LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After two days of meetings with agent Darek Braunecker, Rangers president Nolan Ryan is expressing optimism that the club will be able to re-sign pitcher Cliff Lee. Ryan spoke Tuesday on the second day of the Winter Meetings at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort, but also acknowledged that the talks are still preliminary, no deal is remotely close and significant obstacles remain. "Here lately, I'm probably more encouraged than a week ago because it doesn't seem that anybody has stepped out and become the leader of the pack," Ryan said.
Ryan did acknowledge that the Yankees could eventually do just that. Ryan still believes that New York could ultimately make the largest offer because of its vast financial resources. "I have no reason not to think so, that being their history," Ryan said. "It's always there. It's just part of the business. It's like a big offensive threat being on deck. You know he's on deck." There are other factors involved, including the length of the contract. Lee could command a five- to seven-year deal worth more than $20 million annually. There are reports of at least one club willing to go to seven years. The Yankees will likely go at least six years on a pitcher. Texas may not be willing to do more than a five-year deal with Lee. Ryan admitted that lengths of contracts do concern him. Lee might be an exception, but it could also be a dealbreaker for the Rangers. "I have a comfort level on contracts and the length of them," Ryan said. "It depends on the individual, but the shorter the contract, the higher my comfort level. I really view it -- no matter if it's a pitcher or a position player -- I'm not really into lengthening contracts out. "It's just bad business." Lee turned 32 on Aug. 30. He also had some back trouble in September, but still finished 12-9 with a 3.18 ERA in 28 starts and won three games in the first two rounds of the playoffs. "Obviously Cliff Lee gets more consideration than somebody else who has a history of arm troubles or behavior problems," Ryan said. "Age also comes into it. A lot comes down to what other people are willing to do and what they are willing to offer." Braunecker made it clear that length of the contract could be crucial, but that's just one part of it. "That's one of the components," Braunecker said. "It's my responsibility to Cliff and his wife, Kristen, to extract the best possible contract. Does that mean the most money, the longest term or the best place where they can be happy and can win? There is no one criteria they've presented to me. I'm just doing my job to put them in the best possible situation." The Rangers met with Braunecker for a second time on Tuesday and will meet with him again on Wednesday. But the discussions continue to move slowly and Texas still has not made a specific offer. "We haven't put any parameters on it," Ryan said. "We're very open to seeing what can be done. I get the feeling he likes being in Arlington, he likes the guys there, he likes [manager Ron Washington], he likes the quality of life. There are things that are definitely in our favor. At some point will they be open to being creative? I don't know." Braunecker said that the discussions with the Rangers were positive and productive. "That goes for a couple of other clubs as well," Braunecker said. Ryan expressed some frustration that the process was moving slowly, but Braunecker is in no hurry to get a deal done with anybody. "It's a methodical process," Braunecker said. "It's very extensive. We're making sure we do all our due diligence to put him in the best possible situation for his family." Part of it is talking to as many teams as possible. The Rangers and the Yankees remain the two most visible and vocal teams in pursuit of Lee. The Nationals are in the hunt as well. Any other teams have not made their intentions public. It does not appear that a deal with anybody will get done before the Winter Meetings close on Thursday, but that could change quickly with another round of meetings on Wednesday. "Obviously you'd like to see it move quicker, but you have to realize it's part of the process," Ryan said.
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.