While the baseball world watches and waits for Cliff Lee to make his final decision on where to pitch next season, the competition for his services has never been hotter.
The Yankees' initial offer to Lee was for six years between $140 and 150 million, and was then increased to seven years and $161 million.
The Yankees had previously said they would not go to a seventh year with Lee, but just 12 hours after free agent outfielder Carl Crawford signed with the Red Sox for seven years and $142 million, New York increased their offer.
Going into the offseason, the Yankees were the clear favorites to sign Lee because they have the deepest pockets. But it's not nearly as clear cut as that, since the Rangers have been able to hang in with the Yankees' offers.
The Rangers met with Lee at his Arkansas home today to present him with a variety of differently structured offers.
Rangers general managing partner and CEO Chuck Greenberg would not say whether or not the offers were for six years of more, or how much money, but the team has made it clear they're aware it will take at least a six-year deal to sign Lee.
Who will sign Cliff Lee?
It was Greenberg, assistant general manager Thad Levine and co-chairman of the board Ray Davis who met with Lee, his wife, and his agent Darek Braunecker in Arkansas today, reportedly for 90 minutes.
While the Rangers weren't initially considered able to match the Yankees' offer as far as dollars are concerned, the inclusion of Davis in the group to meet with Lee is significant. Davis is incredibly wealthy, a billionaire in fact, and should he choose to further invest in the Rangers, and specifically Cliff Lee, perhaps they could surprise some people.
Just as the Yankees increased their offer to Lee on the heels of the Crawford deal, the Rangers too saw it as a sign they needed to step up their efforts as well, according to Greenberg.
"You have to adapt to changing circumstances," Greenberg told Richard Durrett of ESPNDallas.com. "When we heard late last night of the Carl Crawford signing, it didn't take too much analysis to figure out what the impact of that might be on our prospective competitors. As soon as we heard of that signing, we realized it was important we go to Little Rock and do it today, so we did so."
While Lee and his agent have fielded offers from both the Yankees and Rangers, they haven't engaged either side in official negotiations; they've just listened to the offers and haven't actually said anything Lee might want in the deal.
But if Lee simply wanted to accept the bigger offer, wouldn't he have done so already? Why is he giving the Rangers so much time to put their offers together and meet with Lee multiple times?
Perhaps Lee really doesn't want to pitch in the Bronx, where the amount of his contract and the expectations that come with it might be too much for the 32-year-old lefty's shoulders.
Lee has been the Yankees' one and only target this offseason, so nothing short of a Cy Young season and perhaps a championship will satisfy the fans; especially considering how improved the Boston Red Sox are with the signing of Crawford and the trade for Adrian Gonzalez.
The Rangers went to the World Series with Lee last season, so can anyone really say he would have a better chance to reach the postseason with the Yankees?
After all, Lee and the Rangers demolished the Yankees in the ALCS and it should only get easier given the Yankees' potential rotation issues without adding Lee and the possible retirement of Andy Pettitte.
It seems as if Lee, one of the most dominant postseason pitchers of his era with a career 7-2 record and 2.13 ERA in 10 postseason starts, could continue to succeed there with either team.
The Rangers are younger, were the best hitting team in the American League last season, and boast a farm system absolutely full of young talent. They could even sign Lee AND still trade for the Royals' Zack Greinke if a deal could be struck.
WIll the Rangers go to a seventh year with Cliff Lee?
The Rangers are still in this thing. They still have just as good of a chance to sign Lee as the Yankees do, and maybe they have the advantage given the courtesies shown to the Rangers thus far by Lee and his agent.
The Rangers' offer, though the exact parameters are unknown, probably isn't near the Yankees' offer in terms of dollars. But going into the Winter Meetings, the Rangers had said they wouldn't go past five years. But they went to six when the Yankees started at six. Would they go to seven years now that the Yankees have?
That, we don't know. But we do know this: Cliff Lee is giving them plenty of time to make up their minds and find the means to put Lee in Arlington.