The Yankees have increased their offer to 32-year-old free agent...

The Yankees have increased their offer to 32-year-old free agent pitcher Cliff Lee to seven years. Credit: MCT

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - The Yankees have gone where they insisted all along they would not. And it was their rival who pushed them.

Shortly after the Red Sox stunned baseball by agreeing to a seven-year, $142-million deal with outfielder Carl Crawford late Wednesday night, the Yankees raised their initial offer to Cliff Lee's agent, adding a seventh year, an industry source confirmed to Newsday Thursday morning.

General manager Brian Cashman, speaking after the Rule 5 draft later in the morning, wouldn't confirm or deny that the Yankees sweetened their offer, which could be in excess of the seven-year, $161-million deal CC Sabathia received two years ago. "I wouldn't say," Cashman said. first reported the new offer, which came after the Yankees offered six years for about $140 million Wednesday.

Rangers president Nolan Ryan, appearing on Mike and Mike in the Morning Thursday on ESPN Radio, indicated the new development might take his team out of the running.

A Rangers contingent traveled to Arkansas Thursday afternoon to meet with Lee. After the face-to-face meeting in agent Darek Braunecker's office, owner Chuck Greenberg said last night the Rangers made a "substantial" offer and that Lee was given a "menu of options." Greenberg said the trip to Arkansas was prompted by Boston's agreement with Crawford, which changed market dynamics.

Cashman said he planned to take his scheduled 12:45 p.m. flight home to New York Thursday without a "surprise detour in store," though he said he was prepared to make another trip to Arkansas "if necessary."

Angels GM Tony Reagins said his team remains interested in Lee, though the Angels are considered a distant third behind the Yankees and Rangers.

"We have to be concerned about that because seven years for any contract is really stretching it out,'' Ryan said on Mike and Mike. "And I don't know how you predict how anyone is performing six or seven years from now. Everything has a ceiling that they have to understand what it is. And it doesn't make economic sense after a certain threshold."

Cashman said the Crawford deal didn't increase the Yankees' desire to sign Lee, but sources with knowledge of the team's thinking indicated otherwise. "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."

As do the Rangers, though Braunecker had said before the meeting in Arkansas that they needed to come up with a different negotiating strategy. The Rangers essentially had asked Lee to tell the team what it would take for the pitcher to re-sign with Texas. "We have no interest in participating in the unconventional negotiating style the club has requested,'' Braunecker told Thursday morning. "For the player to submit an offer to the club . . . that's not the way the process works.''

Said Rangers general manager Jon Daniels: "We're gonna handle our stuff privately, and that's it. Some guys are more driven by the marketplace than others. Some guys are more driven by destination. For some guys, it's a combination of both."

There has been speculation from the start of this free-agency period that Lee, 32, will look to match or surpass what Sabathia got, but most in the industry didn't think it was realistic.

The Yankees from the start were resolute against a seventh year, but that went out the window when the Red Sox added a second star lefthanded hitter to the lineup. They traded for Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and then added Crawford, a move that all but put the Yankees in desperation mode to get Lee, no matter the cost or commitment.

Cashman, though, wasn't saying that.

"No one knows what our offer is other than the player and the agent, so all I can tell you is we've communicated how strongly we feel about the player," he said. "But I wouldn't define that publicly."

Cashman did define what he thinks of the Red Sox moves.

"They have a great team," he said. "They've had two huge acquisitions, so they're loading up like they always do, but this is even more significant than a typical Red Sox reload. They've done a great job so far."

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