Lee’s definitely a goner

The ace pitcher, the one all the contenders want, is named to the American League All-Star team. He shows up to the press event and is quickly hemmed in by cameras and microphones. Answering questions from the media isn’t usually his favorite pastime, but here he has no choice.

AL or NL? East Coast or West Coast? Excited for free agency or do you want an extension?

Last year, Roy Halladay did it.

Next week, Cliff Lee takes his turn.

As you may have noticed during LeShow on Thursday night, there is little room for perspective or moderation in a Media Frenzy, circa 2010. Lee isn’t going to star in a one-hour, nationally televised spectacle during Monday’s All-Star media day.

But with apologies to the other players in Anaheim, the Seattle left-hander will be The Story until Tuesday’s first pitch (FOX, 8 p.m. ET).

“A zoo,” said Seattle teammate Mike Sweeney, a five-time All-Star, when asked to forecast Lee’s reporting troupe. “Every big city, and every city that has a team in first place, is going to have a media member asking him questions. I’m sure he’ll get sick of it, but it comes with the territory.”

“When you’re the No. 1 trade chip in the game, there’s going to be a lot of questions asked,” Mariners shortstop Jack Wilson said. “It’s going to be a big deal, whether we keep him or for the team that gets him.”

Let’s remove the suspense: The Mariners aren’t going to keep Lee past the trade deadline, barring an injury or July 31 telecommunications glitch that baffles every software engineer around Puget Sound.

Lee, who turns 32 next month, told reporters Thursday that the Mariners haven’t approached him regarding a contract extension. This close to the deadline, that tells us he’s a goner.

Plus, Lee has proven that he can beat the Yankees in big games – which explains why potential Bronx playoff guests Minnesota and Texas are so eager to acquire him, not to mention the Yankees themselves, who have apparently emerged as the front-runners. (Wonder how many scouts will be at Safeco Field on Friday night, to watch Lee face the Yankees again.)

Remember, too: Seattle billed itself as a contender heading into the season and is now 16 games out. This team needs H-I-T-T-E-R-S who are close to the majors – slugging types capable of helping the Mariners next year. Trading Lee is the best way to get the necessary bats. I would be shocked if that doesn’t happen.

In that regard, Lee ’10 is different than Halladay ’09. At this time last year, a Halladay trade was too complicated to be inevitable.

For one, Halladay wasn’t eyeballing free agency at a distance of only three months, as Lee is now. The Blue Jays knew that they could trade Halladay during the offseason. (And, in fact, they did.) The Mariners don’t have that option.

Halladay also had a no-trade clause, so his opinion on each suitor was of crucial importance. He could have blocked a deal if the team wasn’t good enough, or if it trained too far from his offseason home in the Tampa area.

The club had to come up with the right prospects, get Halladay’s personal approval and afford his salary, including $15.75 million in 2010. It didn’t happen in time. As a result, Halladay wasn’t traded to Philly until roughly five months after the July 13 national media siege in a St. Louis hotel.

With Lee this year, there are no such complications. And it’s apparent that all parties involved – the Mariners, the team that acquires him, Lee himself – will be better off if he is pitching somewhere else by Aug. 1.

Lee wants to get back to the postseason, where he thrived with the Phillies last year (4-0 with a 1.56 ERA). He also wouldn’t mind cashing in as a free agent. To that end, he’s better served if he’s pitching, not watching, in October. World Series victories – Lee had two last year – have a way of upping market value.

Lee is described as a “great teammate” by no less an authority than Sweeney, one of baseball’s ultimate player-citizens. Still, it’s understandable that Lee wears the look of a man who will be relieved on Opening Day 2011 – by which point he should know where he is going to spend the next several years of his career.

But that might be two uniform changes from now – one very soon, one in November or December.

After Sunday’s start in Detroit, Lee said he doesn’t think about the trade speculation – except when he’s asked about it. He obviously hasn’t been distracted on the mound. An 8-3 record and 2.34 ERA tell us that.

“Out of my control,” he said. “I have no say.”

When asked if he’s bracing himself for the forthcoming media crush, Lee said, “Whatever. There could be a million people here, asking me, and I’d say the same thing.”

On Monday, it will only seem like he’s getting the chance.