Rangers, Cliff Lee fit each other

ARLINGTON, Texas -- It sure sounds like the Texas Rangers' lengthy playoff run may have given them an edge in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes.

Now they have to find a way to close the deal and beat out the big bank account on Broadway.

"We want him pitching Opening Day for the Rangers next year," team leader Michael Young said bluntly.

Moments after Lee lost Game 5 and the San Francisco Giants celebrated the World Series title at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, the ace pitcher said he "would love" to stay with the Rangers. But he wasn't sure where he might end up once a predictably lively market opens up.

"I want to be on a winning team," Lee said. "I want to be on a team, if not this team, like this team. The most fun I've had playing the game [was] with these guys. It's been a good ride. I've enjoyed every single second of it.

"This team is going to be good for four or five years to come. There's no reason for me to think otherwise. With the guys they got and the guys they got locked up for a few more years, it's going to be a force for a while. I wouldn't put anything past this group of guys. From top to bottom, the lineup is very powerful and very potent and not a lot of fun to face. The way some of these guys have pitched, they've done some special things that they are just going to build on."

All of that is true, of course. But think of how much better the team is and how much longer the window for winning becomes if Lee is at the top of the rotation.

There's no question the trade for Lee legitimized the Rangers. They went from a nice, upstart team in a forgotten division to a national story. The Lee trade wasn't about winning the AL West. It was about winning the World Series.

The move energized the clubhouse and signaled to the rest of the league that the Rangers were serious about winning now. It was an unexpectedly bold move from a club in bankruptcy. Texas had to give up prospects, including first baseman Justin Smoak, to a division rival. But the front office felt Lee was the difference in getting to the postseason and winning once they got there.

Not to mention that four months with a fun clubhouse could help sway Lee to make it a long-term arrangement.

"The day we got him, I was like, 'Wow, we just got the guy everybody wanted,'" Darren Oliver said. "He helped us so much to get where we are now."

Don't let two World Series losses cloud Lee's critical role in extending the Rangers' season into November. They don't beat Tampa Bay in the American League Division Series without Lee, who baffled the Rays' bats in Game 1 and then came back to clinch the franchise's first playoff series win with a complete game on the road in Game 5.

Lee was on the minds of the New York Yankees days before he was due to start Game 3. They knew if they didn't win both games in Texas, they were probably going to be behind after the pivotal third game. That's what happened. Lee struck out 13 and allowed two hits in eight shutout innings as the Rangers took control of the series and beat its past playoff nemesis in six games.

Even as Lee talked about his upcoming offseason decision, his mind floated back to his two World Series losses.

"I'm more disappointed about how we ended up and I would have liked to have done better," Lee said. "I felt like I could have done a better job in Game 1 and this game. There's nothing I can do about it right now. The season is over."

Redemption isn't a bad motivator to return, is it? Maybe Lee will feel like he's had some unfinished business in Texas and will want to come back and help lead the team to a World Series title in the coming years.

One suggestion to owner Chuck Greenberg, president Nolan Ryan and general manager Jon Daniels: Get Lee's 2010 Rangers teammates to help with the sales pitch.

"It's very important that he's here with us," Oliver said. "We got to the World Series and that's everybody's ultimate goal as a player. This should be pretty much the same team. And with the experience we got, playing in all the playoff games and tough games, I think that's really going to help us in the future. We want him here as a part of that."

Colby Lewis, who said he learned a lot from just watching Lee and picking his brain like so many of the Rangers pitchers, sees a guy that fits well in Texas.

"I think he works well here," Lewis said. "Look at what he did when he came over. With the staff that we have and how everyone is going in the right direction, it's a situation where he can lead us. Every team needs him. But I just think this is the best fit. We're the American League champions and he was a part of that. This is where he needs to be."

You hear that, Cliff?

Daniels said he's reached out to Lee's agent and has expressed a desire to negotiate this offseason. No, the Rangers won't get into some protracted bidding war. But Greenberg and Daniels have committed to making Lee as good an offer as they possibly can and are hoping the proximity to his home in Benton, Ark., and his comfort level with the players and coaching staff will help sway him to return to Texas and avoid Broadway or any other location.

To many, Lee might as well start house hunting in New York. The Yankees can spend the most money if they choose and one of Lee's closest friends -- CC Sabathia -- will be pushing hard for him to pitch in Yankee Stadium. Heck, it sure appeared he was going to wear pinstripes the day he was traded as reports surfaced the Yankees were close to making a deal with the Seattle Mariners.

But maybe 2010 showed Lee that the Rangers have constructed a team that can beat the Yankees in the playoffs and become a mainstay at the top of the American League.

"We think we've got a lot of great things to offer here," Greenberg said. "He and his family have certainly gotten a taste of that. We've got a great future as an organization and we're going to be prepared to be aggressive to help make his decision easier. But at the end of the day it is his decision."

It needs to be a great sales pitch. The Rangers need Lee. Now they have to convince Lee that he needs them too. If they can, Texas will be a favorite to return to the World Series in 2011.

Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.