SEATTLE -- As Cliff Lee packed up his locker in the Safeco Field clubhouse, Felix Hernandez offered a hug, Jack Wilson jokingly swiped a Lee jersey as a souvenir and other players stopped by to offer goodbyes.
It's not an uncommon scene among Major Leaguers. Pro baseball is fluid in nature; players come and go frequently. But Lee's performance this season ensured that it was a little harder to swallow when he was traded to the Rangers on Friday.His on-field accolades are well-documented. The former Cy Young Award winner came to Seattle with the goal of leading the Mariners to an American League West title, and he held up his end of the bargain with a host of complete games and a gaudy strikeouts-to-walks ratio, all the while serving as a leader and teacher to his teammates. "That guy is unbelievable. I think he's the best in the game," catcher Rob Johnson said. "His ability to do what he does with five different pitches is absolutely incredible. He puts his mind to something and does it. He's never scared to throw a fastball down the middle just because he wants to challenge guys. He's a pretty special pitcher, man. They're getting a heck of a guy.
"I told him he needs to give us some pitches to hit when we face him. He's a great guy and a great teammate. I really respect him. We'll keep our friendship, and I wish him all the best luck in the world."Manager Don Wakamatsu echoed that sentiment, joking that he didn't "want to go down that road yet" of thinking about facing Lee. "Nothing but respect for Cliff," Wakamatsu said. "From Day 1, he's come in and been a pleasure for all of us. Not just as a manager, but the impact he's had on the younger pitchers, the way he goes about his business and obviously the way he's pitched -- you couldn't ask for anything more. It's a sad day on that note." Jason Vargas was one of those most impacted. He and Doug Fister have both attributed part of their success to Lee's tutelage, and Wakamatsu said earlier this week that Vargas has increased his proficiency pitching out of the slide step thanks to watching Lee. "Those guys don't come around very often," Vargas said. "To have him on the same team as you and be able to learn from them and feed off what they do is pretty neat and special." He added he thought Lee would still be around -- at least through his scheduled start Friday -- when trade talks with the Yankees fell through, but he learned the news when he arrived at the clubhouse. "As soon as I walked in I looked at the television and it said Cliff had been traded to the Rangers," he said. "I just told him good luck and we'll see you soon. We all knew it could happen, but you never think it's going to until it does." Reliever Mark Lowe, who was sent to Texas along with Lee, was also keeping tabs on the trade rumors throughout the day. During lunch with his fiance, Lowe said he saw the Yankees news on television, but by the end of the meal, the climate had changed. "We got done with lunch and checked back over and it said the Rangers were in it pretty hard, and I knew they were already interested in me a little bit," Lowe said. "Then it said [now-Mariner Justin Smoak] became available, and when that happened I kind of had a sick feeling in my stomach that maybe something was going to happen. That's baseball. You never know when you're going to wake up and be in a new place the next day." The trade is hard on Lowe, he said, because he's been with the Mariners since they drafted him in the fifth round in 2004. He called Seattle his "baseball home," but he'll be headed to a familiar place, as he played college ball at the University of Texas in Arlington. In fact, his college roommate was the one who broke the news of the trade to him, as they were on the phone together before the Rangers had a chance to call. Lowe has been on the disabled list since May 3 with lower back inflammation, but he said his recovery is ahead of schedule, and if he's pain-free, he plans to pitch again this season. Losing Lee and Lowe -- two players who've had success in Seattle -- is tough for the Mariners, but Johnson was quick to point out they didn't give them up for nothing. "I'm looking forward to competing against [Lee] and getting in the box against him," Johnson said. "Texas is getting a rental for three months. We got some guys who will be here a long time. Hopefully it will work out in the Mariners' best interests."
Mike McCall is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.