Rangers ponder 6-year offer for Cliff Lee

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Rangers president Nolan Ryan said the club has asked Darek Braunecker, Cliff Lee's agent, to let Texas know what it would take to sign the 32-year-old free agent left-handed pitcher.

Instead of making an offer, the Rangers asked Lee's camp for terms so that the club can figure out if it can put something together so the left-hander fronts their rotation for years to come.

Ryan said he saw the reports of the Yankees' offer of six years for about $140 million and still feels the Rangers are in the mix for Lee's services.

"It really comes down, probably, to whether we're willing to go to six years," said Ryan, who added that he was more willing to consider six years Wednesday than he had been the last few days. "I think if they come back with a proposal of what it's going to take for him to come over, we're going to have to sit down and look at it and talk about it. I think that's where we are, waiting to hear back from them.

"We've asked them to give us a number for Cliff Lee to come to the Rangers, what it will take."

Ryan said he believes the club will probably hear from Braunecker in the next 48 hours. That makes it possible that a decision could be reached this weekend or early next week.

"We don't want to get into a bidding war," Ryan said. "We want Cliff and [wife] 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 Lee's camp has indicated that they'd like to come back to Texas.

"They made it pretty obvious to us that they were very happy there, that it worked for their lifestyle and for their family," Ryan said. "So we feel like we need to find out where things are and not let this thing linger any further or any longer than it has to.

"The fact is that if we can't acquire his services, we have to look other places and what other options might be out there. The longer is goes on, some of those options will dissipate. In the best interest of improving the ballclub, we need to move the process along."

The Rangers met with Braunecker again Wednesday, the last of a series of discussions at the winter meetings. This comes after Ryan and general manager Jon Daniels made two trips to Arkansas to visit with the Lees since the end of the season.

"We've had productive meetings," Braunecker said before leaving Orlando to fly back to Arkansas and meet with Lee. "They're still in the mix."

Ryan said the club has read the speculation about some teams possibly offering seven years and wanted to get clarity on what Lee wanted.

"All of that speculation is flying around and we felt like what we in our best interest and for us to cut to the chase was to find out where they are and what they feel like it's going to take for us to sign Cliff Lee," Ryan said.

Lee was 12-9 with a 3.18 ERA in 28 starts for the Seattle Mariners and Texas in 2010. The Rangers traded for the lefty in early July, and he was a big part of their postseason push. Lee won Games 1 and 5 of the ALDS and Game 3 of the ALCS as the Rangers earned a berth in the World Series for the first time in franchise history.

The New York Yankees have also been aggressive in pursuing Lee, with general manager Brian Cashman telling reporters Wednesday that the club made an offer before Braunecker left town. The Yankees also flew to Arkansas early in the free-agent process to express interest in Lee.

Ryan has always viewed the Yankees as the prime competition in the Lee sweepstakes.

"I think we all knew the Yankees were going to be big players," Ryan said. "From the time Cashman went to Little Rock, we've heard those kind of numbers thrown around. But I think those numbers were probably talked about as parameters and I think the Yankees put that out there to probably try to discourage us and anybody else that might want to do it."

Ryan said he wasn't discouraged but that the reality of the market is that it's "overwhelming" and that it takes these kinds of deals to get prime players.

"Am I disappointed that it's gotten to that level? Yeah," Ryan said. "But it keeps going and going."

Ryan was pleased by what Lee did for the club in 2010. After Lee pitched a complete game in the victory over Tampa Bay in Game 5, an elimination game, Ryan stopped him on the field after the celebration and told him it was one of the most impressive starts he had seen.

Ryan was asked if he was optimistic about seeing Lee back in a Rangers uniform in 2011.

"I just think that the realization is it's going to be six years and are you willing to do it," Ryan said. "So that's obviously past my comfort zone, but if that's what we're dealing with, we're going to have to discuss it and look at it. If you're going to have Cliff Lee pitch for you, that's probably what you're looking at."

Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his mailbag.