Just two years ago, Lee entered his final season before hitting the free-agent market. In the end, he took tens of millions of dollars less than the Yankees offered, signing a five-year, $120 million contract to return to Philadelphia.
"It was a tough decision, no doubt about it," Lee said following Tuesday's Grapefruit League start at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, where he pitched two scoreless innings in a 7-0 victory over the Blue Jays. "Any time you're faced with different options you have to weigh the pros and cons of everything. It's not just yourself, it's your family, where you think you'll be the most happy. And for everyone there are different things that can push you one way or the other. For me, I felt like all three opportunities I had were really positive, so I really didn't think I could make a wrong decision, it was more where I'd think I'd be the most happy, and that's why I'm here."
Negotiations between the Phillies and Hamels' agent John Boggs are ongoing. Boggs is in town this week, although a deal is not believed to be close or expected to be struck before the end of Spring Training, if one is struck at all.
"Basically, we're talking," Boggs told CSNPhilly.com. "It's a process. We've had a conversation [this week] and we'll continue the dialogue. Ruben [Amaro Jr.] and I have a very good relationship."
Boggs would not characterize the negotiations, but he said, "I'm an optimist."
Amaro declined to comment on the negotiations.
"I can't characterize the talks, and I won't comment on them," Amaro said.
There has been speculation Hamels could land a deal worth $120 million or more, but at the very least it is safe to say Hamels, who is considered one of the best young pitchers in baseball, is seeking $100 million.
"I can't speak for him, but it didn't bother me," Lee said of pitching during his free-agent season. "By the time you get to that stage, you've already played five-plus years. It's an earned right. It's a great opportunity for him. That's when you finally get a choice and get what you deserve. For him, it should be nothing but positive."
Lee said he will try to twist Hamels' arm into staying.
"I've definitely told him that," Lee said. "I think we all want him to stay. He's been a huge part of the Phillies getting to where they are right now, so you want that guy to stay with you the whole time. He's a great pitcher, one of the best in the game. So I think everyone on this team would like to see him stay around here as long as possible."
But in the end, money talks. Lee sacrificed millions, but he still got $120 million. That's not chump change, and it was in the relative neighborhood of what the Yankees and Rangers offered. It stands to reason the Phillies will have to be in Hamels' neighborhood to keep him.
The big question is can the Phillies afford Hamels, Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino? Hamels and Victorino become free agents following the season, and Pence becomes a free agent following the 2013 season. If the Phillies are adamant about not exceeding the luxury threshold, they might have to bend somewhere. And if a team feels it absolutely must have Hamels, it could throw more money his way than the Phillies can stomach.
"Everybody's situation is a little different, but I wouldn't change anything, looking back on my situation," Lee said. "I enjoyed it every step of the way. It was a fun ride, but like I said, everyone is different. Everyone looks at it differently. All I can say is how I view it, but it's a great opportunity for anyone that's approaching free agency."
Hamels will make millions, one way or the other. The only question is: where?
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.