Yankees' Cashman Says Meeting With Cliff Lee Is a `Step in the Process'

The New York Yankees took the first step in their attempt to recruit free-agent pitcher Cliff Lee by flying General Manager Brian Cashman to Arkansas to meet him.

Cashman traveled to Little Rock, Arkansas, three days ago and on Wednesday had lunch with the 32-year-old Lee, his wife Kristin and agent Darek Braunecker.

“It was just a meet and greet,” Cashman said in an interview with the Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network last night. “They’re going to have more with other teams, too. It’s just a natural step in the process.”

Lee’s contract with Texas expired after the Rangers’ World Series loss to the San Francisco Giants, making him the top Major League Baseball pitcher available this offseason. Lee has a 102-61 career record, won the 2008 American League Cy Young Award and is 7-2 in the postseason with a 2.13 earned run average.

In the AL Championship Series against the Yankees last month, he threw eight shutout innings with 13 strikeouts in an 8-0 Game 3 win in New York.

“Unfortunately I had a chance to see Cliff Lee do damage against us for quite some time, but not get to know him personally,” Cashman said. “So this was more a chance for me to get to know him and exchange information.”

Cashman didn’t say whether he talked with Lee or his agent about a contract. CC Sabathia, Lee’s former teammate in Cleveland, signed a seven-year, $161 million contract with the Yankees as a free agent before the 2009 season. It was the richest deal in major league baseball history for a pitcher.

‘Big Sandbox’

“If it’s within the right number that we’re willing to do and we can live with, we’ll do it,” Cashman told the YES Network. “We can certainly play in the big sandbox more than anybody because we’re the Yankees, but we certainly aren’t successful every time we enter the process.”

Cashman said his trip to Arkansas was an example of the Yankees trying to “hit the ground running” in their effort to improve a team that won 95 games before losing to the Rangers in the ALCS. New York two seasons ago won its record 27th World Series title.

Cashman said he also met with shortstop Derek Jeter and relief pitcher Mariano Rivera this week. Both All-Stars have spent their entire careers with the Yankees and became free agents after the season. Cashman said he can’t envision either playing for a team other than the Yankees.

“You just have to go through the business side of the discussions and hope you find something that everyone thinks is appropriate and fair,” Cashman said. “We’ll find a way to get something done at some point, we hope.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Matuszewski in New York at matuszewski@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at msillup@bloomberg.net

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