Blalock Traded????

For Josh Beckett

"Pitcher Josh Beckett, the Most Valuable Player of the 2003 World Series, may soon be headed back to his home state of Texas next season along with third baseman Mike Lowell.

In what could be the first step of a major housecleaning in Florida, the Marlins and Rangers are close to completing a trade that would send Beckett and Lowell to Texas for first baseman Hank Blalock and a top pitching prospect, two baseball sources said Friday night.
The deal, characterized as "well in the works," has been brokered in the past couple of days between Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and Rangers owner Tom Hicks, an American League source said.

But both sources said the deal could fall apart because the Rangers are reluctant to part with one of their coveted pitching prospects.

The Marlins are asking for either left-hander John Danks, Texas' first-round pick in 2003, or right-hander Thomas Diamond, the team's first-round pick in 2004.

The Rangers' reluctance to part with one of those pitchers is the only obstacle in the deal, but a major one that ultimately could kill it, a source said.

The deal would send Beckett, a native of Spring, Texas, outside Houston, to the Rangers while giving Lowell a fresh start in the American League after a miserable 2005 season.

Beckett said he had heard rumors the past couple of months that he might be traded but he was not aware of the Rangers deal until he was told by a reporter late Friday.

"It hasn't happened yet,'' he said. "I think I'd rather reserve my comments until there's some validity to it.''

Beckett was the second overall pick of the June 1999 draft, but has struggled since then to stay free of injuries. He has been nagged by blister problems.

But he also has displayed fits of brilliance, with his career highlight coming in Game 6 of the 2003 World Series when he pitched a shutout at Yankee Stadium to clinch Florida's first championship since 1997.

He posted his best regular-season statistics in 2005, going 15-8 with a 3.38 ERA in 29 starts. If Beckett is traded, left-hander Dontrelle Willis would be the only returning veteran to Florida's rotation in 2006.

Blalock, the MVP of the 2003 All-Star Game, is owed $13.5 million over the next three years from a five-year, $15.25 million contract he signed before the 2004 season. It is not clear how much of that, if any, the Rangers would assume.

Blalock, who turns 25 on Monday, hit 25 home runs with 92 RBI in 2005 while batting.263. He has averaged just under 29 home runs in each of his past three seasons.

His arrival would expedite the Marlins' efforts to trade first baseman Carlos Delgado, who is owed $48 million over the next three years -- money the Marlins cannot afford.

Lowell is owed $9 million each in 2006 and 2007, and Beckett, who made $2.4 million in 2005, could make at least $4 million next season.

Loria, according to one source, wanted to complete the deal before he left the country on a trip to Italy, presumably in the next week. A Marlins source said Loria was already in Europe on Friday.

Danks went 4-10 with a 5.49 ERA in 18 games, 17 starts for Class AA Frisco, Texas. Diamond went 5-4 with a 5.35 ERA in 14 games for Frisco.

The Marlins also are pushing hard to trade center fielder Juan Pierre, and the Colorado Rockies have expressed an interest in catcher Paul Lo Duca. The team is trying to cut payroll because of financial problems exacerbated by a stalled stadium effort. "


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