But Lee is by no means certain of returning to the Rangers, even if he did use that word. Far from it."I don't know if I'm going to be a part of it," Lee admitted. "I'd love to be a part of it, but so many things can happen." That's what happens with free agency. Lee is eligible to be a free agent and will be in five days. Under the amended provisions of the Basic Agreement, all players eligible to become free agents were declared so immediately after the conclusion of the World Series, and clubs have an exclusive five-day window to negotiate with their own free agents. After that, any player can negotiate with any club. "Cliff has earned the right to see who wants him and how badly," third baseman Michael Young said. "As a teammate and a friend, I'm going to back him no matter what he does. But it goes without saying, we want him here." The Rangers understand they are not going to get a quick deal done with Lee. "I'm going to spend some time with my family and relax," Lee said. "That stuff will take care of itself." The Rangers acquired Lee from the Mariners in a six-player trade on July 9 to help them get to the World Series. He did that. Now they want to sign him. It won't be easy or cheap. "We'll let you know [what the plans are]," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "Everybody will find out when we're ready to tell them. Cliff's an important part for us. We don't want to understate that. But we have a number of guys we're going to talk about. "We'll sit down tomorrow and debrief a little bit and start planning. We'll start in earnest tomorrow. With the new rules, guys are free agents five days after the World Series. We have a few days to get our thoughts together." Lee will be the premium free-agent pitcher on the market. He was 48-25 with a 2.98 ERA over the past three seasons, and he helped pitch his team to the World Series in each of the past two seasons. He didn't pitch well in the World Series, losing twice to the Giants, but still has a 7-2 record with a 2.13 ERA in 10 career postseason starts. He is also 32 years old. The highest-paid pitcher in the Major Leagues is CC Sabathia. He just finished the second season of a seven-year, $161 million contract with the Yankees. Next among pitchers is Johan Santana, who is halfway through a six-year, $137.5 million deal with the Mets. Barry Zito got seven years and $126 million from the Giants before the 2007 season. Lee figures to land somewhere among those pitchers, especially if the Yankees get involved. They made a serious run to try to trade for Lee in July before the Rangers got him. They are expected to be serious bidders again. "Whenever there's an attractive player, the Yankees are part of the equation," Rangers CEO Chuck Greenberg said. "It's a reality of the industry." That is not going to scare the Rangers away. They are unlikely to win a bidding war against the Yankees but hope Lee is attracted by the future of the Rangers organization, the quality of life in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the economic advantages of living in Texas -- where there are no state income taxes -- and the close proximity to his home in Little Rock, Ark. All of these issues will be contemplated by Lee, his family and the Rangers as the free-agency period heats up. "When Jon acquired Cliff, I think it was a strong statement within our clubhouse and baseball," Greenberg said. "We want him to stay. It's like putting a puzzle together, and the guys we have doing that -- Jon Daniels, [assistant GM] Thad Levine and [team president] Nolan Ryan -- are terrific. "The beauty of free agency for a player is it's exclusively a player's decision. At the end of the day, it's going to be a decision Cliff and his family alone can make. We think we've got a lot of great things to offer. We have a great future as an organization." Lee agrees. But that is still no guarantee.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.