Tuesday, December 7, 2010, 12:24 p.m., Updated at 3:50 p.m., Updated at 5:46 p.m.
By Mark Zuckerman
NATIONALS PAGE NATIONALS VIDEO
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Washington Nationals are seriously interested in signing Cliff Lee. Just not serious enough to give the prized free agent pitcher a seven-year contract.
While the Nationals will make a formal contract offer to Lee in the coming days, club sources said they will not include a seventh year in that offer, despite speculation around Disney's Swan and Dolphin Resort Tuesday morning to the contrary.
The Nationals' interest in Lee has never waned. He's been atop their wish list of potential pitching acquisitions this winter. But general manager Mike Rizzo has felt along his team faced long odds to land the 32-year-old lefty, who is also being heavily courted by the New York Yankees as well as the Texas Rangers club he helped lead to the World Series in October.
Rizzo has met with Lee's agent, Darek Braunecker, twice at the Winter Meetings, including on Tuesday afternoon, according to major-league sources. The Nationals GM, though, didn't sound especially confident he'll actually secure Lee's services when the dust settles.
"We've had dialogue with the representative," Rizzo said. "I still think we're a real long shot to acquire the player."
Braunecker is seeking a mammoth contract for Lee, who went 12-9 with a 3.18 ERA this season and then dominated the first two rounds of the playoffs for the Rangers.
Earlier this week, Rizzo didn't hesitate to sign Jayson Werth to a seven-year, 126 million that blew all other offers for the free agent outfielder out of the water. The Nationals, though, aren't willing to make that kind of commitment to a pitcher who will turn 39 during the 2017 season.
It would not be surprising, though, if the Nationals wind up as the high bidder for Lee. They've already shown a penchant for outbidding other clubs on a number of high-profile free agents in recent years, including Mark Teixeira and Jorge de la Rosa.
In each of those cases, though, the player still elected to sign with another team that was perceived to be in a better position to win than a Washington club that has never finished above .500 since arriving in town in 2005.
Whether Lee, who has pitched in the World Series each of the last two seasons, would be willing to turn down smaller offers from contenders like the Yankees and Rangers in favor of the Nationals remains to be seen.
Rizzo's attention at the Winter Meetings hasn't been solely fixated on Lee. He's met with agents for "a lot" of players, including multiple sessions with Carl Pavano's representative (Tom O'Connell).
Rizzo also may have unknowingly dissed the sabermetrics community when he declared the most important stat he looks at in evaluating pitchers is wins.
"Who's a winning pitcher, and how did they get to that win?" said Rizzo, who was a scout for two decades before becoming a GM. "Obviously, there's different parameters and different metrics that we use. It's not the end-all and be-all, because we saw this year's American League Cy Young won by Seattle's Felix Hernandez, who had a 13-12 record. That's important, because to win a lot of games, you have to pitch a lot of innings and be effective at doing it."