NOTE: I' m just posting my unedited story for tomorrow's paper
Cliff Lee said all the right things. He’s excited about the opportunity with the Seattle Mariners, about pitching with Felix Hernandez, the prospect of pitching in pitcher-friendly Safeco Field and having the likes of Franklin Gutierrez, Ichiro Suzuki and Jack Wilson playing defense behind him.
But even over a conference call from Puerto Rico, while he tried to remain positive about his team and new situation, Lee couldn’t hide a tinge of disappointment in his voice.
It’s not that he’s upset about being traded to Seattle. It’s that he never expected it.
“At first I didn’t believe it, I thought we were working out an extension with the Phillies,” Lee said. “I thought I was going to spend the rest of my career there.”
This was a new development for Lee. Before he was traded to the Phillies last season, he was intent on testing the free agent market next season. But last year’s run to the World Series with Philadelphia had changed his mind. He was in a good place, with a good team and he wanted to stay and try to win the championship that slipped away.
“It just shows that it's a business,” he said. “It shows what can happen until you have a full no-trade clause.''
But it didn’t happen. He was deep in the woods, literally and metaphorically, when he found about the rumored trade. His wife, Kristen, called him on a hunting trip on Monday to inform what was being reported on television and on the internet.
“I just thought it was rumors,” he said. “Obviously, I called my agent and he called the Phillies and they kind of downplayed it and made it seem like it wasn’t real. At that point, I was sure it was rumors and the next day I found out it was true.”
One thing that Lee did clear up was the situation with the Phillies and a contract extension.
“Basically they made me an offer and within 7 to 10 days I was traded,” Lee said. “The day we made our counter offer I was traded. So there really wasn’t much negotiating. I guess if I would have accepted it and signed that I’d still be with the team. But I don’t know any player that’s accepted a team’s initial offer and it’s a done deal.”
There was a part of Lee that thought he might be pitching with Roy Halladay.
“I was told that it was,” he said. “I’ve heard two different stories about that. I think they might have liked for it to happen, but obviously they didn’t want to diminish their farm system that much.”
Lee mentioned it’s a business and unlike Halladay, he didn’t have the no-trade clause to override any decisions.
“Until you have a full no trade clause, you’re at the mercy of the team and what they decide to do with you,” he said. “Theoretically, Seattle could trade me tomorrow.”
That isn’t likely to happen. So now Lee is a Mariner. Not begrudgingly, but apprehensively.
“I’m in Seattle and I’ve got make the best of it,” Lee said. “I’m hoping that it turns into a positive and I think it will because things happen for a reason.”
To be fair, he is leaving a definite World Series contender for a team on the rise, but still finding its way. He also doesn’t know much about the Mariners, his teammates, with the exception of Gutierrez, or Don Wakamatsu or Jack Zduriencik.
But upon closer inspection he did find some things he was excited about.
“After it sank in, I got to look at the Mariners team and who they have and what’s going on there, I like what’s happening there,” Lee said. “And I’m going to do everything I can to help them win.”
There is Safeco Field and the defense led by Gutierrez.
“It’s definitely a pitchers park,” He said. “With Gutierrez and Ichiro out there and Jack Wilson at short and they just signed Chone Figgins, those are defensive oriented players and as a starting pitcher you have to be happy about that.”
There is also the chance to pitch with Hernandez.
“As far as straight stuff goes, it has to be him and CC (Sabathia) as the best pitchers I’ve played with,” he said.
But more than park or the players, it’s the progress to the postseason that Lee craves and is looking for in his next team.
“Definitely,” he said. “You want to play for a team that’s got the best chance to get there and win the World Series. I’m hoping it’s Seattle this year. And if it is, I’m all for it.?
All for it? As in all for signing an extension with the Mariners?
Well, that would be definitely another major factor. But Lee pointed to other aspects like team chemistry, feel out his teammates and how the organization is ran,
“I’m open to seeing how it plays out,” he said. “I can’t give you an answer one way or another, because I don’t’ know what Seattle is all about. … I’m going to go into it with open mind. I’m not dead set on one way or another.”
By the end of the conference call some of the disappointment was gone in Lee’s voice and a tone of optimism started to seep in.
“I’m going to try help them win,” he said. “I’m going to say as positive as I can and hopefully get back to the World Series.”