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Big question for AL champs: Will Lee return?

CBSSports.com wire reports

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Minutes after the World Series ended, the grounds crew for the Texas Rangers started fixing the pitching mound while the visiting San Francisco Giants celebrated nearby.

One of the biggest questions going into the shortest winter ever for the Rangers is whether ace left-hander Cliff Lee will be on that mound in five months, when they begin the 2011 season as defending American League champions.

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"It goes without saying we want him here," third baseman Michael Young said. "We want him pitching opening day for the Rangers next year."

Texas defeated the New York Yankees in the AL Championship Series to get to its first World Series. Beating the deep-pocketed Yankees again -- this time for free-agent Lee -- could come at a very high cost.

Lee was traded July 9 from Seattle to Texas, his fourth team in less than year. This time, the 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner gets to decide where he will pitch.

"I know I enjoyed it from Day One 'til now. It was a very fun ride and a great group of guys. I can't say enough about that. It was very fun," Lee said. "Right now, the season's over. I'm going to spend time with my family, relax a little bit and that stuff will take care of itself later on."

While Lee helped the Rangers get to the World Series, he lost both of his starts to the San Francisco Giants in the Fall Classic after looking invincible in the postseason until then. That included Game 5 on Monday night, a 3-1 loss in a rematch of the Series opener against two-time NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum.

Still, the Rangers got further than ever before in the franchise's 50th season.

"It was a special season," Josh Hamilton said. "We were the best team in the American League. There's something to be said for that. We know what kind of team we are. We know how we can possibly be in the future. "

The Rangers had never won a postseason series, or even a home playoff game, before this year. This was only the 17th winning record in 39 seasons since moving to Texas after the franchise started as the expansion Washington Senators in 1961.

"The most exciting part is that we set the bar high now," said Young, the team's career hits leader and longest-tenured player after 10 seasons. "There's a completely different level of expectation for this team and this organization and that's what we all want to be a part of."

What remains unclear is if that will include Lee, the most prominent of seven free agents.

General manager Jon Daniels indicated there will be more money than in recent years to address such matters. That comes courtesy of the new ownership group headed by Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan that acquired the team during a federal bankruptcy auction in August, seven months after agreeing to buy the team from Tom Hicks.

It will take a lot of cash to keep Lee deep in the heart of Texas, not far from his Arkansas home.

"We think we've got a lot of great things to offer here. He and his family have certainly gotten a taste of that," Greenberg, the team's managing partner, said in the clubhouse after the Series. "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."

Greenberg wasn't specific about what kind of offers the Rangers could make to Lee.

"He's been great for us here," Daniels said of Lee. "I don't know how you can really say exactly what that value is, but it's been pretty significant for us."

Hamilton, who led the majors with a .359 batting average but went 2 for 20 with one RBI in the World Series, slugger Nelson Cruz and reliever-turned-starter C.J. Wilson, a 15-game winner, are eligible for arbitration. But they are under the team's control for next season.

Joining Lee in free agency are designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero, primary setup reliever Frank Francisco, catchers Bengie Molina and Matt Treanor, and infielders Jorge Cantu and Cristian Guzman.

Guerrero had quite a comeback year after an injury-plagued 2009 season with the Los Angeles Angels, who didn't re-sign the 2004 AL MVP. The 35-year-old slugger hit .300 with 29 homers and 115 RBI in 152 regular-season games before going 1 for 14 in his first World Series.

"There were some that doubted him coming off last year. I think he's proved some of those people wrong, had a very good year for us," Daniels said. "Obviously we'll look at it all in context."

The one-year contract that Guerrero agreed to last January includes a mutual option for 2011.

Francisco missed the final month of the regular season and the playoffs with a muscle strain in his right side. Molina, who gets a championship ring from the Giants after playing there until his July 1 trade, has hinted strongly at retirement.

Another priority is the expected new contract for manager Ron Washington, whose original deal -- two years with two one-year team options that were exercised -- ran through this season. The Rangers have increased their victory total each year under Washington, who was told late in the season he would return.

"When I came on board and Jon Daniels hired me, we envisioned that we would put a team together that could compete and maybe one day have an opportunity at a World Series, and here we are," Washington said. "Everybody has seemed to have gotten on the same page, and I think the future is quite bright."

Washington wasn't even sure he would be able to keep the job late in the 2009 season, when he offered to resign after admitting to using cocaine once and failing a drug test. But team president Ryan and Daniels stuck by him then, and again when the story became public during spring training.

Then there was that messy bankruptcy case involving the franchise and prolonged sale that clouded much of the season.

"We had our ups and downs," outfielder David Murphy said. "Obviously I'm biased, but I feel like this group is special. You saw the camaraderie we had out there throughout the season, and it only grew during the postseason."

Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

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