SEATTLE - It's aces galore in Seattle.

Fresh off one major move, the Mariners made an even bigger deal yesterday, getting coveted ace Cliff Lee from the Phillies in a four-team, nine-player trade that also sent Roy Halladay to Philadelphia.

It cost the Mariners three prospects - and gave them a pair atop the rotation that instantly becomes the envy of baseball.

Young star Felix Hernandez, the runner-up in this year's AL Cy Young Award voting, will hand the ball to the 2008 AL Cy Young winner about once each week in 2010.

One could almost see Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik smiling through the phone.

"This is a message being sent that we want to be competitive for years to come," he said.

On Tuesday, the Mariners introduced all-star infielder Chone Figgins, the offensive catalyst whom they pried from the rival Los Angeles Angels with $36 million.

A day later, Seattle sent its 2007 top draft pick, Phillippe Aumont, who has been delayed by injuries and has pitched in just 15 games above single A, along with single-A outfielder Tyson Gillies and righthander Juan Ramirez, to the Phillies.

The Mariners got back a 31-year-old lefty who had Philadelphia's only two wins over the champion New York Yankees in last fall's World Series.

No wonder Zduriencik is more popular than the mayor and the governor combined around Seattle right now.

"I'm getting a lots of texts and e-mail - and it's quite humbling, honestly," he said.

It first germinated in talks with Toronto's new general manager, Alex Anthopoulos. Zduriencik even negotiated while at the Indianapolis airport last week as both were leaving the winter meetings.

Zduriencik's interest peaked when Anthopoulos, anticipating what the Phillies might do to acquire Halladay after they had pushed hard to get him last summer, asked Seattle's general manager, "If I'm able to deal Halladay, would you be interested in having Cliff Lee?"

Zduriencik's answer was something akin to "Duh!"

"When you have the opportunity to acquire a pitcher of Cliff's caliber, immediate effects are [obvious]," Zduriencik said. "Did I think we'd be getting a guy of this caliber? You always set your expectations high. We're really glad it came to fruition."

Zduriencik isn't concerned that Lee has only the 2010 season and $9 million remaining on his contract. He has had no talks with Lee or his agent on a contract extension.

He said Lee "could end up loving Seattle" - with its strong defense, its rising status, and what players think is a great city in which to play - and decide to re-sign this year.

And if Lee wants to test free agency, Zduriencik doesn't think the worst case of having Lee and Hernandez anchoring the rotation for an entire season and then getting two first-round draft picks for losing what likely would be a Type A free agent would be so bad.

"From day one, I've said we had to get our talent level better," Zduriencik said. "And a great place to start is with your starting pitching."