Mariners introduce Lee to Seattle

Updated: January 22, 2010, 10:02 PM ET
Associated Press

SEATTLE -- Cliff Lee was in Seattle for a couple hours Friday before he had to field questions about his plans. Months away from his first pitch for the Mariners, everyone wanted to know what the ace left-hander would do when his contract ends this fall.

Lee
Lee

The 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner was ready.

"I want a 10-year deal for about 200 billion dollars," the 31-year-old Lee cracked with a straight face.

Talk about a memorable first impression.

Seattle introduced the centerpiece of its offseason overhaul a month after it acquired him from Philadelphia as part of a complicated, four-team deal. The Phillies traded for Lee last season and he helped them reach the World Series.

The Mariners are hoping for their own deep postseason run with Lee and fellow ace Felix Hernandez anchoring their rotation.

"I don't think there's any question that with Cliff and Felix at the top of our rotation, it's something that a lot of people have to take notice to," general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "To acquire someone [of] this magnitude and match him up with Felix Hernandez ... it's very special."

Lee has one year and $9 million remaining on his contract. He was introduced one day after Seattle signed Hernandez to a five-year contract worth $78 million.

Lee said he would rather not negotiate an extension during the season because of the distraction. And Zduriencik said Seattle hasn't broached the subject with Lee's representatives.

The Mariners want Lee to get to know his teammates for now, inside what the GM thinks is a "special" clubhouse situation. Ken Griffey Jr. helped brighten the atmosphere around the team last year, a factor in the club's turnaround from 101 losses to an 85-77 record in 2009.

"There's a balance here," Zduriencik said. "What we're hoping is he rolls in here and falls in love."

The vibes surrounding Lee weren't so mushy when Philadelphia traded him last month. Even Zduriencik said he was "very surprised" to see how excited Lee and his wife Kristen were to be in Seattle when they spoke in the GM's office Friday, given Zduriencik noticed Lee had said on a conference call 24 hours after the Phillies dealt him that he was in "disbelief and shock."

Lee went 7-4 with a 3.39 ERA for Philadelphia after he was acquired from Cleveland on July 29. He was even better in the playoffs, going 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in five starts.

Lee, who earned both of the Phillies' wins in the World Series against the Yankees, had been excited to rejoin Philadelphia. Then, on the same day he made a counter proposal to the Phillies in negotiations on a multiyear contract, Philadelphia opted to trade him to help clear the way for a deal for fellow AL Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay.

Suddenly, the father of an 8-year-old son (Jaxon) and 6-year-old daughter (Maci) was headed far away from their home in Arkansas, to his third team in five months.

"I thought I'd be spending the rest of my career there," Lee said in December. "I was under the impression they wanted to keep me there for a long time."

Friday, he emphasized his disappointment wasn't in going to Seattle. It was in leaving Philadelphia.

"It took me a few days [to get over it]," he said. "It was just shock.

"I'm going to make the best of it. I think it's going to be a good thing for me and my career. I think it's going to work out for the better."

He said Seattle has been one of his favorite road cities since his first full season in the majors with the Indians in 2004. And before Lee was introduced, Mariners executives showed him around Safeco Field.

Seattle's big ballpark combined with sterling defensive outfielders Ichiro Suzuki and Franklin Gutierrez could make Lee even tougher at home.

"I'm excited to be here. I'm back in the American League, with one of the best defenses in the American League," Lee said, also mentioning Mariners infielders Jack Wilson, Chone Figgins and Casey Kotchman. "To be a starting pitcher, you've got to like that."

He said he hopes to have the same positive, World Series experience in Seattle that he had in a few months with the Phillies.

"My mindset last year was, play my contract out and enter free agency," he said. "Going to Philadelphia changed that. I wanted to stay there.

"I'm hoping I get here and a similar thing happens."


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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