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07/28/09 10:30 PM ET

Lee keeping level head as rumors swirl

Indians lefty staying focused as Trade Deadline nears

ANAHEIM -- A teammate gave Cliff Lee the latest scoop from the Internet trade rumor mill. A team official saw Lee sitting at his locker and joked, "You still here?" And a trail of reporters approached Lee, one at a time, and peppered him with questions about his immediate future.

Distractions? What distractions?

Lee, to his credit, has handled the circus that is Friday's impending Trade Deadline pretty well -- not just on the field, where he is 3-0 with a 1.44 ERA in three starts since the All-Star break, but also off it. He doesn't possess a no-trade clause, so he knows his fate is out of his hands, and he sees little sense in worrying about it.

"If everything written was true," Lee said on Tuesday, "I would have been traded about 12 times by now."

The Indians' current thinking on Lee (7-9, 3.14 ERA) is difficult to gauge. Some decision-makers in the front office believe he's not going anywhere this week, based on current conversations with contending clubs.

The Phillies, Dodgers, Angels and Rays are all believed to be making a strong push for Lee's services, but the Indians know they can keep Lee at the top of their rotation by exercising his $9 million next season and make an earnest effort to contend. If things don't pan out in the standings, they could dangle Lee at the Deadline a year from now. The Tribe proved last year in the CC Sabathia trade with the Brewers that a top-of-the-rotation pitcher, even with just a few months remaining on his contract, can net a decent haul on the trade front.

But trading Lee now, with a year and two months left on his contract, would obviously bring in a stronger return. It's a similar situation with All-Star catcher Victor Martinez, who has reportedly drawn interest from the Red Sox and Rays, among others.

Lee will be 32 at the end of his current contract. It's highly doubtful the Indians would be willing to pay market value for him at that point. And Lee has apparently expressed an interesting in exploring other options at that point, anyway. An article on FOXSports.com on Tuesday cited Lee's agent, Darek Braunecker, in reporting that Lee has already informed the Indians he intends to explore free agency after '10.

Lee did not dispute the report.

"[The Indians] haven't offered me anything," he said. "The closer you get to free agency, the less likely you are to sign a contract. We told them we'd talk about a possible extension in Spring Training. When we got there, they changed their mind. That's their prerogative."

Lee said this with no bitterness in his tone. In fact, he has said all the right things about the organization that demoted him to Triple-A briefly in the 2007 season and left him off the postseason roster that year.

The trade talk doesn't seem to bother Lee, either.

"I'm fine," he said. "I'm not even worried about it. If you get traded, you make the best of it. I'd go to a team in contention. If it doesn't happen, I'm comfortable here, and this is the team I'm used to."

Lee's gut feeling is that he'll still be with the Indians at week's end. If that's the case, he hopes the club has what it takes to return to contention in his walk year.

"We need some help," he said. "But there's a lot of talented players here who can make contributions sooner rather than later."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.