating skills and the way he "loves to work with young players"make him the "perfect fit for this job at this time."

Later Sunday, he told the Seattle Times, "If we work out something with Tampa Bay I believe (Piniella) will accept it."

But he also said that Piniella has been "pretty vehement" that he wants to be able to talk with the Mets and that Piniella is likely to share that concern with Mariners officials while he is in Arizona.

"All he wanted was the opportunity to talk to Tampa Bay and the Mets," Nero said. "It's very difficult to make a decision in a vacuum."

The talks between the Mariners and Mets don't seem to be going anywhere, and despite rumors there has been no indication commissioner Bud Selig will get involved to force the issue.

Though there have been several positive indications for the Rays, Piniella's insistence on talking to the Mets can't be considered a good sign. It could be an effort to retain negotiating leverage on the Rays, or it could be a not-so-subtle indication that Piniella prefers the Mets over the Rays.

LaMar said he wasn't concerned about the Mets or any other outside issue.

"Throughout our discussions one thing that's clear is that Lou has sincere interest in becoming our next manager and obviously we'd like for that to happen," LaMar said.

"The Tampa Bay Devil Rays have handled this situation as well as can be handled. We are the team that has stepped forward and gotten the compensation issue behind us and the team that has had positive and constructive conversations with Lou and Alan. We'll take our best step forward early this week and offer Lou Piniella an extremely good contract to become our next manager.

"What other teams were to get involved is really no factor to us. We'll do what we think is fair to both sides and hopefully that's good enough to sign Lou Piniella."

Nero said that if Piniella doesn't sign with the Rays or the Mets he could have other options, including sitting out the year or going back to the Mariners, which seems unlikely. In a statement last week, the Mariners said Piniella made the decision to not return.


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