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Tom Verducci's View


Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella (right) is the top choice to be the next manager of the Mets, but unless the Devil Rays are heavily compensated, they are unlikely to let him out of his contract, which has two years remaining. Tampa Bay officials were downplaying their meeting with Piniella on Monday, saying it was scheduled long ago, but if they don't indicate that they're ready to step up their spending, Piniella could try to extricate himself from the deal, just as he did in Seattle in 2002.

Piniella has grown increasingly frustrated with the futility of trying to compete in the high-rent AL East with a $23 million payroll. Since an unbalanced schedule was adopted in 2001, Tampa Bay was 39--109 (.264) at week's end against New York and Boston, including an 8--27 mark this season. The Rays had a 58--60 record against the rest of baseball.


Been following that down-to-the-wire race for one of baseball's oldest individual records? No, not Ichiro Suzuki's quest for 258 hits. It's Adam Dunn's race to avoid Bobby Bonds's 1970 mark of 189 strikeouts. Dunn (left) plans to go down swinging. "Adam has made it clear to us, as he has all year, that he wants to play every day," said Reds G.M. Dan O'Brien. "And we feel our best chance to win every day is with Adam in the lineup. The strikeout record is not even an issue."


The Yankees and the Red Sox played last weekend with a combined 70 available players, thanks to expanded September rosters. For the past three years Brewers G.M. Doug Melvin has tried to pass a resolution to limit September call-ups to around five per team, but his fellow G.M.'s have shot it down. The original spirit of the rule was to reward young players with a taste of the big leagues, but it's become a way for large-market clubs to gain an edge. Because it costs more than $50,000 per player for the month, only rich teams can afford such deep benches.


1. Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez's struggles with the Yankees continue. After last Friday's 6--4 loss, Boston's record is 6--17 in games that Martinez has started against New York since June 14, 2000 (including the postseason).

2. If the Marlins don't have a stadium-funding plan in place by Nov. 1, Mike Lowell can opt out of the last three seasons of his four-year, $32 million contract and join Adrian Beltre, Troy Glaus and Corey Koskie in a free-agent market deep with third basemen.

3. Cheers to the Angels, who showed they won't tolerate selfishness, even in a pennant race, when they suspended outfielder Jose Guillen without pay on Sunday for the rest of the season. Guillen, playing for his seventh organization in six years, had shown up manager Mike Scioscia after being removed for a pinch runner last Saturday.