- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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Executives involved in the bidding for Cliff Lee believe the negotiations will gather momentum in the week ahead, perhaps to a point where the All-Star left-hander will choose his next employer sometime during the winter meetings that start Dec. 6.
Lee, the 2008 American League Cy Young Award winner and among the most dominant postseason pitchers in history, is drawing interest from the Texas Rangers -- who traded for Lee during the 2010 season and want to re-sign him -- and the Yankees, along with other teams.
The agent for Lee, Darek Braunecker, indicated on Saturday afternoon that he and his client could meet with anywhere from one to three teams in the week ahead.
"We've got a fair number of teams trying to work through the process," Braunecker said. "It's probably fair to say we've got a half-dozen teams in the mix."
The Washington Nationals and other teams are engaged in the talks, but the wide assumption among rival executives, as of Saturday, is the two primary bidders will be the Rangers and the Yankees. New York tried and failed to trade for Lee during the season, and then lost to the Rangers and Lee in the playoffs. With Javier Vazquez expected to move on as a free agent and Andy Pettitte not committed to returning, the Yankees have made Lee the focus of their offseason restructuring.
To that end, the Yankees could offer Lee a contract that winds up being the second-largest in history for pitchers, behind CC Sabathia's seven-year, $161 million deal.
The Rangers are in their first winter under the ownership of Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan, and their payroll is expected to rise. But the question Texas must address internally is if they are prepared to dedicate an enormous portion of their 2011 budget -- anywhere from 20 to 30 percent, depending on the contract structure and the size of the payroll -- to re-sign Lee.
If the Yankees land Lee, the expectation among club officials is the Rangers will be aggressive on other fronts -- but for now, they must wait for the conclusion of the Lee bidding.
Buster Olney is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine.