NEW YORK -- Rangers people clearly have to like their chances in their series with the Yankees now that they are up 3-1. And they just as clearly haven't given up hope that they can beat the Yankees to retain superstar pitcher Cliff Lee for years to come, either.
The Rangers are planning to go toe-to-toe (and even maybe dollar-for-dollar) to try to keep the free-agent-to-be Lee, the star of a second straight postseason, from going to their ALCS opponent, the perennial powerhouse Yankees.
"He's going to make a tremendous amount of money. I hope he makes it with us,'' Rangers owner Chuck Greenberg said to SI.com in the afterglow of Lee's Game 3 masterpiece vs. the Yankees.
While a dozen teams might check in on Lee, the clear gem of the winter, including the Red Sox, Angels and many more -- and the Nationals are expected to try to overwhelm Lee -- most folks ultimately see a two-team horse race developing for maybe the greatest clutch pitcher of alltime, and certainly the last couple decades. Word this summer was that Lee had the Yankees on his mind, but right now he's only thinking about beating the Yankees, and that can't hurt Texas' chances.
"It's been a lot of fun,'' Lee said of his time in Texas. "It's been a good time, and we're in a good position to move on. Anytime you're on a team this good at this point in the season, it's where you want to be. I've enjoyed every minute of it.''
Texas people hope he enjoys several more years of it. Unlike in the case of some owners who are just blowing smoke about beating the Yankees for a free-agent prize they want but realistically know they can't afford, the new Rangers' owner actually means it. This is a guy who pursued acquiring the team for 15 months until it finally came to fruition officially on Aug. 12 after being thwarted seven times before. And this is a guy who, in a Steinbrenner-type move, managed to become the managing partner through investing only about $2 million of his own money (of the $585 million the team went for), according to insiders.
Although Greenberg only officially took ownership a couple months ago, now it can be told that he and his group were working behind the scenes on the possibility of acquiring Lee from Seattle as early as April. They wound up giving up some jewels of their farm system to get Lee, including Justin Smoak, and it was well worth it if only to give them a decent shot at their first World Series. But they are hoping that Lee isn't only a half-year rental.
Rangers people have been saying for weeks behind the scenes that if they can make it to the World Series, their chances to keep Lee could be enhanced. So if they're right, this ALCS could be a double whammy for the Yankees. New York could be eliminated and possibly see Lee stay with an up-and-coming team in a baseball market that Greenberg has himself referred to as a "sleeping giant.''
Dallas is first and foremost a football market, of course, but Greenberg and his excellent baseball staff are hoping to change that perception to some degree. Word was circulating around baseball that Lee loved the thought of coming to the Yankees in trade, and that he was actually slightly leery of playing so close to his hometown of Benton, Ark. But Dallas people are trying to turn the proximity into a positive. Lee is well known as a family man, and Rangers folks are emphasizing lifestyle as an enhancing issue in their efforts to keep him, and to keep him away from New York.
Of course, the Yankees probably remain the favorite to win Lee, as their record of signing free agents they covet is unmatched. Lee is tight with both CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, and that doesn't hurt their chances. Plus, the Yankees will have obvious openings. They plan not to keep Javier Vazquez, there's a question as to whether Andy Pettitte might retire and the enigmatic Burnett will be coming off a season of horrors. More important than their obvious necessity, though, is their wherewithal. The Yankees have a dollar more than God. Some opposing teams wonder whether the Yankees will even have a cutoff figure with Lee or simply hand him a blank check.
But the Rangers, who recently signed a $2-billion-plus TV contract and should not be seen as some tiny market team, are still keeping hopes alive. "The further we go [in the playoffs], the better,'' Greenberg said. "Win today, and walk together forever.''
Rangers GM Jon Daniels did a great job outbidding the Yankees, Twins and several other teams to land Lee in July. Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik wanted Smoak most, and once Texas relented late on him, that was end of the ball game. But until that point, the Yankees looked like they would land Lee.
Zduriencik recalled in a phone interview this week that they were "down the road'' with the Yankees at one point before that deal blew up. The sides actually had an agreement in principle on a trade of Lee for catching prospect Jesus Montero, infield prospect David Adams and pitching prospect Zach McAllister. But when the Mariners doctor didn't like what he saw on the medicals of second baseman Adams, Zduriencik called back to say that he couldn't take Adams. The Yankees at the time wondered whether Seattle was just trying to get out of the trade, but as it turned out the Mariners doctors were correct and Adams injury was more severe than the Yankees suspected. He had a hairline fracture of the lower leg, it was discovered later.
"Any deal with any club is always contingent upon medicals," said Zduriencik, who refused to discuss any of the names mentioned in the trade.
After rebuffing Adams, Zduriencik suggested pitching prospect Ivan Nova as a replacement, but the Yankees said no. Then Zduriencik tried for infielder Eduardo Nuñez, and the Yankees also said no. As the Yankees recall it, when Zduriencik suggested a different option for Adams (believed to be pitcher Adam Warren), they accepted after talking it over. However, it was about the same time that Texas jumped back in by offering Smoak in their package.
And when Smoak was put into the deal instead of pitcher Derek Holland (Texas had been offering Holland to that point), the Mariners jumped at it.
"It comes down to what we perceive as the best package,'' Zduriencik said. "You can't fault [the Yankees]. There are a couple other clubs that were pretty close. The bottom line is, we just could not agree on a package. We just could not put all the pieces together.''
The bottom line is the Rangers did what they had to do to go for Lee, and they look wise for doing so.
Daniels, who's done an excellent job building a team and trading them into this position, has an "out'' in his contract in the event of a change of ownership, and that appears to come in handy now, as his hometown Mets are still looking for a GM. But Greenberg doesn't seem concerned that there's a chance he could lose Daniels.
"We love him. And he loves us,'' Greenberg said. "He's got a great situation. He's built a great team both in the front office and on the field. He's going to be with us. It will be a very short, easy discussion that will end well for Jon. And he deserves it.''
Greenberg told Daniels they'll talk soon about a new contract. Daniels is indeed said by friends to be very happy with his situation in Texas and the new owners, and the likelihood is that he stays. But Mets people have been asking around about him, and it's not completely out of the question that they make a run at him to fill their GM position.
Longtime A's GM Sandy Alderson, who has more recently worked in the commissioner's office, is the current favorite for the job, thanks in part to the perception that he's receiving the backing of commissioner Bud Selig and that longtime associate Fred Wilpon, the Mets' longtime owner, will support his hiring. The Mets have interviewed several excellent candidates, the others being Josh Byrnes, Allard Baird, Rick Hahn, Logan White and Dana Brown, and some wonder whether the 40-something Jeff Wilpon, the team's COO, might prefer a younger man in the GM role, one who's likely to require less power than Alderson. So there's still room for debate here.
Alderson, who got the highest recommendation possible from Selig, is heading to Queens on Thursday for the second part of his first interview, and he's expected to meet the staff at that time. There have been suggestions that the Mets could hire a combo of Alderson and White, who's a scouting guru, but someone close to Alderson saw that tandem as "very unlikely.'' But while it's fair to say that Alderson is the favorite, the game isn't quite over yet.
• Some baseball people within the Marlins hierarchy love Bo Porter, their former coach who left to take a job on the Diamondbacks staff when he sensed (correctly) that friend Fredi Gonzalez wasn't long for the managing job in Florida. But Porter could win up returning there now. Interim Edwin Rodriguez doesn't appear to be out of the running, either, while Jim Fregosi, Tim Wallach and Tony Pena have been mentioned as candidates.
• The Blue Jays seem to have interviewed everyone for their managerial opening (GM AlexAnthopoulos is "very thorough,'' said an underling in explanation), and it was interesting to see Foxsports.com report that Sandy Alomar Jr., who is extremely well-regarded, is one coming in for a third interview (as the site noted, he might not be the only one, as there seems to be a revolving door of interview subjects). Comcast Sporstnet New England reported that Red Sox coaches Demarlo Hale and John Farrell are the other two finalists for the opening, meaning none of Toronto's three finalists has major-league managing experience in a division with proven winners like Terry Francona, Joe Girardi, Joe Maddon and Buck Showalter.
• The Jays coaches have been told that they will have jobs in the organization if they aren't retained on the staff. It doesn't appear that the well-liked Brian Butterfield, the longtime third base coach who wasn't close to the retiring Cito Gaston, is a candidate for the managerial job. But Gaston's top candidate, Don Baylor, doesn't appear at the top of their managerial list at the moment, either.
• There are some who believe that Wallach might have a shot at the Brewers job. Bob Melvin and Joey Cora have been seen as possibilities there, as well, in a situation that's seen as "wide open.'' Bobby Valentine was also interviewed there.
• Ted Lilly didn't get greedy, taking a reasonable $33 million, three-year deal with the hometown Dodgers. "Why not shop around?'' wondered one competing executive.
• Mike Quade was the correct call for the Cubs, considering he was 24-13 with a team that was dying under Lou Piniella. Ryne Sandberg put in four years as a manager in the minors and expressed his disappointment to the Chicago Tribune's Dave van Dyck. Could he pull a Mattingly and become a manager elsewhere? Quade's appointment certainly curtails Girardi's leverage with the Yankees -- though they're expected to give him a nice raise after his $7.5 million, three-year deal expires. Girardi is well-liked by bosses Hal Steinbrenner, Randy Levine and Brian Cashman, though not necessarily by everyone in the organization.
• Girardi's binder worked better vs. the Twins than the Rangers, didn't it?