ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Lou Piniella wants speculation about his future with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays to stop.
One day after the frustrated manager's agent met with a club official to discuss Piniella's concerns about the direction of the team, Piniella said Friday he will honor the remainder of his contract, which runs through 2006.
"I signed for four years here three years ago, and I'm going to honor my contract," Piniella said before the Devil Rays opened a weekend series against the St. Louis Cardinals. "That speaks for itself."
Speculation about the manager's future increased this week after Piniella criticized the new owners of the last-place team for what he perceives as a lack of commitment to do everything possible to win now.
The Devil Rays won a franchise-best 70 games last year but were nine victories behind that pace before facing the Cardinals on Friday night.
"I talked to the players today. I told them that I was sorry for the distractions, that I hope they go away quickly," Piniella said. "I told them to just play baseball, play as well as they can and win as many games as they can, and I'm here to help them in every way I can."
Piniella signed a $13 million, four-year contract in 2002 after a successful 10-year run in Seattle. He left the Mariners with one year remaining on his contract, and many felt his comments last Sunday were aimed at forcing an early exit from Tampa Bay.
Piniella is earning $3.5 million this season and will make $4.5 million in the final year of the deal. The Devil Rays also owe him more than $1 million in deferred salary from 2003.
Agent Alan Nero met with Devil Rays general manager Chuck LaMar to discuss Piniella's frustration on Thursday, with both parties saying the two-hour session was not unlike others they've had in the past.
"Lou, like all of us, gets frustrated," LaMar said. "He wants to know the direction of the organization, and my job as general manager is to keep him and everybody headed in the right direction."
The Devil Rays have the lowest payroll in the majors, just under $30 million when the season began. It has increased the past two offseasons, but not nearly as quickly as Piniella believes it must to field a competitive team.
LaMar said Piniella's comments to the media were the main focus of the meeting.
"Sometimes Lou voices his disapproval and disappointment in a way that you can't," LaMar said, adding that he's met with Nero on other occasions after the fiery Piniella has reached the "boiling point."
"That's him. I wouldn't have it any other way. That's what makes him an outstanding major league manager. But sometimes it gets to a point he says things, especially to you folks in the media, that can be harmful to this organization. He knows that."