The Barry Zito chase moved into another gear on Monday as the Texas Rangers offered a contract to the free-agent left-hander.

The Rangers are among at least three teams who are aggressively pursuing Zito, as the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants have also recently had discussions with Scott Boras, the agent for former Cy Young winner. The Yankees, Angels and Mariners are also considering the left-hander, and the Boston Red Sox might enter the picture if negotiations with another Boras client, Daisuke Matsuzaka, are unsuccessful.

Zito, 28, is the top lefty starter on the market and a player who is expected to command a multiyear deal worth in excess of $80 million.

Though club officials confirmed the Rangers had made an official contract offer to Zito and Boras, specifics were not divulged.

The Rangers aren't expected to have the high bid for Zito. Since offering mega-contracts to free agents Alex Rodriguez ($252 million over 10 years in December of 2000) and Chan Ho Park ($48.8 million for four years in January of 2002) the Rangers haven't spent money on free agents as extravagantly as they did earlier in the decade.

The Rangers also had one of the few deals that went down Monday, agreeing to terms on a one-year deal with free-agent center fielder Kenny Lofton. The Orioles added free-agent outfielder Jay Payton to a two-year deal and the Tigers signed reliever Jose Mesa to a one-year contract. The Yankees, according to ESPN Deportes, had signed Cuban outfielder/first baseman Juan Miranda to a four-year contract worth $2 million.

General managers were busy on multiple fronts as Monday was also the eve of the non-tender date, which has been moved up this year from Dec. 20. Tuesday is the day teams must offer contracts to arbitration-eligible players, and if a team does not formally tender -- that is, offer -- a contract, the player is granted free agency. Players not offered are called non-tenders.

Elsewhere on the Monday Hot Stove front:

Red Sox: With a deadline bearing down on them, the Red Sox brass decided to take the bargaining table with them, heading to agent Scott Boras' California offices to talk directly to Japanese star Daisuke Matsuzaka and Boras. The club has until midnight at the end of Thursday to come to terms with the World Baseball Classic MVP.

A wide gap remains with just a few days before the deadline at midnight at the end of Thursday. Boras believes Matsuzaka should be compensated like an elite free agent, while the Red Sox wonder if that is feasible for a player who has never competed at the Major League level.

Rangers: The Rangers are also negotiating a one-year deal with reliever Eric Gagne and are scheduled to have free-agent pitcher Mark Mulder visit Arlington on Tuesday. The Indians, Giants and Red Sox are also interested in Gagne. The Rangers are expected to offer contracts to all their arbitration cases: Brad Wilkerson and pitchers Akinori Otsuka, Joaquin Benoit and Rick Bauer.

Brewers: The Brewers are waiting to hear back from agent Ken Felder, who represents free-agent infielder Jeff Cirillo and has a one-year offer in hand. The team is already committed to veteran backup infielders Craig Counsell and Tony Graffanino, and Cirillo said last week that he's worried about getting playing time. He has offers from two other teams, including the Twins.

At the same time, GM Doug Melvin and his staff were scheduled to meet on Monday to go over the team's arbitration-eligible players, a list that includes some key names: left-hander Chris Capuano, right-hander Claudio Vargas, catcher Johnny Estrada, infielder/outfielder Bill Hall and outfielder Kevin Mench. Capuano, Vargas, Estrada and Hall are all key to the '07 plan, but Melvin would not commit last week to the notion that all of those players would be tendered contracts before Tuesday's deadline. The team sought trade offers for Mench at the Winter Meetings and received some interest, but did not find any immediate takers.

Devil Rays: Rocco Baldelli continues to be mentioned in trade rumors with the Braves, White Sox and Orioles. The Rays are most interested in acquiring starting pitching. Names in play for Atlanta include Chuck James, Kyle Davies or Jarrod Saltalamacchia; Brandon McCarthy or Jon Garland for the White sox; and Daniel Cabrera, Hayden Penn or Adam Loewen for the O's.

According to the St. Petersburg Times, the Devil Rays turned down a trade deal that would have sent B.J. Upton to the Marlins for Ricky Nolasco. MLB.com has learned that the Marlins have interest in Upton to play center field, and they also are talking about dealing with Tampa Bay for Seth McClung, a right-hander who has started but would be a closer candidate for the Marlins.

The Marlins are exploring multi-player deals with Tampa Bay which could land them Upton and McClung. Nolasco, according to an MLB.com source, is one of the names being tossed around in a possible move with Tampa Bay. Also, Peter Gammons of ESPN reports the Marlins are considering trading a pitching prospect for outfielder David Murphy, a center field candidate. The Marlins have had interest in Murphy since before the July 31 trade deadline.

Orioles: Right-hander Rodrigo Lopez is available, but it's uncertain if the club will non-tender him. Kansas City and Milwaukee have expressed interest in Lopez.

Phillies: The Pirates have expressed interest in Phillies right-hander Jon Lieber, who has one year at $7.5 million remaining on a three-year, $21 million deal he signed with the Phillies in December 2004. Lieber would fill the Pirates' need for a veteran right-handed starter. The Phillies would likely be looking for bullpen help in return. The Rangers and Brewers are possible destinations for Lieber. The Phillies apparently won't be dealing Aaron Rowand or Pat Burrell with Lieber to get Vernon Wells.

Nationals: Looking for backup infielders, the Nationals have expressed interest in free agent D'Angelo Jimenez, according to sources outside the Nationals organization. Jimenez was with the Rangers and Athletics last year and hit a combined .183 with one home run and eight RBIs. The team also is close to signing infielder/outfielder Jose Macias, who was a valuable player off the bench for the Expos in 2002 and '03. Macias played in Japan last season.