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Getting the Lowelldown
2003-06-02 11:01
by Jon Weisman
Note: The Dodger Thoughts blog has moved to the Los Angeles Times.

By reaching base in 13 of his past 25 plate appearances, has Adrian Beltre found himself - or found his trade value?

Flying rumors already have this air-traffic controller on edge, even though the non-waiver trade deadline is not until July 31. Flight 2919, connecting Los Angeles and Florida, carries the possibility that the Dodgers will go after Marlins third baseman Mike Lowell. Not only has the Los Angeles Times boarded this plane, but the South Florida Sun-Sentinel as well:

Like the Chicago Cubs before them, the Los Angeles Dodgers have made the Marlins' All-Star third baseman their top trade priority, major league sources said Saturday.

Former Marlins manager John Boles, now a senior adviser in the Dodgers' front office, apparently came away impressed after watching Lowell in a four-game series against Montreal last week. During a subsequent organizational meeting, sources said, the Dodgers decided to focus on acquiring Lowell to replace enigmatic third baseman Adrian Beltre.

As bait the Dodgers plan to use Triple-A second baseman Joe Thurston, who lost a spring battle with Alex Cora for the starting job. Thurston, 23, is hitting .284 with four homers and 20 RBI for Las Vegas.

Young right-handers Joel Hanrahan and Edwin Jackson and hard-throwing lefty Steve Colyer also could figure in the deal, sources said. Hanrahan and Jackson have ERA's in the low twos at Double-A Jacksonville, while Colyer had a 1.02 ERA in 16 relief outings at Triple-A.

The trouble is finding a taker for Beltre, hitting .203 with four home runs and 17 RBI entering Saturday's play. It's possible the Dodgers could include Beltre in a prospect-laden package, with the idea the Marlins would then move Beltre, 24, at a later date.

Here's a primer on the two principals.

Lowell is 29 years old, and debuted in the major leagues at age 24 with four singles in 15 plate appearances. Beltre is 24 now.

Lowell appears to have been an above-average fielder, based on fielding percentage and range factor. By the same stats, Beltre has been average.

Lowell had OPS+ marks of 108, 106, 116 from 2000-2002. Beltre's are 116, 93, 98.

Lowell's OPS dropped 195 points after the All-Star Break in 2002; Beltre's rose 183 points. Beltre was the better hitter in the second half last year.

In 2003, Lowell has been the second-best third baseman in the National League, behind Scott Rolen of St. Louis, according to Baseball Prospectus statistics. Playing home games in a ballpark that slightly favors pitchers, Lowell has 16 home runs and an OPS of .940 in 2003. On the road, he has an OPS of 1.037. Beltre's 2003, we need not speak of.

Lowell is earning $3.7 million in 2003 and will be eligible for arbitration in the offseason - the same as Beltre. A team could renounce its rights to either player in the offseason, sign a one-year contract with the player and then allow him to leave after 2004, or neogtiate a multi-year contract.

In short: Lowell is a better player than Beltre right now. Beltre's advantage is his remaining youth and potential; it's very possible that Lowell is in the midst of his peak season as we speak. Of course, Beltre will have to improve considerably just to regain his peak level of 2000. A likely scenario would find Beltre and Lowell meeting at the same level in the next couple of seasons - and perhaps continuing opposite trajectories.

Nonetheless...

As a Beltre loyalist, it shocks and saddens me to say this. But you can make a strong case for trading Beltre, a reliever (presumably Guillermo Mota would be one that the teams could agree on) and/or a package of Las Vegas 51s for Lowell.

For Marlin fans, the question is whether they would want Beltre at all - even if he is a better hitter than he has shown in 2003. The Marlins' have a third-baseman in AA, Miguel Cabrera, who is OPSing 1.030.

The point for Dodger fans is: this would be an exchange that would probably improve the Dodgers now without burying them in the future.

If you've been reading this site for any length of time, you know how hard it is for me to come to this point. I have invested so much hope in Beltre, and still believe he will succeed. But the degredation that is the Florida baseball market is making an opportunity available that the Dodgers might just have to leap at.

Put another way, it is very doubtful that if the Dodgers had Mike Lowell, they would trade him for anyone who wasn't an All-Star. He would be their best offensive player.

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