Rangers met Cliff Lee to send message

Updated: November 17, 2010, 9:31 AM ET
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com

Texas Rangers president Nolan Ryan said the purpose of a Monday meeting with Cliff Lee in Little Rock, Ark., was to be sure the top free-agent pitcher on the market knew the club was serious about keeping him.

Ryan, general managing partner Chuck Greenberg and general manager Jon Daniels traveled to Arkansas to meet with Lee, his wife Kristen and agent Darek Braunecker. The group met for a few hours, sharing a meal at the Copper Grill and Grocery in Little Rock. The Rangers did not make an offer.

"We wanted him to know we were interested and we feel like they are interested in us as well," Ryan said. "We said that we wanted to meet again at some point, but didn't decide when. It would definitely be before the winter meetings."

Those meetings take place in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Dec. 6-10, and Lee could decide then or shortly thereafter where he will be playing baseball in 2011 and beyond. The Rangers' visit comes after the Yankees' brass, including GM Brian Cashman, flew to Arkansas last week to show their interest.

Ryan said the club won't necessarily wait around for the Yankees to set the market on Lee. They'll meet, decide what they think is fair in terms of average annual salary and the length of the contract and negotiate from there.

Ryan hopes the fact that Lee got a chance to spend four months in Texas helps the club's cause in getting him to sign a long-term deal. Lee joined the Rangers on July 9 when he was traded to Texas from Seattle for four prospects headlined by switch-hitting first baseman Justin Smoak.

"I think because he was a part of the team and how well we did that it had an impact on him," Ryan said. "I think that obviously would tend to help us because he knows what we're about."

Braunecker has not commented on the meeting with the Rangers, but he did tell ESPNNewYork.com this week that Lee has drawn "significant interest from a multitude of teams." The Yankees and Rangers are believed to be the favorites in the contest to sign Lee, but the Washington Nationals have publicly shown interest and others are also believed to be interested in getting in on the bidding.

Lee, who turns 33 in August, was 12-9 with a 3.18 ERA in 2010. He was 4-6 with a 3.98 ERA with Texas in 15 starts, but that ERA is a bit inflated thanks to a balky back that contributed to five shaky starts in August. Lee was solid down the stretch and was 3-2 with a 2.78 ERA in the postseason, including a sterling Game 5 victory on the road in Tampa Bay in the ALDS and a Game 3 win over the Yankees in the ALCS. Lee lost twice to the San Francisco Giants in the World Series, which the Rangers lost in five games.

Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.