WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- When the Indians sent pitcher Cliff Lee down to Triple-A Buffalo last summer, he reportedly took the news professionally and understood their rationale. But Lee doesn't sound as willing to accept such a move this spring. "I absolutely have no desire to go and pitch in Buffalo ever again," Lee said. "I do have another [Minor League] option left, but if that's what it comes down to ... I haven't even really thought about that. But I know it's not something I'm considering in my mind."
All winter, Lee's name was floated in vague and unsubstantiated trade rumors. With two other younger options for their fifth-starting job -- Aaron Laffey and Jeremy Sowers -- the Indians could have been forgiven for sending Lee packing. Then again, taking into account his disastrous 2007 season and the two years and $9.5 million remaining on his contract, Lee's trade value is undoubtedly at its lowest point. And the Indians never seemed inclined to part with their starting depth, anyway. So Lee finds himself here, at Chain of Lakes Park, fighting for the final spot in the Indians' rotation, despite being just 18 months removed from signing a contract that seemed to cement his status as one of the club's core players. "This is definitely a big spring for me," Lee said. "Last year, I struggled. I've got to come back this year and get back to being my normal self." Lee's '07 season wasn't normal, by any stretch of the imagination. First came the abdominal strain that sidelined him in Spring Training and the first month of the regular season. Then, upon his return, he found himself playing from behind. Of Lee's 16 starts for the Tribe last year, a couple were worth savoring. His complete game in Anaheim on May 8 was a definitive highlight. For the most part, though, Lee either treaded water in a sea of mediocrity or got flat-out knocked around. And when he went 0-4 with an 11.70 ERA in a four-start stretch in July, upping his season ERA to a ghastly 6.38, it was time for the Indians to cut the cord. Lee was Buffalo-bound.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.