The anticipated dismantling of the Florida Marlins has started with the agreement late Monday night to trade pitcher Josh Beckett and third baseman Mike Lowell to the Boston Red Sox. Pending the passing of physicals, it will only be a first step.

Next looms first baseman Carlos Delgado, center fielder Juan Pierre and possibly even catcher Paul Lo Duca.

The Marlins, dismayed at the lack of enthusiasm for a new stadium after state resources have been diverted to hurricane relief, also said yesterday that they have permission from Major League Baseball to explore moving to another city. But with Washington now home to the Nationals, there aren't many other viable cities for a baseball team to go.

The Marlins have decided their only choice is to do something similar to what they did after their 1997 World Series triumph and trade the most expensive players from a team that was widely believed to be the most talented in the National League East.

Beckett was probably the most valuable piece, a 25-year-old-right-hander with a sizzling fastball, and while Florida was able to get Boston's top infield prospect -- shortstop Hanley Ramirez -- in the deal, the bigger key was finding a team willing to take on the $18 million Lowell is owed the next two seasons. Lowell hit just .236 with eight home runs and 58 RBI last season after having five straight years of 85 or more RBI. Florida has tried desperately to dump him in other deals, figuring it had a taker in the Orioles in a trade for A.J. Burnett last summer, but that deal fell apart after Baltimore balked at picking up the bulk of Lowell's contract.

Beckett, who won the last game of the 2003 World Series, was 15-8 with a 3.37 ERA last season but has had blister problems that have sidelined him in almost every one of his big league seasons. Boston would also give up minor league pitcher Anibal Sanchez and another minor leaguer.

If this deal goes through, the Marlins will turn their attention to dealing Delgado and Pierre in an effort to cut, perhaps in half, a payroll that was $60 million at the start of last season. The Dodgers and Angels have both been in contact, apparently for Delgado, with the Angels backing off their pursuit of Paul Konerko. The Mets are also interested in Delgado.

-- Les Carpenter