LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — With the Jayson Werth deal signed, sealed and delivered, and the Adrian Gonzalez trade done with the extension to be announced later, the entire baseball world is wondering where Cliff Lee will sign.
On Monday, Lee's agent, Derek Braunecker, met with the various teams interested in his free-agent left-hander. Braunecker met with New York Yankees and Texas Rangers officials. There was even talk the Boston Red Sox met briefly with Lee's agent, probably just to keep tabs on what the Yankees are up to.
Anyway, the domino theory is very much in play. Unless guys are being given what are now called "Jayson Werth"-type deals (that means out-of-their-mind contracts in terms of years and money), lots of people are going to decide after Lee signs.
Lee has a guaranteed deal with the Texas Rangers, on the financial side only. The years have not been determined. There are reports that Lee wants seven years and the Rangers have offered four, then five years guaranteed.
That is where it stands now. Lee has a five-year offer from the Rangers (presumably $23-25 million per season) to continue pitching in the Lone Star State.
Word is that if the Rangers move up to a sixth year guaranteed, and then Lee would be 80-90 percent sure he would go to Texas.
I believe that Cliff Lee WANTS to go back and pitch for the Texas Rangers, and that he is trying to find a way to do that. Lee likes the fact he is THE MAN in Texas and relishes the role of mentoring young pitchers C.J. Wilson and Derek Holland.
What can bring Lee to New York is if the Yankees top the Rangers and go for a seventh year guaranteed. If that's the case, Lee may essentially have no other option but to take the money and come to New York.
I believe the Yankees don’t want to go for that seventh year, but they will do it kicking and screaming.
The Yankees are secondary for Lee, and he would only come for the money, as he feels he can win a title with either club. The Lee camp could be putting out that “will go to Texas for a sixth year" talk just to get the Yankees to also go a guaranteed sixth year.
Then if two teams are guaranteeing six years, it is only a matter of time before one goes that seventh year. The key in his camp is to get both teams already committing to six.
Braunecker putting out the word that Lee is a lock for Texas at six years is a good play on his part. The agent is doing everything he can to get the most money from a World Series-contending team.
However, an unexpected suitor for Lee has emerged—the Washington Nationals.
Talks were rampant early this morning that the Nats were going to offer Lee a seven-year deal, the amount of years Lee desires, but for less money per season.
No one here at the meetings thinks that the Nationals will land Lee, but the Lerner ownership group, likely the richest in the majors, is tired of all the losing.
Majority owner Ted Lerner is 85 years old and “desperately" would like to see a winner in Washington. This scenario is similar to how Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch is trying to buy a World Series winner in the Motor City by signing free agents Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit.
But there is absolutely no way Cliff Lee ends up in Washington. The Nationals will throw a whole lot of money at Lee, but like Mark Teixeira did two years ago, Lee will reject the most money and sign with one of the contending teams.
My guess is Texas.
The Rangers will eventually go for that sixth year to get the guy they want, just like the Red Sox went a seventh year with Adrian Gonzalez. Whether the Yankees offer Lee his desired seventh year will decide whether or not he goes to New York. But Yankees GM Brian Cashman has a solid history of convincing free agents to come play in New York, most notably CC Sabathia.
But it is tough to see that happening right now for Cliff Lee, especially if the contract offered by Texas is the same.