Stepping out of comfort zone for Cliff Lee

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Rangers president Nolan Ryan admits that the idea of giving a free-agent pitcher a six-year contract is well past his comfort zone.

But he was also in the front row at Tropicana Field when Cliff Lee shut down the Rays in Game 1 and then, even more important, in a winner-take-all Game 5. Lee was the main reason the Rangers won the first playoff series in franchise history. Ryan was there when Lee baffled the Yankees' lineup in Game 3 of the ALCS. He knows how critical having a front-line starter like Lee on top of the rotation is to his club's chances of returning to the Fall Classic in 2011.

That's why Ryan is making peace with the idea of six years for Lee. He's read the reports and knows the Yankees are probably offering six years in the neighborhood of $140 million. Remember, with no state income tax in Texas and a state income tax of 8.97 percent in New York, so the Rangers don't have to reach the Yankees in exact dollars to have what is a greater offer.

"I'm probably more there today than I have been the last few days about six years," Ryan said. "You realize that if you're going to have Cliff Lee pitching for you, that's probably what you're looking at."

It is. Lee is 32 and the Rangers, understandably, are hesitant to give a pitcher that age that kind of deal. But if you want to get a special talent like Lee, it's going to cost you. And if there was ever a time to overpay, this is it. If Lee returns, the Rangers become one of the favorites to repeat at American League champions. Ryan knows it.

The Rangers' approach is designed to cut through the speculation and shorten the bidding process. Rather than make offers and counteroffers at this point, the club wants Lee's camp to tell them what it will take. I like this idea. They believe Lee wants to stay in Texas. So they've put the responsibility on Lee to tell them what he wants.

Of course, the club has let Braunecker know their situation and has likely given him a good idea of what they can or can't do. This way they can find out how much Lee wants to stay based on how the give and take goes from here.

“We don’t want to get into a bidding war,” Ryan said. “We want Cliff and Kristen and his agent to sit down and say, ‘Look, what will it take for us to be with the Texas Rangers next year?’”

Ryan said the club hopes to know something in 48 hours.

We'll see if this approach can get the Rangers and Lee together for 2011 and beyond -- probably six years total. But it's clear that Ryan and the front office know it's going to take six years and they are strongly considering it. They should.