Cliff Lee was going to a contender no matter what. Turns out it was the Texas Rangers, not the New York Yankees.
"They've got a great team, they're in first place and I'm going to try and go there and do everything I can to help them head in the direction they're heading," Lee said Friday before flying from Seattle to Texas. "They're already in a good spot, have a great team and I just want to be one of the guys."
After talks between the Seattle Mariners and Yanks fell apart Friday afternoon, the Rangers jumped in and reached agreement on a trade for the left-hander.
The M's sent Lee and reliever Mark Lowe to Texas for first baseman Justin Smoak and minor leaguers Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Matthew Lawson.
The Mariners will also send $2.25 million to the Rangers to subsidize the $4.2 million still owed to Lee. Texas has financial limitations due to bankruptcy hearings associated with the sale of the team. There has been speculation the Rangers -- despite leading the AL West -- would not be able to add weapons for the stretch run.
"Everybody knows our situation. When we take on salary, we have to look at that and see if we can justify it within our budget," team president Nolan Ryan said. "As long as we stay within our budget, we don't really have restrictions on us to where we can't do things."
And there still could be trouble. An anonymous official of an MLB team said the Rangers taking on $1.5 million in salary "is going to be an issue" since the team is currently being run by the league. It is not clear if the bankruptcy court would allow the team to take on that kind of debt.
"I'd guess they'll be some unnamed sources, but I don't expect a lot of phone calls," general manager Jon Daniels said when asked if he anticipated any backlash from other clubs.
The Rangers traded away some young talent to get an ace for the rotation. Lee is 8-3 with a 2.34 ERA. He has walked just six batters in 103 2/3 innings to go along with 89 strikeouts. He won the 2008 American League Cy Young Award with Cleveland in 2008 and over his nine seasons he's compiled a 98-55 record with a 3.84 ERA.
"Cliff was a No 1 guy on our board that we wanted to acquire," said Daniels, who compared Lee's impact to that on the club when it signed Ryan to a contract in 1989. "We haven't won anything yet, but we feel like we're in position to put our best foot forward. It's going to be very competitive in our division."
The 31-year-old Lee has a $9 million salary this season and is expected to command a lucrative, multiyear deal in the offseason -- unless Texas signs him to an extension before that.
"It's too early to speculate on something of that magnitude, with him not being here yet," said Ryan, who is part of a group with Pittsburgh attorney Chuck Greenberg trying to buy the team from Tom Hicks.
Daniels turned to manager Ron Washington, seated on his right during the news conference, and said he'd given him a few more pieces to play with.
Washington told Rangers players the news in a team meeting hours before the scheduled start of Friday's game with Baltimore. When asked what the reaction was, Washington just pumped his fist.
"Those guys have always been even-keeled, but you could see the excitement in their faces," Washington said.
It's unusual for a team to trade a start pitcher within its own division, but the Mariners have been a huge disappointment. Heading into Friday's action, they trailed the Rangers by 16 games.
"It was a pleasure to have (Lee) here. We all wish things would have gone a little better," Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik said. "We felt we were at the point where something had to be done for the long-term good of the organization."
Daniels said it was bittersweet to trade away players the organization felt can be impact players in the future, including Smoak, who was the club's starting first baseman. The switch-hitter was the Rangers' No. 1 pick in 2008 (11th overall), but has struggled this season in the big leagues. He's hitting .209 with eight homers and 34 RBIs in 70 games. Daniels said he expects Smoak to start for the Mariners on Saturday. Beavan was also a first-round selection, picked up 17th overall from Irving High School in the Dallas area. The Rangers paid above slot for both players at the time.
"[Lee] is a great pitcher. They want to take it to the next level here. This can always happen in baseball," Smoak said. "It's tough, being new to this business. You think you're going to be on a team for a while and then things change overnight."
By dealing in the division, Daniels also knows he could see those young players produce against the Rangers in the future.
"It's tougher as the buyer to trade in the division in regard that these guys are going to be in Seattle for six, 10, 15 years, you never know," he said. "You think about that."
By trading for Lee now, the Rangers potentially gain four more starts from the lefty than they would have received if the acquired him at the trade deadline. If his travel plans work out, he should be on the mound for the Rangers Saturday night against the Orioles.
Lee was 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in five postseason outings last year for Philadelphia, including 2-0 in the World Series against the Yankees.
"It's kind of like what happened last year going to Philly," Lee said. "They had a six-game lead or so and that's a good place to be, and they got that without me having anything to do with it."
Texas gets a big boost in its quest for its first playoff berth since 1999.
"We've always said if we had a chance to improve, we would," Daniels said. "We're excited about it."
The Yankees had offered Seattle a three-player package, centered around catcher Jesus Montero -- who is rated as one of the best prospects in baseball, despite questions about whether he can be a catcher in the big leagues -- second baseman David Adams and a young prospect.
But the deal began to unravel, a source told ESPN.com, when the Mariners became concerned about the health of Adams, who is out with a sprained ankle.
A source told ESPN.com that Seattle and Texas were very close to a deal for Lee on Wednesday. But the Mariners were pushing for Smoak, the Rangers balked and the deal stalled.
So on Thursday, the Mariners turned their attention to the Yankees and began closing in on that deal. But when those talks blew up, the Rangers -- who by then were aware of all the reports about that Seattle-New York deal -- got back into the picture and agreed to trade Smoak. So the pieces came together very quickly at that point because the two teams almost had a deal done 48 hours earlier.
And now Lee is on his way to Arlington.
"Bout to go get my stuff from the field," he texted. "Gonna miss my teammates and coaching staff! Good people!"
Daniels said he just couldn't pass up the chance to get a quality starter who can front the rotation for the rest of the season. Ryan said it was too early to say whether the club could re-sign Lee in the offseason if the Greenberg-Ryan group ends up owning the team. The ownership situation remains in flux.
Lowe was added to the deal more for future years. He has two more years of club control and is currently on the disabled list with lower back inflammation. He had microdiscectomy surgery on his back on June 15 and Daniels said it's more about getting him ready for next season.
Right-hander David Pauley got the start for the Mariners in Lee's place on Friday night against the Yankees. The Rangers called up Chris Davis to play first base.
ESPNDallas.com's Richard Durrett, ESPN.com's Jayson Stark, ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney and Amy K. Nelson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.