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Present decisions for future

MARC TOPKIN
Published June 8, 2003

HOUSTON - Lou Piniella wants to win every game. You only have to look at the way he reacted to a questionable call Friday night to be reminded of that.

But the more this season goes on, the more the Rays will look to next season, when Piniella is banking on a significant increase in payroll ($10-million to $15-million or so would be nice) to significantly improve the team.

Aside from getting managing general partner Vince Naimoli to commit the cash, the most important thing the Rays have to do is determine exactly what they have and precisely who they need.

Last week's release of infielder Damion Easley was the first of several such related moves, clearing out a veteran who won't be part of the future to make room to determine if younger players, such as Jeff Liefer, might be.

Similar moves likely will be made later in the season with some young pitchers such as Doug Waechter, Jon Switzer and Brian Stokes and perhaps slugging outfielder Jonny Gomes.

The evaluations Piniella makes this season are more important than any managerial maneuvers. And once the Rays determine their shopping list, it will be important, imperative actually, that they spend wisely (unlike their 2000 splurge) because they won't be able to afford any mistakes.

"We'll have this whole thing mapped out exactly what we have and what we need to go spend our money on and what type of player we want to bring in here," Piniella said. "I'm talking about using all the criteria, the tangibles and intangibles that they bring."

Piniella said they won't (and shouldn't) pursue the top-tier free agents, but will look to add several midrange players to build a stronger base. Right-handed power, a third baseman and several pitchers are going to be on the list.

"We need good quantity as opposed to top quality," he said. "Solid baseball players who can make a difference."

BARRY'S TROP BOP?: San Francisco's Barry Bonds could be taking aim at the Tropicana Field catwalks next season. The interleague rotation has the AL East playing the NL West again in 2004 and, according to MLB scheduling maven Katy Feeney, the Rays definitely will play the team they missed in 2002, Arizona, though the site hasn't been determined, and will host the Giants or Rockies, or both.

HEADLINE NEWS: It was a tough week for Toby Hall, who was uncomfortably thrust into the middle of the Sammy Sosa controversy when umpire Tim McClelland said Hall first alerted him to the cork in the bat, and then portrayed in some media reports as "turning in" the Cubs star. McClelland felt bad enough about it that he passed on an apology to Hall through another umpire. "He asked how I was handling it and said Tim's sorry he got me involved in it," Hall said.

OLD FRIENDS: Piniella visited (or should we say commiserated) with Cubs pitching coach and ex-Rays manager Larry Rothschild, whom Piniella hired for his first big-league coaching job in Cincinnati.

So, Piniella was asked, can he understand the frustration Rothschild faced when managing the Rays? "Heck, he won 69 games (in 1999)," Piniella said. "No one else has."

HOO-RAYS: Closer Lance Carter's wife, Amanda, an aspiring country singer, will perform the national anthem on Saturday at the Trop. ... Ex-Ray Bryan Rekar is 2-1, 1.93 for the Long Island Ducks in the independent Atlantic League. ... Syndicated radio host Jim Rome after the Rays drafted Delmon Young, whose older brother Dmitri plays for the Tigers: "You know both those guys thought if they worked and played hard, they could play in major-league baseball. And look what happened!"

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