Marlins hope to offset loss of Lowell with Conine

Updated: September 1, 2003, 2:52 PM ET
Associated Press

MIAMI -- Jeff Conine is returning to Florida to replace injured All-Star third baseman Mike Lowell and help keep the Marlins atop the National League wild-card standings.

Jeff Conine

The Marlins traded 20-year-old minor league right-handers Denny Bautista and Don Levinski to the Baltimore Orioles late Sunday for the versatile Conine, who will play left field for Florida.

The Marlins are tied with Philadelphia for the wild-card spot, and five other teams are within four games of the leaders.

"Obviously this team has come a long way. We're leading the wild-card race and we want to finish this thing off, and getting into the playoffs is a reality for us,'' Marlins general manager Larry Beinfest said.

Conine was with the Marlins from 1993-97 and was a member of Florida's world championship team in 1997. His two best major league seasons came with Florida when he hit .302 with 25 homers and 105 RBI in 1995, and .293 with 26 home runs and 95 RBI the following year.

"While it is difficult to trade a model teammate such as Jeff Conine, we are happy to be able to send him home and into a pennant race, and with a team he is familiar with,'' Mike Flanagan, the Orioles vice president for baseball operations, said in a statement.

Conine should help offset the loss of Lowell, who will miss at least the rest of the regular season after breaking his left hand Saturday night.

The Marlins' cleanup hitter and clubhouse leader broke a bone when he was hit by a fastball from Montreal reliever Hector Almonte. Team doctors said Lowell will miss about four weeks, meaning he will be out for the rest of the regular season.

Lowell leads the Marlins with 32 home runs and 105 RBI and was batting .277.

The Marlins were looking to make a trade by midnight Monday, the deadline for adding players to the roster and having them eligible for the postseason.

Conine, who was on a plane from Seattle to Baltimore when the deal was completed, might be in Miami for the team's afternoon game Monday against Montreal.

"We will try to get him here as soon as possible,'' said Beinfest, who added that Conine was excited about returning to Miami. "Coming to a playoff contender and coming home are the two major things he spoke of.''

The Marlins agreed to pay part of Conine's salary this season and also reworked his deal through the 2005 season, Beinfest said.

Beinfest said the team also would call up outfielder Gerald Williams from Triple-A Albuquerque and activate outfielder Todd Hollandsworth and left-hander Tommy Phelps from the disabled list Monday when rosters expand.

Bautista is a combined 12-9 this year with a 3.41 ERA in 25 starts with Class A Jupiter and Double-A Carolina. Levinski is 4-11 with a 4.03 ERA in 21 starts at Jupiter, after going 12-6 with a 3.02 ERA at Class A Clinton last season.

Bautista was signed by Florida as a non-drafted free agent in April 2000. In his four pro seasons, he is 28-20 with a 3.54 ERA.

Levinski was Montreal's No. 2 pick in the 2001 draft. In three seasons, he is 16-17 with a 3.45 ERA.

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press