- Andrew Marchand, ESPN Senior Writer
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"There has been significant interest from a multitude of teams," Lee's agent, Darek Braunecker, told ESPNNewYork.com.
Yankees brass has already met with Lee in Arkansas.
Rangers president Nolan Ryan, general managing partner Chuck Greenberg and general manager Jon Daniels traveled to Arkansas to meet with Lee, his wife and agent on Monday. The group met for a few hours, sharing a meal at the Copper Grill 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."
Along with the Yankees and Rangers, the Washington Nationals have publicly acknowledged they have called or met with Braunecker. Other teams believed to have some level of interest include the Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs. There likely are others.
Braunecker said at this point he is leaning against making an appearance at the general managers meetings in Orlando, and he doesn't believe Lee will make any tours to cities.
"Do I anticipate Cliff visiting any cities?" Braunecker said. "I don't think at this point it is going to be needed."
Braunecker doesn't feel the need to go to the GM meetings because he needs to set up only one more meeting with a club, and he believes he can get that done between now and Thanksgiving without going to Florida. He still has not completely ruled out a trip, however.
Either way, this puts Lee's expected timetable for getting a deal done at or shortly after the Dec. 6-9 winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Lee is believed to be asking teams for a contract that is similar to CC Sabathia's seven-year, $161 million pact with the Yankees.
Lee, who will turn 33 in August 2011, is good friends with Sabathia. Their wives also are close. In July, when the Yankees nearly acquired Lee from the Seattle Mariners, the Sabathias and Lees already were planning on where the Lees would live. Instead, the Mariners traded Lee to the Rangers, whom he helped eliminate the Yankees in the American League Championship Series.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman has made it clear that starting pitching is his No. 1 offseason target. This in part is due to A.J. Burnett thus far failing to live up to his five-year, $82.5 million deal. He was 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA last season. Burnett, who also is represented by Braunecker, has three years remaining on his contract.
Lee is the Yankees' No. 1 target, and with no comparable starter available in free agency or on the trade market, their bid is expected to be high. The real question is how many years the Yankees eventually will offer.
What is certain right now is that while the Yankees and Rangers are the favorites, other teams are not ceding Lee to them yet.
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