Instead, the left-hander found himself rushing to catch the next flight out of Seattle, headed for the Rangers in a six-player trade. But Lee was well aware that the Yankees were interested, and even checked in with CC Sabathia, who confirmed that Bombers' brass was asking about Lee.
"I was thinking, 'It looks like I might be going to New York,'" Lee said. "That's what they were saying. I was thinking maybe that's reality. You come to find out that's not what happened. I think maybe that story triggered some other teams to get a little more aggressive and forced this to happen."
Lee had been scheduled to face New York for the Mariners, but that seemed on hold as talks intensified with the Yankees and numerous reports blared that the Yankees were set to part with catching prospect Jesus Montero and Double-A infielder David Adams, along with a third prospect.
"Last night, I had a feeling something was going on, and obviously, when I woke up this morning, the media kind of got on to something," Lee said. "I saw the Yankees were on the verge of happening."
Lee said that he called Sabathia, his former rotation mate with the Indians, who seemed to indicate that he believed they would be teammates again by first pitch on Friday.
"I know he was very excited about the possibility of coming here," Sabathia said. "When I talked to him this morning, I thought he was definitely coming. It just didn't work out. ... Our wives started talking about places to live and stuff like that. We were pretty excited. Hopefully we'll get him next year."
At one point, Lee even sent a text message to Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik, asking if he should expect to be pitching Friday.
"I'll be in touch with you shortly," Zduriencik replied.
In the end, the Mariners accepted the deal with Texas, which sent Lee and reliever Mark Lowe to the Rangers in exchange for first baseman Justin Smoak, pitcher Blake Beavan, Double-A reliever Josh Lueke and second baseman/outfielder Matt Lawson.
Reports indicated that Seattle had concerns with the health of Adams, a 23-year-old who is on the disabled list with a high ankle sprain.
"I think we could have done a couple of deals, and walked away from a few deals and felt, 'OK, this is pretty good,'" Zduriencik said. "You make a decision. At the end of the day, we'll know as we move forward whether this was the exact right deal for us. We feel it was.
"We had other opportunities, and I think had we made one or two other deals, we could have been satisfied."
Lee has been thought to be the prize of the pitching market as the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches, but the Yankees were generally considered on the periphery of Lee trade talks, with the Mets, Twins and Rangers being rumored more prominently.
The fact that Lee was scheduled to pitch against the Yankees on Friday created some urgency to see if there was a deal to be made, though Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he never allowed himself to think as far ahead as to expect Lee to be in his rotation.
"I heard people report that we were real close," Girardi said. "I don't ever get caught up in that until the guy actually walks in the room for a trade. There's a lot of times things can break down at the last minute, for whatever reason."
Last year, the Yankees were close to trading with the Mariners for pitcher Jarrod Washburn, but those talks also collapsed when Seattle insisted on outfielder Austin Jackson, who was later used as a chip to acquire outfielder Curtis Granderson from the Tigers.
The 2008 American League Cy Young Award winner, Lee began this season -- his first with the Mariners -- on the disabled list due to an abdominal strain, but he's made up for lost time, going 8-3 with a 2.34 ERA through 13 starts.
He has tossed five complete games, including one shutout (against the Yankees), and has walked just six batters all season while striking out 89. Last year, Lee beat the Yankees twice in the World Series -- the only two games the Phillies won in the Fall Classic.
The Yankees already have a starting rotation that includes All-Stars Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes, but A.J. Burnett and Javier Vazquez have been suspect at times and Hughes is still subject to innings limitations that should keep him under 180 frames.
Lee turns 32 next month and can be a free agent after the season. With the Rangers unlikely to offer a contract extension, the Yankees are likely to have another chance during the winter months to pounce on Lee, who is joining his fourth team in the last two seasons.
"I think this is going to be the last time I do this for a while," Lee said. "Obviously this offseason, I'm going to be a free agent. There's going to be some decisions to make there. For now, I think this is the last time. It's been a fun ride."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.