Lee eager to help Seattle reach playoffs
Lefty surprised by trade but ready to settle in with Mariners
Cliff Lee, the Mariners' latest acquisition, spent the greater part of his conference call with reporters on Thursday gushing over his half-season and postseason run with the Phillies, a run that ended in the World Series.
"In Seattle ... I hope I have the same type of experience," Lee said. "Who's to say that I won't love it in Seattle? I'm looking forward to helping the Mariners win."
Lee, the 2008 American League Cy Young Award winner while with the Cleveland Indians, made his first public comments Thursday following the completion of a three-team trade between the Phillies, Blue Jays and Mariners.
Lee said the shock of the deal hadn't quite worn off yet, that he was genuinely surprised the Phillies traded him to Seattle for three Minor League players.
"At first I didn't believe it," Lee said. "I thought we were working out an extension with the Phillies. I thought I would spend the rest of my career there. It is a business and you never know what's going to happen.
"They made me an offer and within seven to 10 days I was traded. On the day we countered [the Phillies offer], I was traded."
Lee heard rumors about the deal on Monday while he was hunting. A day later, Phillies' general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. phoned him with the news that he was being traded. It was a lot to take in, Lee said, though he understood the Phillies jumping at the chance to land Toronto's Roy Halladay.
"They had an opportunity to get the best pitcher in baseball," Lee said. "I can't blame them for choosing Roy Halladay over me. He's the best pitcher in the game ... and has been year in and year out.
"It seemed like it happened overnight. I was under the impression they wanted to keep me there for a long time. Next thing you know, I'm traded."
It's the second time Lee has been traded in a year.
Lee went 7-4 with a 3.39 ERA in 12 starts after the trade and was 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in five postseason starts. The lefty came up big in the postseason for the Phillies, defeating the Yankees twice in the World Series.
Lee has a career record of 5-1 with a 3.49 ERA in eight appearances -- including seven starts -- at Safeco Field, all coming as a member of the Indians, and has posted a 90-52 record with a 3.97 ERA in his eight Major League seasons. Over the past two, he has combined to go 36-16 with a 2.89 ERA in 65 starts.
"We've acquired a very, very nice piece to help this organization move forward," Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik said on Wednesday. "It's going to be exciting to watch him pitch at the top of the rotation with Felix Hernandez.
"You're always looking for pitching. In this case, a left-hander, in this ballpark with our defense and what he's accomplished ... it was exciting to be able to acquire him. We're happy this was able to come to fruition."
Lee will be a free agent after the 2010 season, during which he will earn $9 million. He couldn't say one way or another if Seattle was somewhere he would like to remain. He wants to see how the season plays out and would rather not answer questions about his contract status during the season.
But, as he acknowledged, he knows these are different circumstances.
"I'm open to see how it plays out. I don't know what Seattle has to offer," Lee said. "... Until I get there and feel out my teammates, see how the organization is run. But I'm open to it. I'm going to go there and be me."
There will be some level of comfort with the American League, where Lee spent parts of eight seasons with the Indians. That he's going from an extreme hitter's ballpark to what rates as an extreme pitcher's ballpark with two plus-defensive outfielders won't hurt either.
"It's definitely a pitchers park," Lee said. "That's going to be one difference going from Philly to Safeco. With [Franklin] Gutierrez out there in center, Ichiro [Suzuki] in right, they just signed [Chone] Figgins at third and Jack Wilson at shortstop ... they're all defensive-oriented players.
"As a starting pitcher, you've got to like that. You've still got to go out there and do your job. I'm not going to cut any corners. I'm going to try and make the best of it. There's going to be a lot of speed on our team. As a pitcher, you have to like that."
Lee is also looking forward to being paired with Hernandez at the top of Seattle's starting rotation, giving the Mariners arguably the best 1-2 starting punch in the Major Leagues.
"As far as straight stuff goes, it would have to be him and CC [Sabathia] with the best pitchers I've played with," Lee said. "He's [Hernandez] got as good of stuff as anyone. It's got to be him and CC. They're both legit No. 1 starters."
The Mariners are banking on Hernandez and Lee, as well as their other prized acquisition of the winter, Figgins, to get them back to the postseason. For Lee, that was clearly the highlight of his short time with the Phillies -- playing meaningful games in October.
"Making it to the World Series, being a part of that, it was something that I was looking forward to, making a third run at it," Lee said. "I was looking forward to that. ... It was an unbelievable experience."
An experience Lee hopes he can replicate in Seattle.
"I'm hoping it's Seattle this year. If it is, I'm all for it," he said. "I think it's going to work out to be a positive."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.