PEORIA, Ariz. -- If the decision in Philadelphia was always going to be Cliff Lee or Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee knows who he's taking.
"He's arguably the best pitcher in baseball," Lee said Thursday. "He is [the best], in my opinion."
|Will former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee be with the Mariners after this season? (AP)|
"I can't blame them," he said. "No doubt about it."
Yes, this column is supposed to be about Lee, not Halladay. Yes, this column is supposed to be about the Mariners, not the Phillies.
(If you want to read about Halladay and the Phillies, I'm sure Scott Miller has that more than covered here.)
But this is all still too recent history, and Lee and Halladay are still too tied together to ignore the link. And it's still true that when Lee talks about what he wants Seattle and the Mariners to be like, he naturally brings up Philadelphia and the Phils.
"Honestly, I hope I really like it here," he said Thursday, when his uncertain [free-agent] future came up. "I hope things really work out. I'm hoping this is a similar type environment and situation to Philly."
It's hard for him to talk about Seattle without also talking about Philadelphia. It's hard for us to talk about Lee without also talking about Halladay, especially since Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said Thursday that he was also trying to trade for Halladay (and Lee) last summer, and that he again engaged the Blue Jays about Halladay before eventually getting Lee from the Phillies.
Chances are, this will all work out fine for Halladay and the Phillies -- as Lee predicts. The other side is that there's a real chance it all works out for Lee and the Mariners, too.
There's a lot more uncertainty here than there, in large part because Lee can be a free agent at the end of the season and because, according to both sides, they haven't yet even begun discussions about a contract extension.
But watching and listening to Lee on his first official day in a Seattle uniform, it hardly seemed out of the question that he'll come to love the Mariners the way they already love him.
And boy, do they love him.
"Wow," pitching coach Rick Adair said. "That's all you can say. How about that postseason he had? You marvel at a guy with that much ability to pitch, and you also see that this guy exudes energy."
"Believe me," Zduriencik said. "We're tickled pink to have him."
Zduriencik disputes that popular notion that the M's got Lee for almost nothing, saying that he loved the three prospects they sent to the Phillies.
"They did very well in that deal," he said.
The Mariners did well, too, gaining one of the few proven ace starters in baseball without giving up anyone who they needed for 2010. In adding Lee to Felix Hernandez, they've given themselves a 1-2 top-of-the-rotation that can match or beat anyone's in the game.
There are still plenty of questions, such as what they'll get from the bottom three-fifths of the rotation, and whether closer David Aardsma can handle the job as well as he did last year, and whether anyone in the lineup will supply any power at all.
But there seem to be few if any questions about Lee, and even the foot surgery that has set his spring schedule back by a week (he should throw his first bullpen next Wednesday) is seen by some Mariners people as a blessing in disguise.
They know that Lee pitched 272 innings last year, counting the postseason, and that he pitched all the way through to Nov. 2. They know that he told them he didn't feel tired at the end of the year, but they also believe that a slower spring start because of the foot could keep him from overexerting to impress his new bosses.
The foot certainly doesn't seem to be a significant issue, and in Thursday's first workout, Lee took the field with his new teammates and did everything except throw from the mound.
Those teammates seem as thrilled as the front office and coaching staff to have Lee on their side.
"How can you not be excited?" Aardsma said. "I've played against him, and I know he's a fighter."
The M's believe that attitude will rub off, and that in addition to winning games for them Lee will serve as a great influence on their younger pitchers (including the 23-year-old Hernandez). Zduriencik talks of how happy he was to walk into a room at the Mariner complex this week and see Lee, Hernandez and Erik Bedard sitting together and talking.
Obviously, the plan is to keep Lee around for longer than just this season, but Zduriencik knows that the happier Lee is to be here, the easier that will be to do.
"I think he's going to enjoy his teammates, and enjoy the coaching staff," Zduriencik said. "We want to make him feel comfortable."
Which -- and sorry to bring up those red pinstripes again -- means making Seattle feel a little more like Philadelphia.
"I loved it there," Lee said. "It was a blast over there. I'm hoping that I've come here into a similar situation."
It's too early to say for certain that he has. It's not too early to predict that Lee and the Mariners will be a good match -- and that Halladay and the Phillies will be, as well.