Shocked in Seattle: Lee wanted to stay with Phils
SEATTLE (AP) – Cliff Lee thought he was staying in Philadelphia – for the rest of his career.
The Phillies’ postseason star proposed a routine counteroffer on a contract extension Wednesday, then headed for the Mississippi River near his Arkansas home to hunt.
He got some stunning news on the drive there.
Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. called to tell Lee he had been traded to Seattle for three prospects in a four-team deal that brought Roy Halladay to the Phillies. It was the first time that two Cy Young Award winners were dealt on the same day.
Speaking by cell phone Thursday night while beginning a long-planned vacation in Puerto Rico, the 2008 AL Cy Young winner said he was in “disbelief and shock.” The 31-year-old left-hander had been excited to rejoin the Phillies for a run at another World Series.
Instead, he’s headed to his third team in five months.
“At first, I didn’t believe it. I thought we were working out an extension with the Phillies,” Lee said. “I thought I’d be spending the rest of my career there. … I was under the impression they wanted to keep me there for a long time.
“In my mind, it was going to happen.”
Lee was the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner when the Phillies got him from Cleveland on July 29. He went 7-4 with a 3.39 ERA down the stretch, then starred in the postseason by going 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in five starts.
Lee earned both of the Phillies’ wins in the World Series against the New York Yankees. He was wowed by what he called an “unbelievable” lineup and excellence from top to bottom in Philadelphia’s organization.
While saying he was “disappointed, sure,” he said he can’t blame the Phillies for preferring Halladay.
“Basically, they had an opportunity to get the best pitcher in baseball,” Lee said, realizing the Phillies moved him because they wanted to seize a chance to restock their minor league system. “I can’t blame them for choosing Roy Halladay over me.”
Lee was deer hunting on his property in Arkansas this week when his wife, Kristen, called him to relay reports he might be traded. He dismissed them as rumors – especially, he said, when he asked the team and “the Phillies kind of downplayed it, made it seem like it wasn’t real.”
“Then the next morning I found out it was real,” he said.
The 2008 All-Star, who entered the major leagues with the Indians in 2002, has one season and $9 million remaining on his contract. Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said an extension with Seattle beyond 2010 was not part of the trade negotiations.
Lee said he is “not dead set” on becoming a free agent next winter.
“I’m open to see how it plays out,” he said. “I can’t give you an answer right now because I don’t know what Seattle is all about.”
He does know a few things about Seattle:
-Felix Hernandez is good. Lee will join this year’s AL Cy Young Award runner-up atop a rotation that is now the envy of baseball.
“As far as just straight stuff goes, it’d have to be him and CC (Sabathia, a former teammate in Cleveland) neck and neck for the best pitchers I’ve played with,” Lee said.
-Center fielder Franklin Gutierrez is a former teammate of Lee’s with the Indians. The newest Mariner noted he now has a speedy, pitcher-friendly defense that includes Gold Glove right fielder Ichiro Suzuki, recently signed All-Star infielder Chone Figgins and 2004 All-Star shortstop Jack Wilson.
-Safeco Field is spacious, also pitcher-friendly and a great place to watch a game.
-The team that won 85 games last season is on the rise.
-And the city, to Lee, always “seemed like it was on the other side of the world” when he played here as a visitor. He’s never been based farther west than his native Arkansas.
Lee has one other link with a Mariner, the most famous one. In 2004 he was suspended six games for throwing behind Ken Griffey Jr.’s head, when baseball’s active home run leader was with Cincinnati. One inning earlier, Lee had given up the 499th home run of Griffey’s career, and the superstar had paused to watch the ball’s flight.
Griffey is coming back for Year Two of his reunion tour with Seattle in 2010.
“I hope he doesn’t hold a grudge on me. I’ll ask him if he does,” Lee said, laughing and saying he’s talked in passing with Griffey since and all seemed well.
Same goes for the surging Mariners. And they may not be done adding. They need a left fielder and are discussing whether to pursue a potential trade with the Chicago Cubs for mercurial outfielder Milton Bradley.
“We’re not done yet,” Zduriencik said.