Source: Yanks boost offer to Lee

The Yankees again increased the ante in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes Thursday morning, offering him a seven-year contract, according to a major-league source.

Lee, the biggest prize on this year’s free-agent market, was initially expected to make his decision before the weekend. But the shift in the market will slow down the talks, a second source with knowledge of the situation said.

“Baseball economics 101,” the source said. “The longer you wait, the more you get paid.”

The Yankees expedited a seven-year proposal to Lee after the Red Sox reached agreement late Wednesday night with free-agent outfielder Carl Crawford on a seven-year, $142 million deal.

No other free-agent signing is expected to shift the dynamics of the Lee negotiations as dramatically. But the Yankees’ bid will not get any lower in the coming days, and the desire to sign Lee by other clubs might only increase.

The Angels, in particular, could be tempted to make a strong run at Lee. Crawford was their No. 1 target, and the other top remaining free agents — third baseman Adrian Beltre and closer Rafael Soriano — would create less of an impact than Lee.

“There’s interest in the player,” Angels GM Tony Reagins told on Thursday morning. “We’ll see how the process unfolds.”

The Yankees made a strong push for Lee on Wednesday, offering him a whopping six-year contract. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told the New York Post that the six-year offer was for more than $137.5 million but less than $150 million.

The seven-year offer likely is in excess of the $161 million deal that the Yankees awarded free-agent left-hander CC Sabathia after the 2008 season.

Sabathia was 28 then. Lee is 32 now.

The Rangers also met with Lee’s agents on Wednesday, but GM Jon Daniels declined to say whether the Rangers made an offer, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Lee’s agent, Darek Braunecker, left the meetings late Wednesday to return home to Arkansas and present the various proposals from clubs to Lee and his wife, Kristin.

Cashman told the Post that Braunecker informed him that Lee wasn’t close to making a decision.

“He is waiting on more teams to get their stuff together,” Cashman said.

The source, however, said that a decision was indeed near.

The Angels and Nationals are among the other clubs to express interest in Lee, sources say.