Cliff Lee donned the Seattle Mariners hat and slipped on the No. 36 white Mariners home jersey over his dark blue button-up shirt. With each arm through the sleeves, he buttoned a few buttons and looked out at the assembled media and Mariners front office employees on-hand at Safeco Field.
“It’s a nice fit,” he said.
Not missing a beat, Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik replied, “That’s what we hope.”
After being acquired in a trade for three minor league prospects from the Philadelphia Phillies on Dec. 16, 2009, Lee was officially introduced to the local media on Friday afternoon, a day after his soon-to-be teammate Felix Hernandez was in Seattle to sign his 5-year, $78 million extension.
The two would-be aces never crossed paths in the 48-hour span, but Mariners fans will soon get to see them pitch on back-to-back days, forming perhaps the best 1-2 combination in all of major league baseball.
“Any time you are building a competitive team and you want to take the next step, to acquire some of this magnitude and match him up with someone like Felix Hernandez, as well the rest of our rotation, it’s very special,” Zduriencik said.
Having the better part of a month to allow the idea of being traded to sink in and also to do a little checking into his new team, Lee seemed at ease and optimistic about the prospect of playing for the Mariners and in Safeco Field.
“I’m excited to be here,” he said. “I’m back in the American League with one of the best defenses in the game. It’s going to be fun watching Ichiro and (Franklin) Gutierrez and Ichiro run around the outfield. (Chone) Figgins, Jack Wilson, (Casey) Kotchman, those guys are defensive-oriented players, to be a starting pitcher you have to like that. I like that a lot.”
Lee didn’t sound quite that upbeat on a conference call the day after the trade was made. At that point, he was still reeling from the punched-in-the-gut feeling of being traded by a team he planned on signing an extension with.
“It definitely caught me off guard,” he said. “Through the media it may have looked like I didn’t want to be traded to the Mariners. That wasn’t the case at all. It was just shock. It caught me off guard. I wasn’t prepared for that.”
Lee wasn’t apologetic for that tone. He was just being honest.
“People are going to perceive things how they want,” he said. “The stuff I said was real. I could have stood up there and made up something to sound good for whoever, but instead I said exactly what I felt. It’s not Seattle. I could have been traded to any other team. I would have said the same thing.”