The Phillies suddenly entered the picture on Monday when they were revealed Monday to be the "mystery team" that has been pursuing Lee for the past few days.
Multiple baseball sources have suggested that if they can put together a reasonable offer, there's an excellent chance Lee will leave tens of millions of dollars on the table and sign with them. Lee's decision is expected soon, perhaps by Tuesday.
Lee, a 32-year-old left-hander, is 102-62 with a 3.85 earned run average over nine seasons with the Cleveland Indians, Phillies, Seattle Mariners and Rangers. In his best season, the two-time All-Star went 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA for the Indians in 2008.
The battle for Lee was seen for weeks as a competition between the goliath Yankees and the Rangers, with New York offering a seven-year deal for what is believed to be between $150 million and $160 million, and Texas offering a six-year deal with an option guaranteeing at least $120 million.
The Phillies and Lee are believed to only have talked parameters for now, but they are far enough along that sources believe a deal could come down fairly quickly. Whatever they propose, it's expected to be less than either the Yankees' and Rangers' offers; some think Lee could be giving up $50 million or more if he returns to Philadelphia.
Lee is said to have absolutely loved his brief time with the Phillies in 2009, when he pitched them into the World Series, and won two games against the Yankees. People close to Lee say he envisions himself as No. 2 in a rotation with Roy Halladay at the top, Roy Oswalt pitching third and Cole Hamels fourth. If that happens, they might well have the best No. 1 pitcher in baseball, the best No. 2, the best No. 3 and the best No. 4.
Philadelphia offered him a three-year deal for about $54 million after the 2009 season. When he turned it down, the Phillies dealt him to Seattle as part of a four-team, nine-player swap while simultaneously acquiring Halladay from Toronto and signing him to a new contract that added $60 million over three seasons.
The Yankees were seen as the favorite with their $150 million-plus bid, but some also thought the Rangers had a decent shot with a $120 million-plus offer, the chance to pitch some four hours from his home in Little Rock, Ark., and the camaraderie of the Texas clubhouse.