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Cashman more than ready to begin Lee pursuit

Texas Rangers pitcher Cliff Lee delivers a pitch

Texas Rangers pitcher Cliff Lee delivers a pitch during an ALCS game against the New York Yankees at Yankee stadium. (Oct. 18, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

STAMFORD, Conn. - With two key free agents from his own team finally taken care of, Brian Cashman said he's ready to "hit the ground running" at the winter meetings, which begin on Monday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

No secret whom he'll be racing after.

"I flew into Arkansas especially to meet with Cliff Lee and his wife and his agent," Cashman said last night after participating in Stamford's Heights and Lights ceremony that kicks off this city's holiday season. "I did that very early in the process. I was the first one out of the gates there, so everybody knows . . . I got ahead of everybody else, but it's their dance card. I can only wait and respect the process. [He has played] in a lot of different cities. I'm hoping this is the last city he ends up in, in New York."

Cashman, still wearing parts of the elf costume he wore when he rappelled down the 350-foot Landmark Building - an odd juxtaposition, to say the least - said he's more than ready to talk money and years with Lee and his agent, Darek Braunecker, who arrived in Lake Buena Vista last night.

The ace lefthander can be his primary focus now that Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter have agreed in principle to new contracts. Both deals will be announced in the coming days.

"I've been focusing on our legacy guys, but I really need to take care of our pitching," Cashman said.

He did not put a timetable on a Lee decision.

"That's up to Cliff Lee, his wife, his family and his agent," Cashman said. "We're ready to be there and rock and roll whenever they say, 'We're ready to talk.' I'm ready to talk. I'll talk right now."

Cashman paused and looked at the Landmark Building.

"I would have talked on the building if I had time," he said.

Cashman said that even with Andy Pettitte not yet committed to 2011 - sources close to the pitcher have said he's leaning toward coming back - and the rotation questions beyond CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes, he is not desperate to sign Lee. He was desperate two years ago to land Sabathia, which was accomplished with a seven-year, $161-million deal.

"Want to but not have to," Cashman said of Lee. "Because I have a No. 1. I've got CC. We didn't have a No. 1 before. I'd like to add another No. 1 if I could."

Cashman couldn't say when he expects to hear from Pettitte, though it was around this time last year that he signed on for 2010 for $11.75 million. Cashman said he talked to Pettitte before he left for his Texas home and spoke with his agent two weeks ago.

"Andy's got to put himself into play," Cashman said. "He's got to decide what he wants first, just like Cliff Lee's got to decide, though . There's no lack of respect for Andy. He knows how we feel about him."

But, very much as with Jeter, not at any price.

"Every dollar spent is a dollar that comes off [the budget]," Cashman said. "I don't have unlimited resources. I have more than everybody else, but not a bottomless pit."

Cashman would not say if he thinks any hard feelings developed between Jeter, who had his physical Sunday, and the team during talks that got heated.

"We'll have a press conference about that," Cashman said. "Everybody's professional. Like this [rappelling], it takes a lot of work to get it right. We'll be in a position to announce how we got it right here soon."

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