Cliff Lee

Cliff Lee Credit: Getty

The Yankees were the first team to contact Cliff Lee's agent when free agency officially began, reaching out shortly after 12:01 a.m. Sunday. Wednesday they became the first team to visit the prized lefthanded pitcher.

General manager Brian Cashman flew to Arkansas, where Lee lives, Tuesday night and met Wednesday with the pitcher and his agent, Daren Braunecker, a source said. After the ALCS, Lee's wife, Kristen, made critical comments about the behavior of Yankees fans at the Stadium, but the pitcher has said that won't impact his decision. She was also there, giving Cashman an opportunity to answer any questions she might have about New York.

No hard offer is believed to have been made, with a source describing the session as more of a "meet and greet" than anything else.

Not that the get-together should be downplayed. The Yankees remain the heavy favorite to land Lee, who some believe is looking for a contract similar to the one signed by one of his best friends, CC Sabathia.

Cashman appears ready to go by the playbook he used in signing Sabathia in 2008, when he made three recruiting visits to the lefthander before signing him to a seven-year, $161-million deal.

Sabathia is expected to be heavily involved in this sales pitch, because not only are he and Lee close, but so are their spouses. Additionally, the children of each couple grew close during their time together in Cleveland, where each pitcher started his big-league careers.

Sabathia's wife, Amber, and Kristen Lee began talking about housing in July when it appeared Lee would be traded here from Seattle (the Rangers eventually won out).

The Yankees would prefer the cost to be less than what they gave Sabathia - particularly in terms of the years given to Lee, who will turn 33 next season - although they are prepared to pay big.

Although perhaps not as desperate as they were in 2008 to land Sabathia, the Yankees do need top-of-the-rotation help. They're waiting on a decision from Andy Pettitte - a source said Wednesday the Yankees had not heard from the 38-year-old lefthander and don't expect to until at least after Thanksgiving - and the quality of free-agent pitchers drops off precipitously after Lee. The trade market for top starters doesn't appear rife with possibilities.

Braunecker has heard from teams besides the Yankees, but hasn't specified which ones. One of them is the Rangers, who have made it no secret they want to keep Lee and are prepared to go toe to toe with the Yankees if necessary.

The Yankees do have concerns that the Rangers' new ownership group might produce an outlandish offer. Given their rotation questions, the Yankees still might feel obligated to exceed it.

One of the Rangers' part-owners, Chuck Greenberg, said during the ALCS that his team was prepared to battle the Yankees and wouldn't be entering the bidding with a "pea-shooter."

"We know we're going to have to be aggressive financially, and we're prepared to do that," Greenberg said before Game 5 at Yankee Stadium.

One other known team that has contacted Braunecker is the Nationals.

"We have contacted his agent and begun discussions with him," Washington general manager Mike Rizzo said Wednesday on MLB Network Radio on SIRIUS XM.

Rizzo, however, seemed to know that signing Lee is a long shot.

"I'm certainly not going to put all my eggs in the C. Lee basket,'' Rizzo said. "The chances of Cliff wanting to come to the Nats . . . is small."

The bidding will likely come down to the Yankees and Rangers, teams who were at odds in recent weeks. First, there was the Rangers' six-game victory in the ALCS, followed by the critical comments made about Yankees fans, first by Lee's wife and then by Greenberg during the World Series.

This offseason is still very early.

With Ken Davidoff

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