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Piniella: 'What I said, I said'

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."