Report: Rangers after Andy Pettitte

While the New York Yankees and the Texas Rangers are the leading contenders to land the top free agent starter on the market, Cliff Lee, the Rangers are reportedly also going after Andy Pettitte.

The New York Daily News, citing a source, reported that Rangers president Nolan Ryan has reached out to his fellow Texan, Pettitte, in an effort to recruit him to Arlington.

According to MLB.com, however, the Rangers have denied reaching out to Pettitte, saying the only contact between the pitcher and the team was when Pettitte called Ryan to congratulate him on Texas' American League Championship Series win.

Rangers general manager Jon Daniels did not return a call seeking comment. Pettitte's agent did not return an email, asking for confirmation.

With negotiations going smoothly with Mariano Rivera, but filled with angst with Derek Jeter, it is in Pettitte's interest to create leverage so he can get the best deal possible from his first choice, the Yankees.

Pettitte, 38, hasn't definitively said he is returning to play next season. However, he has spoken about retiring for a long time and has never done it. There is a strong belief that he will play again next year.

However, Pettitte's destroyed his negotiating position in recent years by saying he only wants to play for the Yankees. By the Rangers possible interest becoming public, Pettitte gains some leverage and he may be able to receive a better deal from the Yankees.

Before the 2009 season, Pettitte saw his salary slashed from a base of $16 million to just $5.5 million. He was able to eventually get into eight-figures by reaching incentives; however, he didn't come close to $16 million. Last year, he made $11.5 million.

With A.J. Burnett unable to hold down the No. 2 spot in the Yankees' rotation, Pettitte has been the Yankees' second most reliable starter, but has not been paid like it.

The fear for the Yankees is if the Rangers' interest is strong enough financially for Pettitte to return to his home state. In 2004, he left the Yankees to play for the Houston Astros. Houston, though, is much closer to Pettitte's hometown of Deer Park than Arlington.

Last year, Pettitte had one of the best first halves of his career, going 11-2 with a 2.70 ERA. He was an AL All-Star.

In the second half, Pettitte only threw 15 2/3 innings because of a groin injury.

The Yankees want him back for 2011, but they will be offering most of their millions to Lee. The Yankees' biggest fear would be if the Rangers not only kept Lee, but also swiped Pettitte.

Andrew Marchand covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com.