"It's the bottom of the ninth with no extra innings, and we all in the game just tryin' to collect our pennants ..." - Little Brother, "We Got Now"
It's generally not my style to quote song lyrics at the outset of an article and then stretch those in such a way that they fit my intended narrative, but this is the rare instance where they're perfectly apropos -- after months of microanalysis, informal discussion and/or hand-wringing, the Cliff Lee sweepstakes enters what may very well be its final 72 hours, with the Rangers reportedly making what can be described as a 10th- or 11th-hour push to reach an agreement or die trying.
What we know specifically doesn't amount to much at this point, but what we seem to know at this point is that the Yankees sent a proposal to Lee's camp -- which, as far as I can tell, consists solely of Lee, his family, and agent Darek Braunecker -- which would enable him to sign a deal worth $125 million over five years, $144 million over six years, or $161 million over seven years; the final of those three possibilities would, of course, tie CC Sabathia for the largest total-value contract ever doled out to a major league pitcher. In response, Texas counterpunched on Thursday with a similarly structured array of contract options that would presumably escalate Lee's average annual salary with the fewer guaranteed years that he is willing to accept (and vice versa).
There's been some talk of unwelcome involvement from other teams (e.g. Anaheim), but as of this moment in time this appears to be a two-team slugfest -- and, well, nothing's really changed about it from a conceptual standpoint over the last 2-3 months. If Texas can draw within spitting distance of the Yankees' best, final offer, then they have a shot; if not, it's over. This has been the basic thought process, at least. It's undoubtedly more nuanced in reality, but we're not privy to such minute details, so we work with the information that we have. Based off that same limited quantity of information, I can't see any way that Texas is comfortable throwing 6-7 years on the table (and, in fact, I'm rather strongly opposed to a seven-year deal), but substantial roster upgrades aren't accomplished in this market by lingering in the safety zone. If the Rangers wanted to be totally comfortable in their roster management, they'd conservatively peck away at the fringes of the market as they did during the utterly forgettable 2004-05 off-season.
That being said, the Rangers now have to right up against the point where they cannot -- or will not -- commit any further dollars and/or years to Lee, the point where Plan 'B' kicks in, and if that plan could somehow comprise Adrian Beltre and a mid-rotation starter, I would consider that to be a pretty sturdy off-season haul, even if it's not the off-season haul that some idealized fresh off a World Series appearance.