Piniella heads home with prospect

By Jim Callis
October 28, 2002

In a move initially reported during the World Series but not officially confirmed until Monday, the Mariners released manager Lou Piniella from his contract so he could return home to Tampa and skipper the Devil Rays. As expected, Seattle received all-star outfielder Randy Winn as compensation—but Tampa Bay also received a player, infield prospect Antonio Perez.

Whether Piniella can preside over a Rays transformation from laughingstock to viable franchise remains to be seen. The Mariners made that leap under his watch, though players like Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez and Alex Rodriguez had a lot to do with it too. At the very least, Piniella, who has 1,319 victories and the 1990 World Series championship with the Reds on his managerial résumé, provides credibility to a franchise sorely lacking in that commodity.

Getting rid of Winn actually may help the Devil Rays more than it will hurt them. He’s a solid player but nothing more, and made the American League all-star team because Tampa Bay had to be represented. Winn, 28, hit .298-14-75 with 27 steals this year and has career totals of .279-24-182 with 80 swipes in 519 games. His best tool is his speed, and he’s a line-drive hitter who does a decent job of covering the gaps in center field. He’s eligible for arbitration, which will give him a huge salary boost from his current $960,000, and there’s no reason for the cash-strapped Rays to invest heavily in Winn when their lone strength as an organization is outfield prospects.

In addition, Tampa Bay gets Perez, whose prospect stock has dropped yet was considered the game’s best shortstop prospect entering the 2001 season. Since then, Perez had battled repeated injuries to his right wrist and seen his true age revealed to be 18 months older than previously reported (he’s officially 22). Originally signed by the Reds in 1998 out of the Dominican Republic, he went to Seattle as part of a trade package for Griffey in February 2000.

Perez spent most of 2002 playing second base at Double-A San Antonio, hitting .258-2-24 with 15 steals in 72 games. He shows all five tools, though he has done so with less frequency after batting .276-17-63 with 28 swipes in 98 contests at high Class A Lancaster in 2000. He also needs to tighten his strike zone after drawing 11 walks and fanning 64 times in 240 Double-A at-bats. Perez has the arm, range and hands to play shortstop and may return there once he’s fully healthy. With 2002 No. 2 overall draft pick B.J. Upton in the Rays organization, Perez’ long-term future with Tampa Bay is at second base.