LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- I'll admit that the news today about the Yankees' 7-year offer wasn't good for the Rangers. Nolan Ryan didn't exactly sound enthusiatic about it this morning with ESPN's "Mike and Mike in the Morning". Read more about that here.
"Well you know if the reports that are coming out are true, obviously that makes it more challenging for us," Ryan said.
If the oddsmakers were putting a line on this thing, they'd have the Yankees as a pretty good favorite. But this deal isn't done until Lee shakes hands and makes a commitment. And the Rangers have clearly decided to fight until the end, as demonstrated by their meeting with Lee, his wife Kristen, and agent Darek Braunecker today in Little Rock. Some reasons this isn't quite over yet:
1. The Rangers' decision to send a contingent to Arkansas led by managing general partner Chuck Greenberg and assistant general manager Thad Levine shows they are serious about trying to make something work even after the Yankees' 7-year offer was released. And don't read incorrectly into the fact that it's Levine and not Jon Daniels that is headed to Arkansas. Levine is the one that handles most of the player contracts, so he would be instrumental in getting anything done. Greenberg, of course, has to decide on behalf of the ownership group how much the club is willing to invest. So if you want to try to reach a decision, two key pieces are in Arkansas to do that.
2. The Rangers believe Lee went into this process wanting to pitch in Texas. I happen to agree. That isn't to say he won't simply go with the contract that gives him the greatest financial gain, but he enjoyed his time in the clubhouse and being close to home and those are important things to him. That means if the offers are similar, Lee would likely take Texas. What does similar mean? Does it mean seven years? We'll see. Maybe there's a way to structure a six-year deal that gives Lee enough of an overall package that he'd take it over a seven-year commitment. Sounds like a longshot, but you never know. It's going to be a lot of money either way.
3. Texas' other edge is the cost of living. Lee's big paycheck will go a lot further in Texas than it would in New York. One big reason: state income tax. For the top producers in New York, it's over 8 percent. In Texas, it's 0 percent. That means the Rangers could offer Lee less in overall dollars, but the entire contract might be worth more. I can tell you that was a big selling point for the Stars when they were busy signing free agents earlier this decade. It can make a difference.
4. Creativity. The Rangers are very good at it. And it may take that. Incentives could be folded into the contract based on innings pitched and other factors (including Cy Young, ERA, etc.) that allow Lee to make more money. Maybe it's possible to have an option year with a buyout big enough to guarantee Lee some nice money at the end of the deal should the Rangers not want to exercise that option as the contract nears completion. Working out a lease on a private plane for Lee to fly home or bring his family to Texas or on the road. Everything should be on the table.
Obviously, if the Rangers aren't competitive enough with a package to approach the Yankees' offer, it's difficult to envision Lee returning to Texas. But Lee saw firsthand what kind of club Texas has. He was hunting with some Rangers teammates this week and clearly has bonded with some of them. None of that may matter in the long run, but it can't hurt. So the Rangers will fight on and see if they can't come up with some way to keep him. Will it work? Who knows. But don't count them out yet.