MIAMI -- New ballpark or not, Mike Lowell is staying with the Florida Marlins.
Lowell, who could have opted out of his contract because the team hasn't secured new stadium financing, agreed Friday to a revised deal in which the
team guarantees the remaining $25.5 million on his contract.
"I was hopeful that things would work out because I want to be a Florida Marlin," said Lowell, a three-time All-Star third baseman who hit .293 with
27 home runs and 85 RBIs last season. "It would have been hard for me to play under a one-year deal. ... It's only logical I'd want to play for the
Lowell, who went to high school in South Florida, signed a $32 million, four-year contract before last season with a provision that if no new ballpark
deal was in place by Monday, the final two seasons would be voided and Lowell would have a player option for 2005.
Florida has made strides toward securing that new ballpark, a 38,000-seat, retractable-roof facility that would be built adjacent to downtown Miami's
Orange Bowl at an estimated cost of $420 million. And like the team, Lowell is confident that a deal is on the way.
"I do think a stadium is going to happen," said the 30-year-old Lowell, who has hit .277 and set franchise records with 135 home runs and 520 RBIs
during his six seasons with the Marlins.
Some gaps still exist in the stadium funding plan, and the team wants state government to commit $30 million for the project. The team has committed
$192 million toward construction, with city and county governments pledging at least $148 million more.
Team president David Samson said he hopes the city, county and club can agree on the parameters of a financing plan by the end of November -- which
would leave the sales tax rebate from the state as, he said, "the last piece of the puzzle."
"We're still pushing hard for a stadium to open as early as possible," said Samson, who's aiming for a facility to be completed by 2007 or 2008.
The Marlins lost an estimated $20 million in 2003, despite winning the World Series for the second time in seven seasons. Their lease with Pro Player
Stadium and former Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga does not allow the team any revenues from luxury box rentals or parking, and only a small piece of
Without those streams of cash, the Marlins say they cannot survive.
"I think this is a positive message from the Marlins' standpoint," Lowell said.
With Lowell's deal set, now general manager Larry Beinfest can turn his attention toward the free agent market. Florida has 12 players eligible for
free agency, most notably a pair of All-Star pitchers: closer Armando Benitez (whose 47 saves tied for the most in the National League) and Carl
Pavano (18-8, 3.00).
"We will contact some of our high profile free agents, but this was the No. 1 thing to work on right away," Beinfest said.
Benitez made $3.5 million last season and may command more than the Marlins want to pay a closer. Lowell sounded optimistic that Pavano, who set a
franchise record for wins in 2004, could be back.
"He's going to be fielding some offers from some pretty good teams," Lowell said. "That comes with the territory. ... But I know he prefers playing