We just finished the American League press availability here in Anaheim at the All-Star Game, and my first stop was Cliff Lee, who was sitting all alone at his table (at least he was alone for a little while, until a fairly large media contingent surrounded him). Behind him was a sign that said, “Cliff Lee, Texas Rangers.” Three days later, that was still jarring. To both of us.
“It’s a little bit weird,” he said. “Obviously, the work I did to get here was done with the Mariners, but it is what it is. Until you have a no-trade clause, you’re going to get traded.”
He admitted that he was a bit tired after what he called “a whirlwind few days. But whatever. I made the trip to Texas, got my first start out of the way, and then went back across the country here for the All-Star Game. It’s been kind of a chaotic few days.”
Still, Lee said, it’s a relief knowing he’s in one spot to (presumably) stay for the rest of the season.
“Definitely. I think that’s what everyone wants, regardless of what your job is or what you do. Everyone wants to be stable and in a place you know you’re going to be, and your ducks in a row.
“It’s a little bit of relief knowing No. 1, it’s a good team, and they’re in a good position to make the post-season. And to know this should be the last time you’re traded. We’ll see. Really, the Rangers could trade me today if they wanted. Who knows what’s going to happen?”
When the rumors started swirling on Friday that he was being dealt to the Yankees, Lee’s wife contacted the wife of CC Sabathia, a former Cleveland teammate of Lee’s, and Lee contacted Sabathia himself, who happened to be in Seattle to play the Mariners.
“I thought he might have some information and know something. So I called him to see if he did. They had asked him some questions about me. We just talked about the possibility of being teammates again. Obviously, that didn’t happen.
“Now I’m a Ranger, and that perfectly fine. It’s a great team in a great position. Unbelievable offense. It’s going to be a fun ride.”
Asked if he was riding an emotional wave, the low-key Lee said, “Nah. I’m fine. I knew something was happening. I had a pretty strong feeling something was going to happen. I was prepared, with the way the Mariners were playing. I had talked to Jack (Zduriencik) about stuff potentially happening, so I wasn’t totally in the dark about it. I had an idea something was going to happen before the trade deadline. I
guess better sooner than later. I can get there, get to know the guys, get more comfortable with the situation going down the stretch.”
I asked Lee to reflect on his time with the Mariners — approximately seven months from being trade to, and away from, Seattle.
“Going into it, I was thinking we were going to have a real good chance. That’s why you play the games. You never know how it’s going to turn out. We basically under-performed. That’s really the bottom line. There were a lot of expectations. As a team, we didn’t perform up to our capabilities and what we expected of ourselves and what was expected of us. There wasn’t really one thing you could put your finger on. It was a lot of different things.
“It was a great group of guys, a great coaching staff. Good organization. I couldn’t say anything close to bad about that part of it. While I was there, we just didn’t play well.”
The Rangers, despite being swept by the Orioles in their final series, entered the break with the largest lead of any division leader in the American League. Not that Lee was taking any credit for that, having lost his first start.
.”I think you can go around and ask any player here if you’d like to have the largest margin or not. I think they’d take the largest margin. It’s kind of a no-brainer. We’re in a good spot. They were in a good spot before they got me, and that had nothing to do with me. That had to do with the players they have and what they’ve done. I want to just come in an contribute. They already have leaders, already have guys that carry this team. I just want to do my part and help this team win.”
I asked Lee if playing with Ichiro was different than watching him from afar. it was a question that animated him more than any other.
“Obviously, before, I knew he was an unbelievable player, and one of the best ever. Getting a chance to be in the same locker room with him and play beside him, he’s impressed me even more than I was impressed before with his routine, and how regimented he is on what he does and his work ethic.
“I knew he got a lot of infield hits before. Usually, when guys get infield hits they mis-hit the ball on accident and beat it out. I really think he knows how to do that on purpose, and he does that intentionally. Getting to see a guy do that, and then can drive the ball out of the ballpark any time he wants to – to see a guy do that is highly impressive. I think he has the best hand-eye coordination of any athlete in the world. The way he does it and his technique, and the way his head is moving forward and yet he’s able to stay back the way he does, it’s highly impressive.
Just on a whim, I asked him if he expected the Mariners to be in the bidding when he becomes a free agent.
“I have no clue. That’s stuff I’m going to deal with in offseason. Right now, I’m not too concerned at all.”
But he did laugh and say that, whoever signs him, he wants to have a no-trade clause after being dealt three times in less than a year.
“I’m going to do everything I can to try to put that in there. I think everyone wants that. I mean, the stability. You want to have control of your future if you can. That’s for sure. For as much as I’ve bounced around. That’s something I’m going to try to get.”
I’ll have more later, including The annual “State of the Ichiro” address, but now the National League beckons.