In his brief time as a Phillie, Cliff Lee grew comfortable enough to make a comical basket catch on the mound at Yankee Stadium during Game 1 of the World Series. He found a team that suited him perfectly, and said he wanted to play here for the rest of his career.
Then, abruptly, he became a Seattle Mariner this week.
"My initial reaction was shock and disbelief," Lee said last night in a conference call with reporters facilitated by his new team. The lefthander said he expected to sign a contract extension with the Phillies this off-season. Instead, he was traded to Seattle on Wednesday for prospects Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and Juan Ramirez.
As Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and team president David Montgomery presented it on Wednesday, the move cleared enough payroll, and more important brought back enough minor-league talent, to make the trade for Toronto's Roy Halladay possible.
Lee, due to make $9 million next season before becoming a free agent, said he had expected a new contract from the Phils this winter.
"Not too long after they brought up the idea and made an offer, I was traded," Lee said. "Basically, they made me an offer, and the day we made a counteroffer, I was traded."
"I am not really going to comment on the negotiations," Amaro said last night when informed of Lee's comments. "There was nothing contentious about our talks, but it may not have led to something we were comfortable with."
Apparently because of his strong desire to play in Philadelphia, Halladay agreed to a below-market deal for three years at $60 million, with vesting options for a fourth year. The Phillies did not believe that Lee would accept a comparable deal.
"I would have loved to have kept both guys on the club," Amaro said. "It was a matter of, we felt more comfortable with the deal we could do with Roy than the one we could do with Cliff. I hope Cliff Lee pitches tremendously well. We would have loved to have kept him, but it didn't look like we were going to move toward that goal."
Lee, 31, said he first heard the trade talk on Monday at his Arkansas home, but largely dismissed it. Then, as he was driving to go fishing on the Mississippi River, he received a call from Amaro. The GM told Lee, acquired from Cleveland in July, that he had been dealt. The move came two months after Lee went 4-0 in five postseason starts.
"At first I didn't believe it, because I thought that we were working out an extension with the Phillies, and I thought that I was going to spend the rest of my career there," Lee said. "This goes to show this is a business, and you never know what's going to happen until you have a full no-trade clause."
Asked why he though an extension was not completed, Lee said, "There was not enough dialogue."
Lee also spoke wistfully of his now-former teammates. "There are a lot of guys who step up, who like being under pressure in a big spot, and they step up," he said. "Those guys are the real deal. It was a true team and I can't say enough about them."
As for the Mariners, Lee said: "I'm going to be as positive as I can, and go over there and try to make it to the World Series with those guys. . . . It's a new chapter. I've got to go to the Mariners and make the best of it. I'm going to go in with an open mind and do everything I can."
At one point, Lee was asked if he was excited to return to the American League, where he won the Cy Young Award in 2008. The pitcher paused and sighed. "Uh, yeah," he said. "I've got to."
He later added: "I'm going to go into it with an open mind and do everything I can. [The Phillies] had an opportunity to get the best pitcher in baseball, and I can't blame them for choosing Roy Halladay over me . . . [but] I was under the impression they would keep me for a long time."