Cliff Lee was so certain he was headed to the New York Yankees today he called former teammate CC Sabathia and asked what he'd heard - only to find out hours later the Seattle Mariners had dealt him to Texas.
"All I knew was what I saw on ESPN and in the media," Lee said. "It nearly happened, but it didn't happen. I'm a Ranger now. It's been quite a ride."
Lee was traded for first baseman Justin Smoak, ranked 13th among major league prospects this spring by Baseball America. Lee flew to Texas late this afternoon, and the switch-hitting Smoak will be in Safeco Field before game time tomorrow.
"He'll be our starting first baseman," manager Don Wakamatsu said.
Included in the deal was disabled right-hander Mark Lowe and cash - said to be about $2.5 million - and three of the Rangers Class AA prospects, pitchers Blake Bevan and Josh Lueke and infielder Matt Lawson.
General manager Jack Zduriencik said the Mariners had targeted a handful of young players they would trade Lee for, and spent the week talking to the teams that had those players. Most weren't offered for Lee. One was.
"Justin was one of those players," Zduriencik said. "Once he was included in the deal with Texas, we pulled the trigger. We had any number of deals we'd discussed, and if they'd included the player we'd wanted, we might have done them."
In Lee, the Rangers get a staff ace for the remainder of the season, after which he becomes a free agent. With the Mariners, he was an All-Star, going 8-3 with a 2.34 earned run average.
"From Day 1, Cliff was a pleasure to work with," Wakamatsu said, "with his teammates, his coaches, everyone. Cliff was just a complete professional and we'll miss him.
"Clearly, we're all disappointed in our record this season, and this is the direction Jack and the front office want to go. I completely support that."
As a rookie, Smoak has struggled in the big league - much like Seattle rookie outfielder Michael Saunders - batting .209 in 70 games, with eight home runs and 34 RBI.
"We think Justin can be the cornerstone of this organization for years," Zduriencik said.
"I loved my time in Seattle. Great teammates, great fans - and the weather was just starting to get nice," he said. "I'm going to a first-place team, and I'm just going to try to fit in and help any way I can."