Piniella: 'What I said, I said'

Updated: June 13, 2005, 8:50 PM ET
Associated Press

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella is standing by his words.

One day after ripping the team's new ownership for not doing enough to win now, Piniella did little to defuse a volatile situation by declining to discuss remarks he made Sunday in Pittsburgh.

"I don't have any statements except I made the statement yesterday and I'm not going to comment about it any further. You all can interpret it any way you want, but that's really the bottom line," Piniella said before Monday night's game against the Milwaukee Brewers.

"The amazing part about it is that the new people who bought this baseball club, they're nice people. I have absolutely nothing personal against anybody. They are a good group of men. It's a tough business. And what I said, I said."

The Devil Rays have the lowest payroll in baseball, just under $30 million on Opening Day, and returned to Tropicana Field for the start of a homestand Monday with the worst record in the majors at 21-42.

The team lost 10 of 12 on a road trip that concluded with Sunday's 7-5 extra-inning victory over the Pirates. But the manager's comments beforehand figure to remain a hot topic for the rest of the summer.

A group headed by New York investor Stuart Sternberg purchased 48 percent of the Devil Rays last year, and Piniella expressed concern that the new owners seem to care more about the future than winning now.

While managing general partner Vince Naimoli owns 15 percent and remains in charge of daily operations, general manager Chuck LaMar said Naimoli and Sternberg make some long-term decisions jointly.

"As I've told you many times before, Lou Piniella truly wants to win .... and he wants to know that this organization is committed to winning," LaMar said, attributing the manager's comments to frustration.

Piniella is in his third season with the Devil Rays, who improved from 55 to 63 victories in their first year under the one-time Yankees, Reds and Mariners manager. They followed with a franchise-record 70 wins in 2004.

The payroll has increased each of the past two offseasons, but still is nowhere close to where Piniella feels it needs to be for Tampa Bay to be competitive.

"In Lou's mind, he had every belief that it was going to be higher. But very candidly, ownership told me this year it was going to be between $32 million and $33 million," LaMar said. "We haven't spent all of that, but that's what the payroll is. If there was a move to be made to get it up to that point, I would make it."

The general manager said it's too early to project what the budget will be for 2006. He also disagreed with Piniella's assessment that ownership has altered the course of a team that finished above last place for the first time last year.

"I don't think there's been a change in direction. ... [But] Lou, when he came aboard, he truly felt like we'd be further along in our progress. He didn't take this job to 'develop players,' even though he knew it was going to be done with young players."

What remains to be seen is how Piniella's comments will impact his relationship with ownership.

"Obviously there are some questions there. ... Can we call up the young players? The payroll for future years. Can I get enough of those pieces to get the job done? Those are going to have to be addressed," LaMar said, adding that answers likely will emerge in the next month or two.

LaMar said there's been no talk about trying to buy out Piniella's contract, which runs through 2006. The manager is earning $3.5 million this season and is due to make $4.5 million next year.

"I think he's the best manager in this game, and given the talent he will win here or anywhere else," LaMar said.

"He also knows it can't be done right now with the payroll that we have and the injuries that we have, and especially if the young players are not able to be called up when they're ready to play. I think right now we need to win some baseball games and get some clarification on the definite direction of the organization."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press