LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The front of the Winter Meetings pitching rotation has been set. Cliff Lee is No. 1 and Zack Greinke is No. 2.Agent Darek Braunecker sees it that way, the Rangers understand that's the case and Royals general manager Dayton Moore prefers it that way. They are the two best pitchers available here at the Winter Meetings. Lee is a free agent, Greinke is available by trade and the Rangers have serious interest in both. Moore continues to make it clear the Royals will listen to any trade overtures concerning Greinke. The Rangers have made serious overtures. But trade talks between the Royals and any team concerning Greinke aren't likely to get serious until Lee is off the market. Moore knows that once Lee is gone, the demand for Greinke will be greater. "I expect it to move slow," Moore said. "We're going to move slow with it until we potentially get the right type of deal, if indeed we move him at all." Rangers sources said right now a deal for Greinke appears unlikely at this point because of what the Royals are asking in return. Right now the Royals' demands for Greinke are way beyond what the Rangers are willing to give up.
The Yankees and Rangers lead the chase for Lee. Braunecker, who represents Lee, said there are other teams involved, but declined to identify them."I expect there are always clubs that kind of lay in the weeds," Braunecker said Monday. "To me, you're talking about the best player on the market. There's still certainly a need for starting pitching out there that extends beyond the clubs that have been mentioned at this point." The Yankees have made it no secret of their desire to sign Lee and they met with Braunecker on Monday afternoon at the Walt Disney Swan & Dolphin Resort. The Rangers also met with Braunecker on Monday, holding a 30-minute discussion. "There's nothing new," general manager Jon Daniels said. "We've been pretty open that we've got interest in bringing him back. Beyond that, we'll let it play out. We're working through our options. There's no real timetable. On any one thing, we're always one phone call or one meeting away from doing something." Length of contract appears to be the biggest issue in Lee's situation. There is a feeling that he could command a six-year contract at more than $20 million annually and that's not likely to make the Yankees blink. The Rangers appear reluctant to go beyond five years, but negotiations are only beginning. The Rangers know that the Yankees will likely make the largest offer, but hope they can make one that is within striking distance and allow other factors to sway the decision in their favor. Most notable is Lee and his family live in Arkansas, just a short drive or flight away from Arlington. "There are just a number of variables that are factors," Braunecker said. "Obviously he's a free agent, so it's my job to extract the best contract available." There is no doubt that Lee will command the biggest contract of any free agent in the offseason and that may ultimately knock out all other contenders except the Yankees and Rangers. But more teams in search of front-line starting pitching could get aggressive in their interest in Greinke, who has two years left on his contract at $13.5 million annually. That's far more palatable to many clubs who don't want to get involved with Lee. But to get him, a club will have to offer a significant package of young prospects. In the Rangers' case, the Royals are likely to covet pitchers Derek Holland, Tanner Scheppers and Martin Perez and Minor League outfielder Engel Beltre. Texas, if it wants to upgrade its starting rotation, have to decide if the club is going to commit huge amounts of money to get Lee or let its farm system take another hit by trading for Greinke. "Our challenge is how we go about doing it when you're both considering high dollar players as well as a package of young players," Daniels said. "That's the nature of our job, balancing the short-term and the long-term. What gives us the best chance to win this year while building around a core team that's maturing, but also considering our goal of being competitive year in and year out." The Rangers already had to give up four young players to acquire Lee from the Mariners on July 9. Lee helped the Rangers get to the World Series for the first time in franchise history, but they also had to include two former first-round picks -- pitcher Blake Beavan and first baseman Justin Smoak -- to get him. If Lee signs elsewhere, the Rangers will still get two Draft picks in return. Asked how important it is to re-sign Lee, manager Ron Washington said, "Well, I think when you talk of the caliber of pitcher that Cliff Lee is, it's quite important. But will it make or break the Texas Rangers, no, it won't. But we certainly will do the very best we can to make that happen." The Rangers have not forgotten their need for a designated hitter and Daniels expects to meet with Vladimir Guerrero's agent at some point before the Winter Meetings conclude on Thursday. He is Texas' first choice to fill that hole, but the club also has interest in Paul Konerko. Other right-handed hitters who fit the DH description include Troy Glaus and Magglio Ordonez. Manny Ramirez is out there, but the Rangers aren't showing interest right now. There are left-handed-hitting candidates, including Jim Thome, Garret Anderson and Hideki Matsui, but the Rangers would prefer a right-handed hitter. "Probably but we're open to either if the deal is right," Daniels said. "We're still optimistic that it will be Vlad, but there are still going to be a number of guys who are available. We're not exclusively working on Vlad." Ultimately the Rangers will land a designated hitter, either here at the Winter Meetings or at some point during the off-season. It's just not their No. 1 priority right now. "Our first priority is pitching," Daniels said. The Rangers wait on Lee.
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.