Cliff Lee Sweepstakes Set To Begin With Yankees, Rangers, Nationals Sniffing

The 2010 baseball season hasn't been over for a week, and already most everyone has turned their attention to free agency and the offseason. This is a time for every team to try and build a winner by restructuring their rosters and making key additions.

And the guy who's probably going to make the best addition for somebody is Cliff Lee, the 32 year old free agent lefty who just wrapped up a losing World Series with the Rangers. Lee's free agency has been anticipated all year long, and the anticipation only grew more eager when Lee went out and had one of the better seasons in recent memory. Including the playoffs, he posted a 3.12 ERA over 33 starts with the Mariners and Rangers, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio of 11.6 was the highest all-time for a starting pitcher.

Lee's the best pitcher and probably the best player on the market, and he's going to earn a big payday. The two favorites to land him are the Yankees and the Rangers. The Yankees, because they covet everything. And the Rangers, because they saw what Lee could do, and because new ownership has them flush with money. But according to Jerry Crasnick, there's at least one other team who's sniffing around:

While the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees are the obvious frontrunners for marquee free agent starter Cliff Lee, sources say the Washington Nationals are a potential sleeper team in the competition to land Lee. "They're going to step up and try to get a top free agent,'' one baseball insider said. "They'd like to make a splash.''

If this does end up coming down to the Yankees and the Rangers, Darren Rovell writes that state taxes may end up making a difference. Texas does not have a state income tax, meaning that, depending on the contract size, Lee could still get as much from the Rangers as he could from the Yankees despite a richer offer from the latter. The difference could end up being somewhere in the low eight figures.

Lee is looking at something like a five-year contract worth upwards of $20 million a year.

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