Yankees, Rangers meet with Lee's agent

Free agent pitcher Cliff Lee.

Free agent pitcher Cliff Lee. (Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Out of the blocks, the race for Cliff Lee is off to a slow start.

That's according to two of the central figures in a race expected to come down to two teams - the Yankees and Rangers.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said he and team president Randy Levine, who flew back to New York last night, met with Lee's agent, Darek Braunecker, Monday during the first day of the winter meetings.

The Rangers, Lee's most recent team, also met with Braunecker.

It doesn't appear as though the talks have gotten to the offer stage, and Braunecker's message to reporters was that more teams than just the Rangers and Yankees are interested in his client, clearly this year's premier free agent.

"It's good to be Cliff Lee," he said only half-jokingly.

Indeed.

But with Lee looking as if he will be asking for a six-year deal, possibly for as much as $150 million - at least as a starting point - that considerably narrows the field.

Although Braunecker said "we've visited with more than just those two clubs," reality dictates the bidding likely will come down to those two.

Few teams would commit six years to a pitcher who will turn 33 next August; even fewer would do so for the kind of dollar figures that have been bandied about.

As one executive said before the meetings: "If it's just a financial decision, financially, no one's going to challenge the Yankees."

Cashman, who hasn't hid his desire to sign Lee, plans to be in Braunecker's ear. "While we're in the same area, I'm going to try and meet with him as much as I can," he said.

Rangers manager Ron Washington hopes geography - Lee lives in Arkansas - helps his team's cause. From all accounts, the lefthander enjoyed his time in the Dallas area as the Rangers reached the World Series for the first time. But the pitcher has given no signs of getting anything but top dollar.

"I do know he wants to come back to Texas and we want to have him in Texas," Washington said. "We just have to see how things work out.''

Braunecker took pains to say that it still is early in the process, one that might not be complete by the end of these meetings. "I wouldn't be surprised either way," he said.

Cashman and Braunecker each said the seven-year, $126-million deal Jayson Werth signed with Washington won't influence the talks.

"I know what and where we're willing to go," Cashman said. "It's not going to impact us."

Cashman had more on his plate Monday than Lee, though he wasn't expansive on the topic.

"My whole day has been focusing on a number of different players, some you probably wouldn't think would be on our radar," he said. "We covered a lot of ground today."

The Yankees need bullpen depth, and among the agents Cashman met with was Kerry Wood's, though Wood is expected to get closer's money elsewhere. An industry source said Cashman will meet with former Mets lefthander Pedro Feliciano's agent in the coming days. Among the players linked to the Yankees on Day 1 of the meetings were utilityman Bill Hall, catcher Russell Martin and outfielder Matt Diaz, who according to an industry source the Yankees have reached out.

As for Andy Pettitte, it was around this time last year that he informed the Yankees of his desire to pitch in 2010. Cashman said Pettitte indicated after the season that he was leaning toward retirement, and the GM added that a conversation with agent Randy Hendricks indicated that not much had changed. But a source recently told Newsday that Pettitte is leaning toward pitching in 2011.

"I think as every year goes by, that tug [of family] is a lot harder," Cashman said. "But he's gone through that, so it wouldn't be a surprise if he decides to play."

With Ken Davidoff

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