It's aces galore in Seattle.
Fresh off one major move, the Mariners made an even bigger deal Wednesday, getting coveted ace Cliff Lee from Philadelphia in a four-team, nine-player trade that also sent Roy Halladay to the Phillies.
It cost the Mariners three prospects _ and gave them a pair atop the rotation that instantly becomes the envy of baseball.
Young star Felix Hernandez, the runner-up in this year's AL Cy Young Award voting, will hand the ball to the 2008 AL Cy Young winner about once each week in 2010.
One could almost see Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik smiling through the phone.
"This is a message being sent that we want to be competitive for years to come," he said.
On Tuesday, the Mariners introduced All-Star infielder Chone Figgins, the offensive catalyst whom they pried from the rival Los Angeles Angels with $36 million.
A day later, Seattle sent 2007 top draft pick Phillippe Aumont, who has been delayed by injuries and has pitched in just 15 games above Class A, along with Class A outfielder Tyson Gillies and right-hander Juan Ramirez, to the Phillies. The Mariners got back a 31-year-old lefty who had Philadelphia's only two wins over the champion New York Yankees in this fall's World Series.
Lee essentially fills the rotation spot of free agent Erik Bedard. No one from Baltimore to Bedard's native Ontario to the Pacific Northwest needs reminded how bad Bedard's two, injury-filled years with the Mariners turned out.
No wonder Zduriencik is more popular than the mayor and the governor combined around Seattle right now.
"I'm getting a lots of texts and e-mail _ and it's quite humbling, honestly," he said.
The deal first germinated in talks with new Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos months ago. Then Zduriencik talked to Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. at last week's winter meetings _ and even in the Indianapolis airport as both GMs were leaving town. Zduriencik's interested peaked when Amaro, who had pushed hard to get Halladay last summer, asked Seattle's GM, "If I'm able to do Halladay, would you be interested in having Cliff Lee?"
Zduriencik's answer was something akin to "Duh!"
"When you have the opportunity to acquire a pitcher of Cliff's caliber, immediate effects are (obvious)," Zduriencik said. "Did I think we'd be getting a guy of this caliber? You always set your expectations high. We're really glad it came to fruition."
Zduriencik isn't concerned that Lee has only the 2010 season and $9 million remaining on his contract. He has had no talks so far with Lee or his agent on a contract extension.
He said Lee "could end up loving Seattle" _ with its strong defense, its rising status and what players think is a great city in which to play _ and decide to re-sign this year. And if Lee wants to test free agency, Zduriencik doesn't think the worst case of having Lee and Hernandez anchoring the rotation for an entire season and then getting two first-round draft picks for losing what likely would be a Type-A free agent would be so bad.
"From Day One I've said we had to get our talent level better," Zduriencik said. "And a great place to start is with your starting pitching."
He's not done yet with a Mariners team that went 85-77.
Zduriencik is still mulling perhaps bringing back free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre, a two-time Gold Glove winner. He is talking with free agent first baseman Russell Branyan, who led Seattle in home runs in 2009 and wants a multiyear contract. Powerful Jason Bay, a resident of suburban Kirkland, Wash., is still a free agent who wouldn't mind being a Mariner, through the Mets are hotly pursuing him.
(This version CORRECTS SUBS 12th graf to correct Zduriencik talked to Amaro at airport, sted Anthopoulos.)