The first step in one of the biggest trades in Seattle Mariners history began with a phone call last July by M’s general manager Jack Zduriencik.
He asked the Toronto Blue Jays about star pitcher Roy Halladay.
As with many inquiries, that one by Zduriencik didn’t produce the hottest property on the trade market; the Jays and Phillies were having some serious talks. But it ultimately led to what the Mariners got Wednesday, former Cy Young-winning left-handed pitcher Cliff Lee from the Philadelphia Phillies.
What started nearly four months ago continued at the winter meetings last week between Zduriencik, new Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos and Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr.
“Alex and I talked on many occasions about a lot of different options, a lot of different ideas,” Zduriencik said. “When Ruben and I connected at the winter meetings, we had a short discussion about what he was trying to do. He said, ‘If I’m able to do Halladay, would you be interested in talking about Cliff Lee?’ I said I would.”
A week later the deal was done.
While officially it was a straight two-team trade – with the Mariners getting Lee in exchange for minor league pitchers Phillippe Aumont and Juan Ramirez and outfielder Tyson Gillies – it was part of a complicated four-team arrangement involving nine players.
•The Mariners got Lee for the three minor leaguers.
•The Phillies acquired Halladay from the Blue Jays in exchange for three minor leaguers – pitcher Kyle Drabek, catcher Travis D’Arnaud and outfielder Michael Taylor.
•And the Blue Jays flipped Taylor to the Oakland A’s, receiving third baseman Brett Wallace.
It was a highly detailed arrangement dependent on Halladay’s successful negotiation of a contract extension with the Phillies, plus approval of physical exams, before the Mariners could get their man.
Among those trying not to wait too anxiously for word of a done deal was Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu.
“I wasn’t going to get too excited about anything until I heard from Jack,” Wakamatsu said. “So many things can happen with a deal like this. But Jack seems to like those multi-team trades.”
Last December, Zduriencik and the Mariners were part of a three-team, 12-player trade that brought seven players to the M’s.
Last week, Zduriencik signed free-agent infielder Chone Figgins to form a dangerous and speedy 1-2 punch atop the batting order with leadoff hitter Ichiro Suzuki.
Wednesday, the pitching staff got a similar boost with the addition of Lee, a strike-throwing innings-eater who will fall behind ace right-hander Felix Hernandez atop the starting rotation.
“This is very similar to acquiring Figgins, for what he has a chance of doing at the top of our lineup with Ichiro,” pitching coach Rick Adair said. “Any time you can acquire a guy who’s done what he’s done over the last couple of years, the innings he has pitched and what he’s meant to the clubs he’s been with, it’s exciting.”
Lee, 31, is 90-52 with a 3.97 ERA in eight major league seasons. He went 14-13, 3.22 this year with the Cleveland Indians and Phillies, and went 4-0 in the postseason with two World Series victories over the New York Yankees. He won the American League Cy Young award in 2008 after going 22-3, 2.54 with the Indians, and has pitched at least 200 innings in four of the past five seasons.
He pitched a career-high 2312/3 innings this year with 181 strikeouts and 43 walks.
If there’s any concern over acquiring Lee, it’s that he’s signed only through the 2010 season at $9 million and could be seeking a massive contract as a free agent. The Phillies were convinced that Lee planned to test the free-agent market after next season.
Zduriencik said he hasn’t spoken with Lee about an extension and has no plans anytime soon.