By KIRBY ARNOLD
SEATTLE – He’s had the Seattle Mariners’ offer for nearly a week.
Now Lou Piniella hopes the pot will grow now that the Cincinnati Reds have officially entered the running for his services as manager in 2001.
Piniella spent Monday night waiting for word from his agent on talks earlier in the day with the Reds and could have all the information he needs to make a final decision.
It may happen as soon as today.
“I’m just waiting to see what Cincinnati comes up with,” Piniella said by telephone from his home in Tampa, Fla. “This is not going to drag out.”
Last week, the Mariners made Piniella a three-year offer believed to be worth $7 million.
Piniella said the Mariners gave his agent, Alan Nero, permission on Monday to negotiate with the Reds.
“I don’t need to meet with them,” Piniella said. “I managed there three years and the general manager knows me well. That’s why this won’t be dragged out at all.”
Piniella, who managed the Reds from 1990-92 and won a World Series title there in ‘90, is a close friend of Reds general manager Jim Bowden. The two worked together in 1989 with the Yankees.
The Reds give Piniella another suitor that he hopes will cause the Mariners to sweeten their offer.
“It was a respectable offer and I told the ballclub that,” Piniella said. “But at the same time, I felt there was room for some improvement.”
Piniella’s agent made that clear on Monday with a fax to Seattle general manager Pat Gillick asking for more money.
“They never said it was a final offer,” said Nero, who had told The Herald on Thursday that he would not ask the Mariners to bid against themselves. “When I talked to Pat on Saturday, I asked him to get a final offer ready. I’m requesting that today in writing.”
At their current offer – $2.3 million per year – the Mariners would pay Piniella about $1 million per year more than he received in his last contract.
By comparison, Dusty Baker recently got a two-year extension from the San Francisco Giants, and reports have put his pay at between $2.4 million and $2.65 million.
Baker’s record is 655-577 in eight seasons as manager, a .532 winning percentage, while Piniella is 1,110-1,020 (.521). Piniella’s postseason record is far superior, 19-15 with a World Series title in 1990 and two trips to the American League Championship Series since 1995, while Baker is 1-6 after being eliminated twice in the National League Division Series.
The Cincinnati Enquirer reported Monday that it will take $2.5 million per year for the Reds to get Piniella and that Reds CEO Carl Lindner would be reluctant to pay that much without ditching some of the team’s higher-paid players.
Piniella has said he’d like to finish his career with 1,500 victories as a manager, meaning he’d have to work five more years to get that. Still, he has no qualms with the length of the Mariners’ offer.
“Three years is fine,” he said. “This has nothing to do with the length of the contract.”
There was concern over the weekend that the Mariners wouldn’t allow Piniella to talk with other teams because of confusion over when his contract expires.
“I get paid year-round, from the first of the year to the end of the year,” Piniella said. “I guess it was interpreted that I won’t be a free agent until Dec. 31. That’s what the confusion was all about.”
Mariners assistant GM Lee Pelekoudas didn’t say whether Piniella’s contract is finished, but he considers the issue moot anyway.
“The way we’re treating it, and the way other clubs are, if they want to avoid any appearance of impropriety they’ll ask for permission and we’ll grant it,” Pelekoudas said. “We won’t stand in his way.”
If the Mariners succeed in retaining Piniella, it could be the first step in bringing back shortstop Alex Rodriguez.
Rodriguez, who is close to Piniella, filed for free agency on Monday. He could give the Mariners every opportunity to sign him, although it might take more than $20 million per year to do it.
If Rodriguez returns, Piniella is convinced the Mariners are just a few new players – he’d like to beef up the hitting and add a middle relief pitcher – from becoming a World Series team. They came within two victories of reaching the Series this year.
A big part of his meeting last week with Gillick, Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln and president Chuck Armstrong focused on the club’s commitment to building a champion.
“They know we have to do some things,” Piniella said. “And they’re willing to do so. They liked what transpired this year and they want to keep on that course.”
And if Rodriguez doesn’t return?
“Then you’ve got to really overhaul it,” Piniella said.
Within hours, everyone may know whether Piniella will be part of it.
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