Lee hopeful Seattle is 'right fit' for him
Mariners introduce lefty, who will wait on extension talks
SEATTLE -- Cliff Lee's first Seattle appearance as a Mariner went off so well that he might be asked to headline local comedy clubs. Or maybe he'll just stick with his day job.
Either way, Lee showed a sense of humor when asked for roughly the 5,873rd time in the past month and a half what type of a financial arrangement the 2008 American League Cy Young Award winner, who is eligible to become a free agent after the 2010 season, might be seeking.
Lee deadpanned, "a 10-year deal for about 200 billion dollars," and the feel-good offseason for baseball's most improved team in 2009 continued.
In Lee, the team has landed an elite lefty starter who slots at No. 2 very comfortably behind ace Felix Hernandez and a no-nonsense guy who said he's eager to get to know his teammates in Spring Training, do what he's always done on the field, and worry about his future when he needs to.
"I'm here to help this team win this year," said Lee, after being introduced by general manager Jack Zduriencik and donning his Mariners cap and No. 36 jersey for the first time. And as for a contract extension with Seattle or the pursuit of mega dollars via free agency in 2011, Lee shrugged.
"Who's to know?" he said. "I haven't been around my teammates. I don't know what kind of atmosphere they've got. I need to get a feel for what's going on."
The Mariners seem to know what's going on with Lee behind Hernandez, who just signed a five-year, $78 million extension and was introduced at the same podium on Thursday.
Lee, 31, went 14-13 with a 3.22 ERA in 34 starts in 2009, combined between the Indians and Phillies, was acquired by the Phils on July 29 in a six-player trade and was an integral part of Philadelphia's second consecutive trip to the World Series. Lee went 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA with Cleveland in his 2008 Cy Young campaign and has combined to go 36-16 with a 2.89 ERA in 65 starts over the past two seasons.
The Mariners, who had tried to trade for Lee at last year's July 31 Trade Deadline, finally acquired him in mid-December from the Phillies in a three-way trade with Toronto that sent Mariners prospects Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and J.C. Ramirez away and shipped Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays to Philadelphia.
When Lee was originally introduced to the Seattle media via a conference call right after the trade, he was still in a state of confusion, having been dealt away from a team he expected to sign with long-term, and expressed his feelings. He said Friday that he didn't mean to sound bummed out about coming to Seattle.
|"It's going to be fun watching Ichiro [Suzuki] and [Franklin] Gutierrez run around in the outfield and [Chone] Figgins, Jack Wilson, [Casey] Kotchman, those guys are all defensive-oriented players, and to be a starting pitcher, you've got to like that. This is going to be a team that doesn't give up many runs, and I feel good about that. I like that a lot. I'm looking forward to the challenge."|
|-- Cliff Lee|
"Through the media, it may have seemed like I didn't want to be traded to the Mariners, but that wasn't the case at all," Lee said. "It was just shock. It caught me off-guard. I wasn't prepared for that. I was thinking that I was going to sign an extension with the Phillies, and it just caught me off-guard.
"It's reality now. It took a while to set in, but I'm making the best of it now. I think it's going to be a good thing for me and my career, and I think it's going to work out for the better."
An extension would work out the best for the Mariners, who would love to have Lee in their staff beyond 2010, but Zduriencik said he didn't plan on talking to Lee and his agent, Darek Braunecker, about such negotiations until Lee and the Mariners get to know each other better.
"The best thing for us to do would be for us to have open arms, let this guy experience what it's like to be here with the fans and the community, what it's like to live here in the summertime, let his wife enjoy the city, and maybe we'll romance him, in a sense, and let him do his thing, what he's capable of doing on the mound, and we'll let the pieces fall where they may at that point in time," Zduriencik said.
"So that's why we've never engaged in anything more than, 'Let's get comfortable here and see what happens.' He hasn't thrown a pitch for us yet. I just think what we're going to concentrate on is to have the best club that we can."
Lee, meanwhile, indicated that he's not merely after a free-agent bonanza -- or at least he wasn't at the end of last year, when he was so content in Philly on a World Series-bound team.
"My mindset last year was that I'm going to play out my contract and try free agency," Lee said. "But that changed when I got to Philadelphia. I got on that team and I changed my mind. I wanted to be a part of that.
"I'm hoping I get here and have those same types of feelings. Either way, I'm still going to go out there and try to put up zeroes every time out, for me and my teammates, and pride and stuff. I'm hoping it's the right fit and things work out, but time will tell."
Lee figures to be a key cog in the Mariners' continued efforts to win with run prevention as their most potent asset.
The team, already ranked by some experts as the best defensive team in the Major Leagues last year, added top-fielding third baseman Chone Figgins, re-signed Gold Glove-caliber Jack Wilson to play shortstop, extended the contract of center fielder Franklin Gutierrez, ranked by some as the best individual defender in baseball in 2009, and upgraded the defense at first base by trading for Casey Kotchman.
Color Lee impressed.
"It's going to be fun watching Ichiro [Suzuki] and Gutierrez run around in the outfield and Figgins, Jack Wilson, Kotchman, those guys are all defensive-oriented players, and to be a starting pitcher, you've got to like that," Lee said.
"This is going to be a team that doesn't give up many runs, and I feel good about that. I like that a lot. I'm looking forward to the challenge."
And pitching in Safeco Field won't hurt either, Lee said.
"It's definitely a pitchers' park," he said. "With the defense and the dimensions ... It's a pitchers' park and I'm a pitcher, so I like that."
Doug Miller is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.