St. Petersburg, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Devil Rays didn't have to do a lot to sell themselves to Lou Piniella.
The third manager in the club's five-year history is excited to finally have an opportunity to work near his hometown. He's equally intrigued with the challenge of transforming the team with baseball's youngest and least-expensive roster into a championship contender.
"Simply stated, my job here is to do just that make the Tampa Bay Devil Rays ... into one of the elite organizations in baseball," Piniella said Monday when he was introduced as the Devil Rays' manager. "With a little patience and a little time, believe me, we'll get it done."
Piniella finalized a four-year, $13 million contract that makes him the second-highest paid manager in the majors behind Joe Torre of the New York Yankees, who earns about $5 million per year.
"I'm not a baseball savior. I'm not a baseball guru. I believe in no shortcuts to success," the 59-year-old native of Tampa said after slipping on a No. 14 Devil Rays jersey during a news conference at Tropicana Field.
"I believe in hard work. I believe in dedication. I believe in taking a tremendous amount of pride in the uniform that you wear in the city that you represent," he said, tugging on the front of his jersey. "That's what we're going to try to instill here. I'm looking forward to the challenge."
Piniella asked out of the final year on his contract with the Seattle Mariners, so he could seek employment closer to his home. The Mariners agreed to allow Tampa Bay to negotiate with the manager after the Devil Rays met their demand for All-Star outfielder Randy Winn as compensation.
Tampa Bay also received minor league shortstop Antonio Perez in the deal.
"They got pretty good compensation," Piniella said, turning to Devil Rays general manager Chuck LaMar. "Chuck, I hope you got a darn good manager."
Piniella went 840-711 in 10 seasons at Seattle. The Mariners won a league-record 116 games in 2001 and won three AL West titles and made four playoff appearances under him.
Overall, Piniella has 1,319 victories fourth among active managers in 16 seasons. He led the Cincinnati Reds to a World Series championship in 1990 and also served a successful stint as manager of the New York Yankees from 1986-88.
In Tampa Bay, Piniella inherits a team that has lost 206 games the past two seasons most in the majors. The Devil Rays tied the Detroit Tigers for the worst record in the AL (55-106) this year and never won more than 69 games under previous managers Larry Rothschild and Hal McRae.
McRae was fired last month and moved into a position as an assistant LaMar. Six other candidates none with big-league managerial experience were interviewed as potential replacements, however the team focused solely on Piniella once the Mariners agreed to let him out of the final year of his contract in Seattle.
The New York Mets were interested, too, but were unable to agree with Seattle on compensation. Once it became apparent Piniella was going accept the Devil Rays' offer, the Mets quickly closed on a four-year contract with Art Howe.
Piniella reportedly will earn about $2.5 million in 2003, roughly the same that he would have had he remained in Seattle. The remainder of the contract calls for about $3 million in 2004, $3.5 million in 2005 and $4 million in 2006, plus he could earn up to $3 million in incentives based on victories.
In addition to being able to live year-round in the same city with his family and elderly parents, the ultra-competitive Piniella also found the challenge of taking over one of the league's worst teams appealing.
Seattle was struggling before he began to turn the Mariners around in 1993. He sees the same potential in Tampa Bay, which trimmed its payroll to a major league-low $34 million this season and reaffirmed its commitment to developing young talent.