Lou Piniella met with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for several hours yesterday, beginning discussions about becoming the last-place team's next manager.

The Devil Rays, in a statement, characterized the meeting as "positive and constructive" and said talks would resume after Piniella returns from a trip to Arizona, where he will attend the funeral of a friend this weekend.

The Devil Rays were given permission to talk to Piniella, a native of Tampa, after they agreed to provide compensation to the Seattle Mariners in the event they sign the manager.

The New York Mets, without a manager after firing Bobby Valentine, are also interested in interviewing Piniella. But Mets officials have been unable to agree with the Mariners on compensation.

"We're still at point A," Mets spokesman Jay Horwitz said yesterday.

Piniella and his agent, Alan Nero, met in the morning in Tampa with Devil Rays managing general partner Vince Naimoli and General Manager Chuck LaMar. The parties will meet again early next week, the Devil Rays said, adding that Piniella boarded a flight for Phoenix after the discussions.

LaMar said Friday night that the team will do everything it can to land Piniella, who has expressed a desire to work closer to home.

"When I have the opportunity to sit down with Lou, I think he'll know the enthusiasm I have for this organization," LaMar said. "I think he knows the bumpy road we've had and also knows first-hand the talent we have."

Piniella is the seventh candidate to speak with the Devil Rays about becoming the replacement for Hal McRae, who was fired after a 55-106 finish.

"I don't think there's any question we'll do everything we possibly can to make him our next manager," LaMar said.