While the Indians left-hander wants to spend the rest of his career in Cleveland, he recognizes that his time with the team is running short.
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Lee, after learning in spring training that the Indians would not sign him to a contract extension, told the team that he plans to become a free agent when his current deal expires after the 2010 season, according to his agent, Darek Braunecker.
A trade appears inevitable, perhaps even by Friday’s non-waiver deadline. Lee, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, would prefer such a move to happen sooner rather than later, Braunecker said.
The Phillies, Dodgers, Angels, Rays and Rangers are among the teams pursuing Lee. One source with knowledge of the trade discussions estimates the chances of him getting moved are between 25 and 50 percent.
“I love Cleveland and I love being an Indian,” Lee told FOXSports.com. “I’ve always said I would prefer to play my entire career here. But I do understand the business and realize that it’s extremely unlikely that will happen.
“Like any player, I want the opportunity to play in the postseason, something that I didn’t get to do in 2007. If the Indians feel they can improve the club by trading me and it gives me the opportunity to hopefully pitch in the postseason, I’m fine with that.
“But as of now, I’m an Indian and will continue to do my job for Cleveland until I’m told otherwise.”
Indians general manager Mark Shapiro declined comment.
Lee, 30, was left off the Indians’ roster for the Division Series and American League Championship Series in 2007 after starting the season injured, getting demoted to Class AAA and finishing 5-8 with a 6.29 ERA. He rebounded to win the Cy Young Award last season.
He is signed this season for $5.75 million. The Indians hold a $9 million option on him for 2010, after which he would become eligible for free agency.
The Indians are not trying to trade Lee because of his intent to become a free agent in 16 months. They will move him only if they can maximize his value and secure a package of multiple prospects, including a young starting pitcher with significant promise.
Lee has no control over the process. He has not made a formal trade demand. And, unlike Blue Jays right-hander Roy Halladay, the biggest pitching name on the trade market, he lacks a no-trade clause and cannot effectively choose his next team.
The Indians discussed an extension with Lee in spring training, and Lee informed the club he was open to the idea. The team, however, declined to make him an offer.
Lee will be 32 by the time his next contract would begin. The Indians, facing declining revenues in a mid-sized market, are not interested in signing a pitcher of that age to a long-term deal at market value.
At one point, Lee’s side is believed to have given the team the opportunity to exercise his 2010 option in exchange for his negotiating window to remain open throughout ’09.
The Indians, however, probably saw no advantage in exercising the option knowing that Lee could be injured at any point this season — and knowing that the chances of signing him to an extension were not good, anyway.
Lee is 7-9 this season with a 3.14 ERA and the eighth-worst run support in the American League.