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Piniella chats with fans online
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12/18/2003  6:06 PM ET 
Piniella chats with fans online
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"Our front office has done a great job getting us some good, new players on a tight budget," said Lou Piniella during an online chat. (Judi Buttoni/AP)
Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella spent time answering fans' questions during an online chat Thursday. Piniella chatted about the team's recent acquisitions and shared his thoughts on how he thinks Tampa Bay will do in 2004.

Thegame531: Lou, what are you looking forward to most this season?

Lou Piniella: I'm looking to improve our baseball team. So far this winter we've done a good job of bringing in experienced people who can help us win baseball games. We've improved in a lot of areas.

Eric-Wagman: What are the current expectations for former Rule 5 picks Jorge Sosa and Felix Escalona? Will Sosa have a shot at the starting rotation?

LP: Sosa improved a heckuva lot for us last year. He had some flashes of brilliance. But he sometimes lacked consistency. I look forward to him pitching out of our bullpen.

nichts: When you read or hear that a player wants to play for the Rays mainly to play for you, how does that make you feel?

LP: I enjoy that. They all want to play for me as long as the organization pays them. They don't want to play for free. I'm a player's manager. I try to be fair. I think that's one of the reasons players like to play for me, along with the team getting better.

Base-Ball: If you do get a closer on the market who are you intrested in?

LP: We pursued Tom Gordon earlier. Unfortunately, the Yankees got into the mix and offered Tom more money. We can't afford the top closers. We need to sit back and look at the market and see what comes our way.

BigPig85: Who will pitch Opening Day?

LP: Right now, it would probably be Victor Zambrano. He pitched very well last season. He won 12 games for us.

D-S: Have you had a chance to see B.J. Upton, Delmon Young and Dewon Brazelton in the Arizona Fall League?

LP: I did not get a chance to see them in the fall league. But our reports say that Upton is coming on quickly. He can hit and he has improved in all phases of the game. Brazelton did very well in the AFL. He improved himself and pitched very well. Our scouts believe he can compete for a spot next spring. Young was chosen as the top prospect in the AFL, while getting limited at-bats.

BigPig85: Who was your favorite baseball player growing up?

LP: Al Rosen and Ted Williams were my very favorite players. Boy, did I like watching them play.

Base-Ball: Lou, from a professional standpoint, what do you think the outcome of the Manny/A-Rod deal will be?

LP: It's an odd deal to start with -- two of the highest paid players in baseball being traded for each other. But stranger things have happened.

Alexia23FL: Hi Lou! In your opinion, which players do you foresee being key and taking the leadership roles this year. Good luck on the upcoming season.

LP: Tino Martinez brings a wealth of experience. He has four championship rings on his hand. I told him, we need him to be productive and everything, but we also need him to help with these young players.

Stephanie: Are there plans to add another left-handed reliever to the mix?

LP: If he's not in the rotation, John Halama is a possibility. He pitched for me in Seattle and he's healthy now.

Stephanie: What players are you looking at for a closer and starting pitching?

LP: Lance Carter was our All-Star last year and did a good job considering it was his first full year. As far as the rotation, right now I'd have to say it's Victor Zambrano, Jeremi Gonzalez, Mark Hendrickson, Doug Waechter and then Paul Abbott, Dewon Brazelton and John Halama will be candidates for the fifth spot.

LillyandBatista: With the recent success of your team, does a Wild Card spot seem realistic?

LP: Not this year. And I hate to say that because I try to stay optimistic. But I'm also realistic. We have a chance to play .500 and that would be a really big improvement. And I don't see how Boston, New York and Toronto won't play better than that. Man, our division is tough.

Base-Ball: Which new acquisition do you think will play the biggest role next season?

LP: Jose Cruz Jr. The reason I say that is because playing in San Francisco is a tough place to hit. I think hitting in Tropicana Field will help him. Coming back to the American League will also help him. And working with (hitting coach) Lee Elia will help with his performance, too.

SheffsterNY: How do you feel about starting the 2004 season in Japan?

LP: It will be a good experience for our team and franchise and will be good international exposure. Japan is starting to develop good Major League players. It's not an easy trip. But it's not an easy trip for the Yankees either. It's a beautiful country. It's going to feel a little odd, but the exposure is going to pay big dividends to our organization.

BigPig85: Where will Tino Martinez bat in the order?

LP: Somewhere in the middle. He's an RBI guy. Right now, we are looking at Carl Crawford leading off with either Jose Cruz or Geoff Blum hitting second, Rocco Baldelli third, Aubrey Huff fourth, Tino fifth, Cruz or Blum sixth, with Toby Hall, Julio Lugo seventh and eighth and Rey Sanchez ninth.

LillyandBatista: Has Mark Hendrickson's starting experience with Toronto given you some relief in that he's a proven pitcher?

LP: He's going to make our rotation. He's got that size advantage and he's going to get better. He's only got three years of experience but is 29. I don't see him as a No. 1 or a No. 2 but he's a guy that you can pitch in the No. 3 or 4 slot.

RaysWinIn04: Hey Lou. How do you think your team will benefit from all of the offseason moves? And who do you intend on starting at third base this year?

LP: Our front office has done a great job getting us some good, new players on a tight budget. We have improved offensively, defensively and in terms of flexibility. We plan to start Geoff Blum at third base but he also can play second if we need it. Damian Rolls, who did a real nice job last year, can play third and move around to other spots in the infield and outfield.

Shea-Morrow: Who is going to be your first baseman, Tino or Aubrey Huff?

LP: Tino is the starter at first base. But he is going to have to be rested every now and then. We can play Eduardo Perez there or Aubrey Huff. Huff will be a DH, but not exclusively. He will play other spots as well. As I said, we have more more flexibility now.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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