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Lou wants help for have-nots

Lou Piniella says payroll cap and floor might help ease disparities.

TOM JONES
Published September 25, 2003

TORONTO - For the sixth consecutive season, the American League East is going to finish in the same order:

The Yankees in first, the Red Sox in second, followed by Toronto and Baltimore with the Devil Rays finishing last.

Perhaps it's no coincidence the payrolls of those teams usually are in the same order.

"Obviously, payroll has something to do with it," Rays manager Lou Piniella said. "And you notice that the teams that finish one-two improve their situations as the year goes on and the three-four-five teams don't."

Piniella commented that the Yankees and Red Sox added players during the season, while the Blue Jays, Orioles and Rays subtracted veterans at the trade deadline.

Piniella, who added he was not whining about baseball's payroll structure, suggests limiting the ability to make trades during the season. To solve the ultimate problem, though, Piniella suggests setting up a salary structure so that teams can't spend too much or too little.

"Put some type of ceiling and a floor (on team payrolls,)" Piniella said. "I don't know if we'll ever get to that."

Payroll isn't always the determining factor in winning. Piniella pointed out that his 1990 Reds won a World Series with a $13-million payroll and the defending champion Angels were in the middle of the pack in payroll. But Piniella also pointed out neither team could sustain its winning ways.

The only way small-market teams can win, Piniella said, is to build through the farm system. Eventually, though, the window closes because those teams cannot afford the stars they develop. Meantime, the have-nots have to keep plugging away. And it's an uphill climb.

"I don't think any of the teams in this division will ever be able to compete with the top two teams in terms of payroll," Piniella said.

SOMETHING TO WATCH: Could veteran shortstop Barry Larkin be in a Rays uniform next season? Larkin, 39, rejected a contract offer from the Reds this week and will be a free agent this offseason. He has a home in Orlando and is tight with Piniella. And the Rays are looking for veteran leadership.

Piniella can't comment on potential free agents, but he has high praise for the shortstop he managed from 1990-92 in Cincinnati.

"Barry was, when I was there, the key guy in our clubhouse," Piniella said. "In my opinion, Barry's still got some baseball to play. And can still help quite a few major-league teams (because of) his experience, his presence, his leadership qualities and the fact that he can still play. He is going to be a benefit to some major-league organization."

POPPING OFF: Other than Toronto pitcher Josh Towers admitting he threw at Aubrey Huff, the comments after Tuesday's edition of the feud between the Jays and Rays were tame. Except for this comment from Blue Jays slugger Carlos Delgado, who still is irritated that Rays outfielder Carl Crawford dissed the Jays lineup a few weeks ago.

"I decided to forget about what he said," Delgado said. "He wasn't thinking clearly. All he's doing is (ticking) people off and that's the way to make some enemies. Personally, I don't care. The guy has got a year in the big leagues and he's already popping his mouth off."

MISCELLANY: Crawford set a club record with his 36th infield hit. Jason Tyner had 35 in 2001. ... Huff appeared in his 158th game this season, tying the club record set by Fred McGriff in 2000. ... Rays prospect Todd Williams, a right-handed pitcher from Land O'Lakes, was selected for the United States Olympic qualifying team. Williams, who played in the 2000 Olympics, pitched at Triple-A Durham this season.

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