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Lou's agent upbeat after chat

The agent for manager Lou Piniella was briefed by top Devil Rays officials on their plans for the future Tuesday and said he liked what he heard.

"It was a very good meeting," Alan Nero said. "We're all on the same page, and we feel they're going in the right direction."

Piniella has been frustrated by the Rays' struggles during the first two years of his four-year contract, and Nero wanted to hear their plans as far as payroll and direction.

Though no specifics were discussed, Nero said he felt better about Piniella's future with the Rays. "Absolutely," he said. "There's no reason to believe he's not going to be their manager."

The positive tone of the meeting may quell some of the speculation streaming out of New York suggesting that Piniella would end up with the Mets, even though Piniella has said repeatedly he plans to honor the two remaining years on his contract and the Rays have no desire to let him go.

Piniella is hoping the Rays will increase their chances of winning by increasing their major league-low $23-million payroll, at least into the mid $30-million range. Managing general partner Vince Naimoli and general manager Chuck LaMar told Nero during a two-hour conference call that there would be an increase, but they didn't know yet how much.

"It was a very productive session," LaMar said. "We talked to Alan about our thoughts on future payroll and assured him our payroll will increase in 2005. We are going through our normal budget process, and when we get to the point where we know exactly what our payroll is going to be we'll let them know."