SEATTLE -- The Seattle Mariners said Monday they are open to letting teams interview manager Lou Piniella and will release him from the final year of his contract if adequate compensation can be arranged.
Piniella told Mariners officials last Friday in a meeting in Tampa, Fla., that ''for personal and family reasons,'' he had decided not to return to Seattle for the 2003 season.
Piniella has managed the Mariners for 10 seasons, directing a perennial no-name team to three straight playoff appearances and a record-tying 116 victories in 2001.
Piniella met with Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln, president Chuck Armstrong and general manager Pat Gillick.
So far, no other teams have contacted the Mariners, the team said in a statement. But ''in view of his long service to the Mariners,'' the team will entertain contact from interested clubs and seek to negotiate ''reasonable compensation'' in exchange for releasing him.
''If appropriate compensation is agreed upon,'' the Mariners will let the club interview Piniella for a manager position and, if he takes the job, will release him from his contract.
''Lou said his decision was motivated solely by personal and family reasons,'' including the distance between Seattle and his family home in Tampa, and had ''nothing to do with baseball,'' the team said.
''While the Mariners regret Lou's decision, we understand his family situation and his need to reside and work closer to home.''
The statement said the team would have no further comment on what was discussed at the meeting in Tampa.
The final year of Piniella's $6.8 million contract is worth $2.5 million.
Mariners officials ''understand what I'm trying to do,'' Piniella told The Tampa Tribune. ''It's just too far to be in Seattle. It's a burden on me, on my family. It's just too far from home.''
The New York Mets or Tampa Bay Devil Rays are mentioned as the most likely candidates to lure the 59-year-old Piniella, who lives in the Tampa Bay area during the offseason. His parents and grandchildren also live there.
So where does this leave the Mariners? The last time Seattle went looking for a new manager was in 1992, needing a replacement for Bill Plummer.
Reports in the Seattle area have focused on Dusty Baker, who is managing the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS. Other possibilities include Mariners bench coach John McLaren or pitching coach Bryan Price.
Veteran managers Bobby Valentine, Don Baylor and Davey Johnson are available.
If Gillick chooses to recycle a major-league manager, he could ask his old pal, Cito Gaston. Together at Toronto, they won two World Series championships in the 1990s.
Most managers start at the bottom, taking over awful teams. But if the Mariners need a new manager, that person would be expected to continue Piniella's success.
Seattle won 93 games this season, second-most in club history, but finished third behind Oakland and Anaheim in the AL West. The Mariners also led the majors in attendance for the second straight year.
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