LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Length of contract could be the key to the Rangers getting a deal done with Cliff Lee at the Winter Meetings at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort, according to industry sources. Lee and his agent, Darek Braunecker, are looking for at least a six-year contract, while Rangers officials are expressing a reluctance to go beyond five years. The Yankees, with their substantial financial resources, may be more willing to meet Lee's long-term demands. Neither team has made an offer, but the Rangers are planning to meet with Braunecker at some point during the four-day Meetings to get down to serious financial discussions. Lee will likely command an annual salary of more than $20 million, but the length of the contract could ultimately decide the issue.
Right now the Yankees and the Rangers are the only two teams that have publicly stated their desire to sign Lee, the top free-agent pitcher on the market. The Nationals had interest, but that could fade away now that they have signed outfielder Jayson Werth to a seven-year deal worth $126 million. Lee's situation is somewhat similar to that of designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero, who is a free agent and is looking for a multiyear deal. Guerrero is willing to do a two-year deal with the Rangers, but so far the club is reluctant to go more than one year. The Rangers are looking for both a starting pitcher and a designated hitter for the middle of the order here at the Winter Meetings. The big bats are flying off the market quickly. Werth has signed with that Nats, Victor Martinez has signed with the Tigers, Adam Dunn has agreed to a deal with the White Sox and Lance Berkman has a new one-year contract with the Cardinals. The Rangers have interest in Paul Konerko, but he may be close to returning to the White Sox. Carl Crawford is a possibility, but the Rangers would prefer to use their money for a power hitter in the middle of the order. Guerrero would likely remain in the American League as a designated hitter, and there are still other teams out there looking for offensive help. The Orioles, Athletics, Twins and Mariners are among the teams looking for middle-of-the-order offensive help. Guerrero hit .300 with 29 home runs and a club-leading 115 RBIs while playing just 17 games in the outfield. The biggest concern is that Guerrero had a .364 on-base percentage and a .554 slugging percentage before the All-Star break and a .322 on-base percentage and a .426 slugging percentage afterward. The Rangers are looking for alternatives at DH, but they seem focused mainly on Lee to fill the No. 1 slot in their starting rotation. If the Rangers can't re-sign Lee, they may focus on moving either Neftali Feliz or Alexi Ogando into the rotation. Feliz has often been mentioned as a rotation candidate, but there are club officials who believe Ogando might be better suited for the role. Feliz is the Rangers' closer while Ogando is just one of multiple candidates for right-handed setup reliever. The Rangers also have Frank Francisco, Mark Lowe, Darren O'Day and Japanese free agent Yoshinori Tateyama.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.