Is Nolan Ryan backing down from a Yankee gunfight?

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We have a good idea of what the Yankees have offered to free agent Cliff Lee — six years and $140 million, at least initially — but what about the Rangers?

Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News spoke with club president Nolan Ryan on Wednesday at the Winter Meetings, and Ryan told him that the Rangers are asking Lee’s agent, Darek Braunecker, to “tell them what it would take to sign” the ace lefty.

Odd, right?  Most front offices would simply make a solid counter-offer and hope for the best.

It sounds like Ryan is wary of getting into a bidding war with the Yankees, however unavoidable it may be.  That, or the Rangers are so confident in their ability to sign the left-hander that they are offering a proverbial blank check.  We’re thinking it’s the former.

The Yankees seem really serious about wanting Lee.  So much so that they haven’t made significant contact with any other free agent this winter.  When they fall in love with a player, and are given an opportunity to sign that player, it’s not often that it falls flat.

Oh, and you know they’re going to want to steal the spotlight from the Red Sox, who just made Carl Crawford the highest-paid outfielder in major league history.

Eyes are upon you, Texas.

Nolan and his partner Chuck Greenberg won the ownership rights to the Rangers in August after bidding $593 million and besting Mark Cuban.  Can they now go to seven years and $163 million for Lee?  If Crawford can get a seven-year, $142 million pact from Boston, $160-plus million may be the going rate for baseball’s best strike-thrower.

Kris Bryant on Joey Votto: “He’s the best player ever … He’s a future Hall of Famer, that’s for sure.”

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The Cubs wrapped up a four-game series against the Reds at Wrigley Field on Thursday afternoon, suffering a 13-10 loss to split the set. They’ll match up again against the Reds next week for a three-game series in Cincinnati. That’s good news for Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, because that means he’ll get to see Reds first baseman Joey Votto some more.

As CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney reports, Bryant has grown quite fond of Votto. Bryant has already won a World Series ring, a Rookie of the Year Award, and an MVP Award, but he still looks up to Votto. According to Bryant, Votto is “the best player ever.” He added, ““He’s my favorite player. I love watching him. I love talking to him, just picking his brain. He gets a lot of (heat) about his walks and working at-bats and some people want him to swing at more pitches. But, gosh, I mean, he does an unbelievable job. You know that he’s going to give you a great at-bat every time he goes up there. It’s definitely a guy that I look up to and I can learn from.”

Bryant said that Votto is “a future Hall of Famer, that’s for sure.”

Bryant also explained how his approach changed by watching Votto. He said that in his rookie season, he was “swinging at everything.” Votto, however, is “aggressive, but he’s not going to swing at a pitch until he wants it.”

Indeed, in Bryant’s rookie season, he struck out in nearly 31 percent of his 650 plate appearances. This season, he has struck out in only 19 percent of his PA. His walk rate has also increased by more than 2.5 percent since his rookie campaign. Compared to last year, Bryant is down in HR and RBI, but his average is the same, his on-base percentage is markedly better, and his slugging percentage is only down by a minute amount.

Video: Daniel Descalso hits D-Backs’ third inside-the-park homer of the season

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Diamondbacks second baseman Daniel Descalso hit his team’s third inside-the-park home run of the season during Thursday’s 4-0 win over the Astros. In the top of the fourth inning, with the score 1-0 and the bases empty, Descalso ripped a 1-0, 83 MPH change-up to right-center field. The ball caromed off the wall, heading towards left field, which sent center Jake Marisnick on the chase. Marisnick tried to pick up the ball with his glove, but dropped it, which sealed Descalso’s destiny for an inside-the-parker.

It had only been five days since the Diamondbacks’ last inside-the-park home run. David Peralta hit one against the Cubs on August 12. Ketel Marte legged out his club’s first ITPHR on July 26 against the Braves.

As ESPN Stats & Info notes, the Diamondbacks have three as a team, which is amazing because the other 29 teams have hit seven combined.