Cliff Lee surprised to be moving again

He didn't think Philadelphia Phillies would trade him as part of Roy Halladay deal

December 20, 2009|By Phil Rogers

How badly is Cliff Lee's head spinning?

Lee leads the Phillies to the World Series, delivering one of the best postseason runs by a starter since a third round was added, and only a little more than a month later he is traded for the second time this year. The first trade was in July, only about eight months after he had won the American League Cy Young Award.

Now that he has gone from the Indians to the Phillies to the Mariners in four of the craziest months imaginable, he must be ready to settle down, right? Uh, not quite.

Lee has one year left on his contract. His long-term future revolves around working out a contract with the Mariners worthy of his elevated status, a proposition made trickier because the club wants to hang on to its homegrown ace, Felix Hernandez, who is two years from free agency.

To say the 31-year-old Lee was surprised the Phillies traded him for the Blue Jays' Roy Halladay - the key decision that led to the four-team, nine-player trade finalized Wednesday - is an understatement. MLB.com's Todd Zolecki described him as sounding as if a truck had hit him.

"At first, I didn't believe it," Lee said in a conference call with reporters Thursday. "I thought we were working out a (contract) extension with the Phillies, and I thought I was going to spend the rest of my career there. It just shows that it's a business and it shows what can happen until you have a full no-trade clause."

Lee first got wind of a possible deal Monday. He was deer hunting on his land in Arkansas and got a phone call from his wife, relaying rumors that had begun swirling. His agent, Darek Braunecker, called the Phillies and then called him back, saying there wasn't anything to the talk.

A day later, Lee was hunting along the Mississippi River when Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. called to say he had been traded. He described his reaction as "shock" and "disbelief," in part because he felt he was engaged in negotiations to get a long-term deal. Instead it was the 32-year-old Halladay who got a three-year, $60 million contract extension, giving him $75.75 million guaranteed for four years with a vesting option for another $20 million in 2014.

"We were in the process of trying to make it happen," said Lee, who then tried to say he didn't blame the Phillies. "They had a chance to get the best pitcher in baseball too and I can't blame them for taking Roy Halladay over me."

Lee and the 23-year-old Hernandez combined to go 64-32 with a 2.91 ERA last season. They were both in the top five in innings pitched in the majors.

Ace from heaven: When Zduriencikheaded to Indianapolis for the winter meetings two weeks ago, he hoped to come home with free agent pitcher Rich Harden on his roster. His focus changed after Amaro called.

"He said 'Look, if I'm able to do Halladay, would you be able to do Cliff Lee?' " Zduriencik recalled after the trade went through.

Talks between the Mariners and Phillies began in earnest when Zduriencik and Amaro bumped into each other at the Indianapolis airport. The result was Seattle adding Lee at a cost of three prospects - pitchers Phillippe Aumont and Juan Ramirez and outfielder Tyson Gillies.

Given the Angels' loss of John Lackey (five-year, $82.5 million deal with the Red Sox) and Chone Figgins' earlier jump from the Angels to the Mariners, Seattle has gone from a 61-101 finish in 2008 to favorite status in 2010. It was this sudden chance to win - ahead of schedule for a franchise that had a first-year GM and manager in 2009 - that prompted Zduriencik to agree Friday to the Carlos Silva-for-Milton Bradley trade.

Heading west: Homewood-Flossmoor High product John Ely takes a newly learned cut fastball and a wave of confidence with him as he heads from the White Sox to the Dodgers as part of last week's Juan Pierre trade. He grew up a Sox fan but looks forward to challenging for a spot in the Dodgers' starting rotation, hopefully sooner rather than later.

"I'm actually ecstatic about going over there," said Ely, who led all minor leaguers with 150-plus innings, in winning percentage and in ERA last season. "It will be a good opportunity. Even though I was with my hometown team, the one I grew up rooting for, I know this will be a good move. I just have to seize that opportunity."

Ely, 23, is ticketed for Triple-A after going 14-2 with a 2.82 ERA at Double-A Birmingham. Including three seasons at Miami of Ohio, he's 83-27 since earning a spot on the Homewood-Flossmoor varsity. That's pretty impressive for a guy whose fastball generally sits around 87 to 89 mph.

He offsets the lack of an overpowering fastball with a great changeup and superior command.

"If you can get outs, you'll get a chance," Ely said. "I've done a decent job of getting outs."

Different approaches: Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Bradley trade was that it could be made without Bradley's consent. Like many other clubs, the Cubs have been generous in handing out no-trade clauses in recent years. Seven of their current players have some no-trade protection, including four with full no-trade clauses.

White Sox GM Ken Williams sometimes can be persuaded to give players limited no-trade clauses (Paul Konerko, Mark Buehrle, A.J. Pierzynski and Scott Linebrink) but never complete no-trade clauses. Why not?

"I like to make trades," Williams said.

Fair enough.

The last word: "Winning is important to them, and that's very important to me. As a free agent, you want a team that desires you and that you think you can help win. This organization is making a huge effort to win." - Randy Wolf, who signed a three-year deal with the Brewers on the recommendation of closer Trevor Hoffman.

progers@tribune.com

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