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.''
Read more: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/jon_heyman/10/20/daily.scoop.wednesday/#ixzz12vWiBCQ6