Sources: M’s could deal Lee soon

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said again Friday that he is not ready to trade left-hander Cliff Lee.

“I’m not willing to throw in the towel just yet – our pitching is too good,” Zduriencik said.

However, two executives from clubs that have called the Mariners about Lee say that the team is indeed willing to trade the pitcher immediately for the right offer.

One of the executives, in fact, predicts that the Mariners will move Lee in 7 to 10 days, following a timetable similar to the one the Indians used when they traded left-hander CC Sabathia to the Brewers on July 7, 2008.

Lee, like Sabathia then, is a potential free agent. The Mariners, by moving him sooner rather than later, could maximize their return, save a larger percentage of his remaining $9 million salary and avoid the risk of Lee suffering an injury that would wreck his trade value.

The Indians were 13 1/2 games out of first place when they traded Sabathia two years ago. The Mariners currently are in last place in the American League West, 14 games behind the Rangers, but produced a six-game winning streak before losing their two most recent games.

“We’re just going to try to win baseball games,” Zduriencik said Friday. “I’m not a fool. But in the same sense, who the heck knows? We’ll see what happens.”

A quick trade of Lee would not necessarily be inconsistent with Zduriencik’s remarks. Zduriencik could say that he received an offer that was too compelling to refuse and acted in the Mariners’ best long-term interests by completing the deal.

Lee, 6-3 with a 2.39 ERA, has struck out 76 and walked only four this season. He is next scheduled to pitch Tuesday at Yankee Stadium, the scene of his brilliant, six-hit, complete-game victory in Game 1 of last year’s World Series.

The Mets, Dodgers and Rangers have inquired on Lee, according to major-league sources. Many in the industry project the Twins as the front-runner. The Yankees, currently set with five starters, seem more likely to pursue Lee in free agency than in a trade. While the Mariners have scouted the Yankees’ farm system and the Yankees have scouted Lee, the Yankees routinely attend the starts of pitchers on their free-agent wish list.

A number of other teams, however, could enter the mix, attracted by Lee’s relatively low salary and the idea that the acquisition cost should be less than what the Indians received for him last season, when he was a year and two months away from free agency.

The Phillies obtained Lee and outfielder Ben Francisco for four young players – catcher Lou Marson, infielder Jason Donald and pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Jason Knapp.

Of the four, Knapp had the highest ceiling, and he has yet to pitch this season after undergoing shoulder surgery last September. None of the other three projects as an impact player. Only Donald is currently in the majors.

The Indians actually might have fared better in their return for half a season of Sabathia the previous year, landing outfielders Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley as part of their four-player package from the Brewers.

The intense interest in Lee could drive the market beyond expectations. Any team that obtains Lee and then loses him as a free agent would receive two high draft picks as compensation, mitigating against the loss of prospects.

“I knew this guy was good,” Zduriencik said. “But he’s way better than I thought he was.

“That 19-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio – he’s pitching at historic levels. In the ninth inning, he’s throwing 94 mph when he has to. Late in the game when he throws a breaking ball with two strikes, he just snaps it off the table.

“The most amazing thing about him is how he makes everyone else better. His tempo is so fast. He has the ability to repeat his delivery and throw strikes. He’s a racehorse. Watching him run in the outfield, he’s flying from foul pole to foul pole.

“He’s well-prepared, competitive as hell, very bright.”

And the Mariners could trade him soon.