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Third-Base Market To Expand?
2004-10-17 06:51
by Jon Weisman

Mike Lowell helped block Adrian Beltre's path to the All-Star Game in 2004. But he might help clear Beltre's path back to the Dodgers in 2005 and beyond.

The potential availability of Lowell, Florida's All-Star third baseman, could affect Beltre's upcoming free agency negotiations by giving teams an alternative.

"Lowell's contract is tied to the Marlins' ability to secure financing for a new ballpark by Nov. 1, for which they currently are $30 million short," reports. "If Florida finds the financing, the final three years of Lowell's deal become guaranteed. If the Marlins don't, then the All-Star third baseman would hold a $7.5 million option to return to the club in 2005 or he can file for free agency anytime between Nov. 1 and Nov. 6."

ESPN added that even if Lowell decides not to become a free agent, the Marlins might consider trading him. The story says this would erase the final two years (2006-07) of Lowell's contract, each year at $8 million, although it is unclear whether the erasure would be automatic or at a team or player option.

A potential trade of Lowell is further complicated by the fact, that "as a player with a multiyear contract and at least five years of major league service time, he would have the right to demand [another] trade," according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, which appears to have taken a closer look at the complicated Lowell situation than the Marlins have. "That request would have to be met by March 15 or Lowell would again have the right to opt for free agency. According to a source close to Lowell, the three-time All-Star would definitely exercise that right."

Lowell has been a solid third baseman for five years and well above-average for the past two, with 32 and 27 home runs and OPSes of .880 and .870. His numbers don't match Beltre's for 2004, but he has a longer, more consistent track record. Of course, that track record began at age 26 - the age that Beltre will finally turn next season.

So what you have is a third baseman who has less peak potential than Beltre, but is solid and cheaper. Beltre is rumored to be on his way toward a deal worth $12 million a year, maybe less, maybe more. Some might argue that Lowell plus a free-agent pitcher is a better deal for Los Angeles than Beltre alone.

I think the Dodgers should continue to make Beltre their top target, even at the risk of slightly overpaying him. I believe his transformation is for real, and that he might still even be a player on the rise as his plate discipline improves. Only a handful of teams should be in competition with them, and there might be even fewer if Lowell comes on the market.

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