Lee shrugs off trade talk at All-Star Game

On the eve of the All-Star Game, starter Cliff Lee entertained questions about a possible trade. "I am a Phillie. I want to be a Phillie," he said.
On the eve of the All-Star Game, starter Cliff Lee entertained questions about a possible trade. "I am a Phillie. I want to be a Phillie," he said. (STEVEN M FALK / Staff)
Posted: July 17, 2013

NEW YORK - Jaxon Lee, 12, sat under a nameplate that denoted a spot for his father. He wore dad's red necklace, his Phillies hat and big sunglasses. For a few moments, Cliff Lee used his son as a decoy to dodge the persistent queries for which he expresses infinite disdain. A reporter asked Jaxon what questions he had for Cliff.

The first was, "Why'd you leave me here?"

It was not long until the lefthanded pitcher and loving father appeared. He rubbed Jaxon on the head and then answered the same questions again and again for almost an hour. A man who has been traded thrice does not fear July 31 any longer. He would not campaign for Ruben Amaro Jr. to add pieces to a team clinging to faint hopes of contention.

"I want to win with the guys who are there," Lee said Monday at Citi Field. "That core group of guys is the reason why I came here."

The Phillies are 48-48 and 129-129 since the start of 2012. Lee and Domonic Brown are their all-stars. If the Phillies retain Lee, it is a strong sign they are committed to making this group work in some form.

Lee is expensive, but the price for his services is not prohibitive. As Amaro said, the team's best chance for winning is with Lee and Cole Hamels thriving at the top of his rotation.

Examine Lee's last calendar year, and the numbers are astounding. He has a 2.68 ERA in 35 starts. He has struck out 234 and walked 37 in 2521/3 innings. That makes him one of the most valuable pitchers in baseball.

Any team would take him. Lee is owed approximately $70 million over the next two years, plus whatever remains in 2013. He turns 35 in August. He has maintained consistency with age. He has never spent time on the disabled list for an elbow or shoulder injury.

Last July, Lee was credited with one win to his name and a bloated 3.98 ERA. Hamels was the one who faced a barrage of trade rumors and questions at the All-Star Game. He was rewarded with a $144 million contract.

If anyone knows how to handle this process, it is Lee.

"Really, it's the same now as it was then," Lee said. "You don't know what's going to happen. You don't have much control over it. The previous three times I was traded, I was the last one to know. So it's all rumors until Ruben calls me and I'm traded. Up to that point, I am a Phillie. I want to be a Phillie. I want to be in Philadelphia. That's where my focus is."

Lee has a limited no-trade clause that allows him to block a trade to 21 teams. Amaro said he does not want to trade Lee. "If he said that," Lee said, "I don't have a reason to believe anything else." The feeling around baseball is Amaro must be overwhelmed in an offer (both in dollars and prospects) to deal Lee.

Even then, given the team's recent improvement, a trade looks unlikely.

"I guess it would be bad to say I don't care what management thinks about that, but it's kind of true," Lee said. "It really doesn't matter what everyone thinks about our team. It's more about what we think and us coming together as a team."

Lee turned to his son, who survived leukemia as an infant, and they savored the time to bond. Jaxon played catch in right field before the all-stars stretched at Citi Field. The family will relax in New York after the game until the Phillies arrive Friday to begin the second half. They are content.

Contact Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @magelb.

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