Lee's mind on Mariners, not trade market
Coveted left-hander continues to produce as rumors swirl
NEW YORK -- The status of Mariners left-hander Cliff Lee's future with the team remained unchanged on Tuesday, and general manager Jack Zduriencik refused to stoke the fire one way or the other.
"I don't have much to say," Zduriencik said when asked if there was anything new on what has become the "Lee Watch" around the Major Leagues. "There is a lot of speculation, but I don't want to comment on that at all.
"We're here to play baseball the best we can. We are just trying to win baseball games, improve our record and see what happens."
Lee's stock continued to rise on Tuesday night, when he beat the Yankees, 7-4, before 45,780 at Yankee Stadium. Lee's seventh win of the season -- and third straight complete game -- included the first walk issued by the left-hander in 38 1/3 innings, giving him a mind-boggling five free passes in 95 2/3 innings. Over the 51 innings he pitched in June, Lee went 4-1 with a 1.76 ERA and twice as many complete games (four) as walks (two).
But with the Mariners in last place in the American League West and Lee pitching superbly during the final year of his contract, there are rumors emerging almost daily that he could be traded to a playoff-contending team -- two of them being the Yankees and Mets.
Lee dodged a postgame query about his thoughts on potentially being traded.
"It's out of my control, so I don't even worry about it," Lee said. "I'm a Mariner until they tell me something different. That's where my focus is, and it's really that simple. There is nothing else to it."
Lee is eligible for free agency at the end of the season and doesn't have a say in where he might finish this season.
Asked if he had a particular place in mind -- East Coast, West Coast, AL or National League -- Lee said: "That is kind of a loaded question. I am going to choose not to answer it. Obviously, I do have preferences, but I'm not going to tell you who I want to play for -- if I had a choice, and I don't. So it's pointless to consume time talking about it or worrying about it."
This is not an ongoing conversation that either Lee or the Mariners anticipated when they traded for the left-hander this past December.
"When we acquired Cliff, we were hoping that we would have a better season than what we've had up to this point," Zduriencik said. "Our focus right now is to win baseball games. Cliff is an awfully talented guy, and we're looking forward to watching him pitch. He's been a quality, quality pitcher in his career, and he's on top of his game now. It's important that we play better baseball than we've played, and that's where our focus is right now."
The focus is not on "showcasing" Lee to anyone, as one New York writer suggested prior to Tuesday night's series opener.
"I would like to throw Cliff and Felix [Hernandez] against everybody," Zduriencik said. "Our guys have been good. It just lines up that way to start [this] series. Having Cliff and Felix go back-to-back is something we talked about all winter long, and here we are today.
"It's in Yankee Stadium and obviously a big stage. We're excited about watching these two guys pitch."
The potential of Lee and Hernandez pitching back-to-back the remainder of this season -- and beyond -- is something the organization would prefer. But the 31-year-old Lee will eventually make that call.
Until then, Lee continues to throw strikes, get outs and win as many games as possible, all the while being linked to trade rumors that include both New York teams as well as the Twins, Cardinals, Dodgers and Rangers.
Lee has outwardly ignored the rumors and concentrated on the job at hand.
"We've had dialogues over the last month, and he's handled [the rumors] as professionally as anyone I've ever been around," Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. "He wants the ball and wants to go out and pitch.
"It's not an easy situation for anybody, but he's handled it well."
Lee has some experience in the rumor game, having gone through a similar situation last season, when he was traded by the Indians to the Phillies in July.
"I've asked him about his feelings about what's going on," Wakamatsu said. "He says, 'I'm here, and I'm pitching.' That's as simple as he's trying to keep it."
That philosophy could have something to do with the situation not becoming a distraction in the Mariners' clubhouse.
"I think everyone understands the situation," Wakamatsu said. "We're playing better baseball. That's all we care about now. The tone he's set in every one of his starts is that he's a Mariner and that's all he cares about. That help takes pressure off everyone else. We try to stay in the now.
"We're not in the position to worry about a couple of weeks from now, or whatever."
Veteran Mike Sweeney can relate to the uncertainty Lee faces.
"I've been in that position, back when I was younger, healthier and better," Sweeney said. "Cliff has the perfect attitude. He just goes out and pitches and does his thing. He's unfazed by the outside influences. He's going to be great. He's going to do his thing, trade or no trade. You don't need to talk to Cliff about that stuff. He's pretty locked in."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.