LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Whether it was a misdirection ploy by the Angels or an agent taking a liberty or two to help jack up the market, put those Cliff Lee/Angels rumors on the back burner.
The Angels, multiple sources said on Wednesday, are continuing to plunge into these winter meetings with speedy outfielder Carl Crawford as their clear No. 1 priority.
And just for good measure, attempting to make sure they fix a declining offense somehow, they met with the agent for third baseman Adrian Beltre on Wednesday.
Yes, they did reach out to Lee's agent, Darek Braunecker, on Tuesday and are keeping in touch. But a source with knowledge of those talks called them "benign." No, he said, Crawford remains the top target.
Many in the industry -- as well as sources close to the outfielder -- are handicapping the Angels as the clear favorites to land Crawford, though Jayson Werth's seven-year, $126 million deal with Washington may slow things down until (if?) the Yankees, Red Sox or another big market team enters the bidding.
And here's where things get murky, much murkier than the Lee talks. With Crawford, it's much more of a moving parts-type of market.
The Yankees are expected to veer toward Crawford if they fail to sign Lee. Some industry sources believe they may take a run at both Lee and Crawford though, even for the Yankees, that seems awfully pricey. General manager Brian Cashman had dinner with Crawford and his representatives here on Tuesday night.
The Red Sox were believed to want either Werth or Crawford initially, but having acquired Adrian Gonzalez from San Diego and with parameters surely in place for a monster extension there, it's difficult to see the Red Sox signing up for two contracts of at least seven years in length in one winter.
The Tigers need a left-fielder, have money to spend and showed initial interest in Crawford but seem to have disappeared in these talks in recent days.
One wild-card who recently met with Crawford's representatives, according to sources, is the Rangers. While they're clearly focused on Lee, Crawford could represent a stunning backup plan if Lee signs with the Yankees. The Rangers also could be the Angels' worst nightmare: If they do lose Lee and go strong after the Houston native, that might be too tempting for Crawford to ignore.
People close to Crawford, a Houston native, say he loves the West Coast and would be happy in Anaheim.
Certainly, this is setting up with the Angels as the clubhouse favorites, so to speak.
But it's also clear that the road could curve ahead.