Aces Trade Places, Goals
CLEARWATER, Fla. - Two teams that dominated the offseason with a blockbuster swap of Cy Young Award winners find themselves living out different storylines as the 2010 season starts in earnest Monday.
For the Philadelphia Phillies, ace Roy Halladay will kick off their quest to return to the World Series for a third consecutive year. For the Seattle Mariners, a team that looks to continue last year's upswing, their hopes may be on hold - along with newly acquired Cliff Lee.
After 12 seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays - and no real chance to make the postseason - Halladay, 32, takes over for Lee as the ace of the Phillies rotation, fulfilling his hope to be traded to a contender. He's attacking the opportunity with vigor.
Halladay gets to the ballpark at 5:30 a.m. and doesn't stop. He lifts, runs, rides a bike, studies video and is so busy that manager Charlie Manuel rarely sees him.
"He's always moving," Manuel says. "He doesn't sit still."
In Peoria, Ariz., the opposite is true for Lee, 31. He has spent most of his spring training days in the trainer's room, first recovering from offseason foot surgery and more recently to treat a strained abdomen that likely will put him on the disabled list when the season begins - for as long as six weeks.
"It would be tough (to be ready)," manager Don Wakamatsu says. "Cautiousness has to come first."
Lee, the 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner, helped lead the Phillies to the World Series last year after being traded from the Cleveland Indians in July, going 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in the postseason. In November, the Phillies picked up his $8 million option for the 2010 season with the hope of signing him to a long-term deal. That is, until they made another run at Halladay, whom they tried to trade for last summer before getting Lee.
On Dec. 14, an agreement was reached on the blockbuster deals: Halladay to Philadelphia for three prospects and Lee from the Phillies to Seattle for three other prospects in a move to replenish a minor-league system weakened by the Halladay deal.
"I guess I was the backup plan," Lee says.
Lee keeps Mariners waiting
The Mariners are abuzz with Lee joining a rotation that has Felix Hernandez, the Cy Young runner-up who had 19 wins last season. Barring a contract extension, Lee will become a free agent after this season.@
But first, there is the matter of the 2010 season and the nagging abdominal injury that could curb Seattle's high hopes and Lee's market value.
Lee also could be facing a five-game suspension for throwing a ball over the head of the Arizona Diamondbacks' Chris Snyder in a Cactus League game March 15. Lee is appealing.
Lee has been treated with platelet-rich plasma therapy, a process that uses the patient's blood to speed recovery. The procedure involves taking blood from the patient, spinning it in a centrifuge to isolate platelets - which act as healing agents - and injecting about a teaspoon into the injured area.
After a brief throwing session on flat ground Wednesday, Lee says he felt much better compared to other recent attempts.
It is the third abdominal strain of Lee's career. One of those injuries happened in 2007, when Lee struggled and was optioned to Class AAA Buffalo in July. He returned as a reliever in September and was omitted from the Indians' playoff roster.
In 2008, he went 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA and won the Cy Young.
After Lee's dominant postseason with the Phillies, the trade was something of a surprise; he says he was in preliminary negotiations on a contract extension.
Lee says he was driving in a pickup, going deer hunting near his home in Arkansas, when his cellphone rang.
"I had seen the rumors, so when I saw the number, I knew," he says. "I called my wife and agent. I couldn't do much else, and so I went hunting."
Lee, who is renting former Phillies teammate Jamie Moyer's home in Seattle, moves from hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park to the spaciousness of Safeco Field, where he's 5-1 with a 3.49 ERA. What's more, Seattle's upgrades defensively the last two offseasons should only help Lee.
The Mariners also like that Lee short-circuits potential base stealers. Pitching coach Rick Adair says that from a stretch, Lee's time to the plate is .97 to 1.1 seconds compared with an average time of 1.3 seconds.
"That's a step-and-a-half or two steps," Adair says. "That's significant."
The Mariners' Ryan Garko, who was Lee's teammate in Cleveland from 2005 to 2009, also was traded last season. Garko, as a San Francisco Giant, batted against Lee in his Phillies debut. He prefers to be Lee's teammate. "Cliff does all the little things that make life easy for the defense," Garko says.
Standing in against Lee is another story: "He throws quality strikes, and you can't get the barrel of your bat on the ball."
Hideki Matsui, the 2009 World Series MVP for the New York Yankees who had a single in three Game 1 at-bats against Lee, has some suggestions. "Try to foul off as many pitches as possible and hope you get a pitch," says Matsui, now the Los Angeles Angels' designated hitter. "But it doesn't happen that often."
As a Blue Jay last season, Halladay had to deal with never-ending trade speculation. He said it wore him down to be followed and asked about his future.
"You show up at 12:30 or 1 o'clock and there are already cameras there," Halladay says. "You spend so much energy trying to avoid those things, once it ends, you're wiped out."
Halladay, who lives in Oldsmar, Fla., eight miles from the Phillies' Clearwater spring-training complex, was on a boat with his family when he heard the deal needed only his approval. He brought his sons Braden, 9, and Ryan, 5, back home to stay with their grandmother. He and his wife Brandy went back to the boat to discuss the future.
"The one thing that kept coming up was, when I'm done, where are my biggest regrets going to be?" says Halladay, who had a full no-trade clause. "I just didn't want to end my career thinking I had the chance to go somewhere and didn't."
The 2003 Cy Young Award winner, making $15.75 million this season, has an extension that starts in 2011 and is worth $60 million for three years.
The Phillies are getting a pitcher whose 130 wins are the most since 2002, and that's an accomplishment considering 64 of Halladay's 238 starts in that span came against the Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
He has 46 complete games since '02. No other pitcher has more than 29. Halladay led the AL last season in complete games (nine) and shutouts (four).
Manuel says each pitcher dominates as advertised, but in different ways. "Lee has three pitches, and he knows where he wants to take the game," Manuel says.
"Roy has a good fastball and can beat you with his hook, changeup or sinker. Even when Roy's bad, he's good because he has so many ways to beat you."
For a few fleeting moments last December, they were teammates. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. says he was tempted to keep both for an all-out run at another title. But he said the need to replenish the Phillies' core of young players was too important.
So the Phillies will make do with just Halladay. Johnny Damon, now an outfielder for the Detroit Tigers who faced Halladay with the Yankees and Red Sox, says that with the Phillies lineup, "He's definitely going to win 20-plus games."
Says Halladay: "It's exciting and refreshing to be with a team that has a chance to go to the Series. I'm feeling comfortable. I don't think you're 100 percent (part) of the team until you've contributed. You have to perform."
The Phillies are expecting that to start Monday.