IF THERE'S ONE part that bewilders Cliff Lee, it's how quickly everything changed, like a pitcher who takes a one-hitter into the seventh inning then gets knocked out of the game without recording another out.
One day he thought he was negotiating a long-term contract extension with the Phillies. Almost before he knew what hit him, he had been traded to the Seattle Mariners as part of a sprawling deal encompassing four teams, two former No. 1 draft picks and a pair of Cy Young Award winners: Lee and Roy Halladay.
Last night, on a conference call with the Seattle media, Lee made it clear that he was stunned by this turn of events and that he still isn't certain what went wrong.
"That's a great group of guys. I enjoyed every second I was there. Now I'm in Seattle and I have to make the best of it," he said. "Basically, they made an offer 7 to 10 days before I was traded. The day we made our counter offer, I was traded. There wasn't much negotiation. I guess if I'd taken their initial offer I'd still be there. But I don't know of any player who does that.
"In my mind, it was going to happen, but it didn't."
"Disbelief. Shock. At first I didn't believe it. I thought we were working out an extension with the Phillies and I was going to spend the rest of my career there," he said.
He was deer hunting on his property in Arkansas on Monday when his wife, Kristen, called to tell him about the rumors that were exploding on the Internet. He was hunting again, this time along the Mississippi River, when his cell phone buzzed again. This time, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. was on the line.
"He said, 'I hate to inform you, but we traded you.' All the stuff you'd expect. I didn't have much to say. It kind of caught me off guard," Lee said. "It seemed like it happened overnight. I was under the impression they wanted to keep me there for a long time. I was kind of surprised because we were in contract negotiations. And not long after they brought it up, I was traded.
"There was nothing I could do. I'm not bitter. But it's a little disappointing. I loved it there. They did a lot of things right and I wanted to be part of it."
Amaro said Wednesday that he wasn't "comfortable" that he could sign Lee, likely over the length of the contract rather than average annual value. Halladay took 3 years and an option, less than a pitcher his caliber could have been expected to get on the open market. Then again, as Lee pointed out, his negotiations were still in the early stages.
He was asked exactly what he found so attractive in Philadelphia.
"I couldn't put my finger on one thing. They put a lineup together that was unbelievable. They went to two World Series in 2 years and they're lined up to do it again. I saw it from afar and I thought it was a pretty good team. Then I got there and saw it for myself," he said. "They have a lot of guys who take a lot of pride in what they do. Guys who step up to the plate in big situations. I saw a bunch of guys, not just one or two, carrying the weight. Those guys are the real deal, a true team."
He understands. Then again, he doesn't.
"They had a chance to get the best pitcher in baseball. I can't blame them for wanting Roy Halladay instead of me. If you had one pitcher to build a team around, he's the best and has been for a long time," he said.
Then again, like so many Phillies fans, the idea of how good the team could have been with both of them in the rotation has crossed his mind.
"I was told it was possible. I heard two different stories. I think the Phillies would have liked that to have happened, but they didn't want to diminish their farm system. That's their prerogative. They're trying run a business and you have to respect that. Until you have a full no-trade clause, you're at their mercy," he said.
Eventually, he'll come to grips with the fact that he's no longer with the Phillies. But it may take a while.
Gillies of the Phillies
Outfielder Tyson Gillies, one of the prospects acquired from the Seattle Mariners this week, told his hometown newspaper in British Columbia that he could hardly believe he was involved in the blockbuster deal that included former Cy Young Award winners Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee.
"That was overwhelming to hear my name even being involved or mentioned with those guys, let along being traded for them," he told the BC News Group. "Growing up I never thought I would be associated with two incredible gentlemen like them."
Gillies, who is legally deaf, batted .341 with 44 stolen bases for Class A High Desert of the California League last season. He's expected to start next year at Double A Reading.
Phillies closer Brad Lidge will receive the 2009 Big BAT/Frank Slocum Award for his continuing financial generosity to the Baseball Assistance Team at its annual dinner on Jan. 26 in New York. BAT assists members of the baseball family through financial grants, health-care programs and rehabilitative counseling.