3B will stay with team regardless of stadium deal

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 long term."

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

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 concession sales.

Without those streams of cash, the Marlins say they cannot

"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, who filed for free agency Thursday, 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 here."

Five other Marlins have joined Benitez and elected to already
become free agents. Ismael Valdes (14-9, 5.19) and Lenny Harris
(.211, mainly as a pinch-hitter) filed on Friday. Infielders Wil
Cordero and Damion Easley both filed Thursday, as did reliever Rudy