ARLINGTON -- Trade discussions between the Rangers and the Seattle Mariners appear to be heating up over pitcher Cliff Lee, according to industry sources.There is nothing imminent, there are plenty of other teams still involved and Lee may not get traded until right before the July 31 Trade Deadline. But club officials acknowledge that general manager Jon Daniels has been working hard to find a way to acquire the All-Star left-hander who the Rangers believe could be the one difference-maker in their quest for the American League West title. The Rangers have been actively looking for a front-line starting pitcher, they have made no secret that Lee is their top priority and they have the Minor League prospects to get him here. As far as talent in the farm system, the Rangers openly believe they are in far better position to acquire a major piece before the Trade Deadline than most any other team. The club is still limited by financial constraints but Daniels admitted last week there is still some flexibility in the budget for the Rangers to do something before the July 31 Trade Deadline. The club has not been involved in the International amateur signing period for Latin American players this month in attempt to hold back final resources for the Trade Deadline. Daniels declined to discuss trade talks Wednesday night. There is little doubt that the Rangers have the talent to make the deal. The Mariners are reportedly looking for a big bat for their lineup and the Rangers have both Justin Smoak at the Major League level and Chris Davis at Triple-A Oklahoma City. The Rangers are also deep in Minor League pitching although indications are they are not interested in talking about Tanner Scheppers or Martin Perez. But Derek Holland and Blake Beavan could be two names that might interest the Mariners. Sources also said the Mariners need catching help. The Rangers could put Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the deal although he would hardly be the centerpiece of any trade. There is plenty of talent in the lower levels of the farm system, especially at catcher, although the Mariners are likely to expect some immediate Major League-ready help in any trade for Lee. Lee is making $8 million this season and the Rangers would pick up only $4 million if a trade were made right now. The Mariners could pick up some of Lee's salary but that would entail the Rangers added more players to the package. The Rangers are hardly the only team interested in Lee, who is 8-3 with a 2.34 ERA in 13 starts for the Mariners. The Twins, Mets, Yankees, Reds, Rays, Phillies and Tigers are all considered possibilities as well. The Mariners are expected to command a hefty package in return and are unlikely to jump at any first proposals. Most likely the Mariners are only now beginning to get serious with a number of teams although most Major League officials believe Lee will end up getting traded before the Deadline. From a talent standpoint, the Rangers believe they are well-positioned to win this competition as long as the financial hurdles do not get in their way.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.