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Naimoli, LaMar departures imminent

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published September 25, 2005

ANAHEIM, Calif. - Lou Piniella is not the only one leaving the Devil Rays. Managing general partner Vince Naimoli is expected to hand over control of the team to Stuart Sternberg in about 10 days, and general manager Chuck LaMar is expected to be fired soon after.

The change at the top has been expected for the last month or so, as reported by the Times Aug.31. But there are indications from baseball officials locally and nationally that the deal is all but completed and will be announced in the middle of next week.

Once that happens, the organization is expected to undergo a massive makeover. Sternberg will implement several new philosophies and business strategies, and is expected to make a number of changes among front-office staff.

While Piniella's departure, which will be formally announced next weekend during the final series at Tropicana Field, is a popular topic, his replacement may not be hired until November or December. After sorting out which baseball operations employees they want to keep and which ones they want to pay to leave, the Rays will have to hire a new general manager, who, with his staff, will have input on the new manager.

With Andrew Friedman, a Sternberg associate who is director of baseball development, set to assume a key role, the Rays seem likely to complement him by hiring someone with front office and administrative experience. Communication skills and a willingness to embrace new ideas will be important. Being a former player or top scout will not.

Former Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker is rumored by some to be the frontrunner, but speculation may be ahead of reality. Former Angels GM Mike Port could be another possibility, and there likely will be more.

Once a general manager is hired, which may not be until after the World Series, the Rays can start the process of replacing Piniella.

Rumors of his successor are flying, though, starting with an up-and-comer such as Yankees bench coach Joe Girardi, who makes a lot of sense, to an experienced hand such as Bobby Valentine, who doesn't, and would cost a lot of dollars.

There are other names, too, from in house such as Don Zimmer (for a one-year transition), Tom Foley, John McLaren and Triple-A skipper Bill Evers , and from outside such as A's coaches Ron Washington and Bob Geren.

The Rays are going to want someone who can communicate, is open to new ideas, is smart, is willing to put aside his ego, will accept input from the front office and grasp the concept he is part of their team.

Major-league experience won't be as important as potential. Youth could be an advantage. A model could be the Red Sox, where Terry Francona accepts input - scouting reports, statistics, trend data, etc. - from the front office and makes it part of his decisionmaking process.

As for Piniella?

The rumors are flying where he'll go, starting with the Yankees and including the Orioles, Marlins, Nationals, Cubs, Dodgers, and even Red Sox. All that said, don't be surprised if he doesn't go anywhere.

The terms of his buyout make it appealing for him to stay home, and he may just take his $2.2-million and do so. Piniella, 62, has talked a lot about recharging his batteries, going fishing, and doing a little TV work, perhaps starting with this postseason.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Some are unlikely to stick around to see what happens, but LaMar, his top baseball executives and major-league scouts are holding their usual season-end meetings this weekend at the Trop. ... While the Red Sox brought up their No.1 pick in the 2005 draft, Craig Hansen, to pitch at the Trop last week, none of the Rays' top picks from the last four drafts are in the majors: 2005, Wade Townsend; 2004, Jeff Niemann; 2003, Delmon Young; and 2002, B.J. Upton. And their 2001 pick, Dewon Brazelton, is relegated to long relief. ... TV analyst Joe Magrane, a former Cardinals pitcher, was among those invited back to St. Louis for the closing ceremonies of Busch Stadium. ... The Rays PR department has been supporting Jonny Gomes' and Scott Kazmir's rookie of the year bids with regular e-mails to national writers.

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