Managers with rebuilding clubs have always said that you can
start to get your house in order by making your team strong up
the middle. A good catcher, a dependable shortstop, a
centerfielder with tools, plus a starter who can stop losing
streaks. Lou Piniella, the new manager of the Tampa Bay Devil
Rays, adds another item to that list: a skipper who knows what
Piniella thinks the Devil Rays did the right thing last month
when they traded their best player, outfielder Randy Winn, to the
Seattle Mariners, for him. He says that even though the
28-year-old Winn is a skillful centerfielder with excellent
range, a decent arm and a disciplined eye at the plate. Last
season Winn had a breakout year, batting .298 with 39 doubles, 14
home runs and 75 RBIs as a leadoff hitter. Next year in Seattle,
Winn could be even better. He'll play leftfield, where his arm
will be more than adequate, and he'll bat second, behind Ichiro
Suzuki. With Suzuki a threat to steal, Winn will see more
fastballs. He should feast.
The only feasting Piniella will do in Tampa is at the Cuban
restaurants he loves, but he's eager for the challenge of
overhauling a team that went 55--106 in 2002. While managing the
Mariners from '93 through '02, Piniella helped transform them
into one of the most exciting and successful clubs in baseball.
Now Piniella, who has a 1,319--1,135 career record as a big
league skipper, plans to resurrect Tampa Bay. "I'm not saying I'm
a savior," says Piniella, "but any successful anything, whether
it's a small company or a big corporation or a sports team, needs
a visible leader."
Player-for-manager trades have occurred two other times in modern
baseball history. (Technically, the Mariners released Piniella
from the last year of his contract, and sent infield prospect
Antonio Perez to Tampa Bay for Winn.) On the other occasions the
managers turned out to be the stars of the deals. Before the 1968
season the hapless Washington Senators sent their skipper, Gil
Hodges, to the pitiful New York Mets for righthander Bill Denehy.
In '69 the Mets won the World Series under Hodges; Denehy retired
in '71 with a 1--10 career record. Before the '77 season the
Pittsburgh Pirates sent catcher Manny Sanguillen and $100,000 to
the Oakland A's for manager Chuck Tanner. Two years later
Pittsburgh won the World Series with Tanner filling out the
lineup card--and Sanguillen back with the club.
November 25, 2002
Piniella is not likely to pull a Hodges or a Tanner in Tampa Bay,
but he can improve a team that has some pieces in place. He has
an emerging catcher (Toby Hall), a solid lefthanded starter (Joe
Kennedy) and a talented, if unproven, centerfielder (Rocco
Baldelli). Piniella doesn't have a bona fide shortstop. He does
have a strong manager. Four out of five--at least it's a start.
As for the Mariners in '03, Piniella thinks Winn will help make
their outfield among the best in baseball. However, some scouts
think Winn is, at best, an ideal fourth outfielder. He's a quiet
man who will bring no noise into a clubhouse that, with Piniella
gone and Bob Melvin installed as the new manager, may be too
Winn is thrilled to be playing for a contender that should win
about six of every 10 games in '03. Plus he's eligible for
arbitration, which will most likely push his salary next season
to the $3 million range. (He made $960,000 in '02.) Piniella's
deal averages roughly $3.3 million a year, high pay for a manager
but a fraction of what an impact player would cost on the open
market. "For what they're paying me," says Piniella, "you can't
sign a top free agent."
But you can get one of the five pieces Piniella feels is
necessary to get a franchise on track.
Will History Repeat?
Before Randy Winn was traded for Lou Piniella, there were only
two other occasions in modern major league history when a player
was dealt for a manager. Here's how each man in those two trades
fared for his new team.
Nov. 27, 1967: P Bill Denehy for Gil Hodges
New team Seasons W--L ERA World Series
Denehy Senators 1 0--0 9.00
Hodges Mets 4 339--309 1
Nov. 5, 1976: C Manny Sanguillen for Chuck Tanner
New team Seasons W--L ERA World Series
Sanguillen A's 1 6 .275
Tanner Pirates 9 711--685 1