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July 8, 2010 at 4:55 PM

Cliff Lee elaborates on 710 ESPN comments about possible contract extension in spring

Update: Jack Zduriencik has declined to comment, which may not make fans happy, but is an understandable strategic move as the Lee trade talks move along, probably into their final stages. The last thing he needs to do is get into any semblance of a he-said, she-said with Lee.
Cliff Lee inadvertently created a little bit of a stir today when he went on the Brock and Salk show on 710 ESPN and intimated that the Mariners turned down an opportunity to negotiate a contract extension during spring training.
Actually, he didn’t inimate it, he pretty much said it, as this transcript provided by the station shows:
Mike Salk: “Would you consider going to your agent and saying I’m happy here, I like the long-term plan here, I would be interested in signing a long term deal before free agency?”
Cliff Lee: “That’s kind of a tricky question there. We discussed that sort of stuff during spring training and the Mariners decided to wait, and here we are now.”
Brock Huard: “So just to clarify, you said earlier that the agent and you guys approached the Mariners before the season, and it was decided to shelve that and that the Mariners were not going to go down that road before the year?
Cliff Lee: Exactly, Exactly.
Naturally, several reporters approached Lee today in the clubhouse to get a clarification. He seemed surprised that his comments were causing a stir. First, I asked him if it was true that the team turned away a chance to talk about a contract.
“That’s not really that relevant,” he replied. “We told them in spring training that if they wanted to do something, to do it before the season starts. Even up until I came back (from his injury, which sidelined him until the end of April), we said, ‘If you want to do something do it before I start pitching.’ They decided not to, and that’s really that. There really is nothing to it other than that.”


Would he have been receptive to contract talks?
“Obviously. That was the point.”
Does he consider it a slight by the Mariners?
“No, it’s their prerogative to do what they want. They don’t have to do anything they don’t want to do. You can’t force them to do anything. That’s it.”
Lee was asked if he had decided as early as spring training that he liked being part of the Mariners enough to entertain a long-term offer.
“Yeah, pretty much. I went through spring. Initially coming into it, you have to see what it’s all about. I came to know some of the guys. I was comfortable. Good coaches, good teammates. I was open to it, but they decided not to pursue that so that’s it.”
Lee said there have been no further talks since he started pitching.
“That was it. Obviously, that was my preference, but they decided no thanks. It’s easy now to say they should have done it because I have pitched well, but if I had pitched bad…it’s hard to know.”
Asked if the overture by his camp was before his abdominal injury (which happened in one of the first Cactus League games in early March), he repled, “Before, during and after.”
I asked him if that door was now closed.
“I don’t know. I haven’t been approached about anything, so whatever.”
He said that discussions of a contract extension have not been revisited since he started pitching.
“No, not at all. This is really not even a story. You guys are trying to make a story out of nothing. It’s a non-issue. It is what it is.”
So far, there has been no response from the Mariners to Lee’s comments. Here’s what Lee’s agent, Darek Braunecker, said in early May Braunecker quickly softened his comments a few days later.
What I’d like to know is whether the two sides ever talked money back in spring, and what sort of offer the Lee camp was looking for, in dollars and years. Even for a pitcher as great as Lee, there is a point at which the money or years doesn’t make sense — especially when the pitcher is sidelined, at the time, with a recurrence of an injury that has afflicted him in previous seasons. Just look at the history of contracts of five years or more for pitchers — it’s not pretty, in the majority of cases.
It’s hard to make a judgment on this without knowing all the facts, so I won’t. I’m sure they will emerge in due time. As Lee said, it’s easy to criticize the M’s now that he’s having a great year, but the context was different back in spring training.

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