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The whole (baseball) world is watching Lee

On the first day of the winter meetings last Monday, Darek Braunecker uttered one of the memorable lines of the week.

Said the agent, "It's good to be Cliff Lee."

He had no idea at the time just how good.

A decision from Lee, who is mulling over enormous offers from the Yankees and Rangers, is expected soon, possibly today.

Given the intrigue and speculation of recent days, one half-expects a puff of smoke to be released from the Lee household in Little Rock, Ark., signaling that a decision has been made.

The Yankees - who because of the current lack of viable options to upgrade their rotation are petrified of losing this sweepstakes for the prize of the free-agent class - have offered Lee a seven-year deal worth about $160 million.

The Rangers have offered at least six years at what is believed to be less money than the Yankees' offer but still a significant sum.

The Rangers hope the team's close proximity to Lee's Arkansas home and the fact that Texas does not have a state income tax - as well as Lee telling friends how much he enjoyed his time with the American League champions after being traded by the Mariners last July - are reasons enough to persuade the lefthander to take a little less.

Speaking Saturday in Dallas, Rangers manager Ron Washington said his gut tells him "that he'll be here." But Washington, like just about everyone else, was guessing.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman left his Yankee Stadium office late Friday afternoon convinced the Yankees had done all they could in what he called their "full-court press" to sign Lee.

At the start of the winter meetings, Cashman called signing him more a "want" than a "must-have," but few bought that, especially after the Red Sox signed Carl Crawford to a seven-year, $142-million deal just before midnight Wednesday.

In the wee hours Thursday, the Yankees bumped their initial six-year, $140-million offer to Lee to seven years and almost $160 million, a deal similar to the one CC Sabathia, who is among Lee's closest friends, signed two years ago.

The Yankees had been resolute about not offering a seven-year deal to Lee - who will turn 33 in August - but that resolve lasted only until their rival landed a second quality lefthanded hitter. The Red Sox opened the winter meetings by trading for Adrian Gonzalez, and after the Crawford deal, the Yankees' urgency seemed to increase. Before leaving the meetings late Thursday morning, however, Cashman said that isn't the case.

"Our desire is the same today as it was prior to that signing," Cashman said. "I don't think you can increase it any more. We have a significant interest in Cliff Lee."

Regardless, the Crawford contract also spurred the Rangers.

CEO Chuck Greenberg has followed through on the pledge he made during the ALCS that his team wouldn't be going into battle for Lee against the Yankees with a "pea-shooter" and that the team's new ownership group was planning an "aggressive" pursuit.

Greenberg is the face, and sometimes loud voice, of that ownership group, but not the money. One of the money men, pipeline billionaire Ray Davis, was part of the Rangers contingent that visited with Lee Thursday afternoon, something Yankees officials warily took notice of. The group made what Greenberg referred to as "multiple offers'' to Lee, ones he characterized as "substantial'' and "highly'' competitive.

Energy magnate Bob Simpson, the other behind-the-scenes billionaire in the Rangers' ownership group, told the Forth Worth Star-Telegram in late October that the franchise wasn't planning to let Lee go without a fight.

"We're going to go after Cliff Lee - hard," he said. "And we have the financial firepower to do that."

The answer of whether they had enough will be apparent shortly.

New York Sports