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12/14/10 8:27 PM EST

Rangers sorry to see Lee leave

ARLINGTON -- Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler received a text message from Cliff Lee on Tuesday.

According to Kinsler, the message was: "It was great playing with you. Sorry. See you in the World Series."

Actually, Kinsler could see Lee in Interleague Play next June when the Rangers face the Phillies. The possibility now exists that Lee will be on the mound facing the Rangers rather than pitching for them.

"I would love to face Cliff," Kinsler said. "It would be a great challenge. We'd have a couple of smiles and get after it. He comes at you with his fastball. That's the kind of pitcher I love to face."

The Rangers still would rather have Lee on their side. But that possibility came to an end on Monday when Lee agreed to a five-year contract with the Phillies, turning down a bigger offer from the Rangers in the process.

"I think he made a decision for himself and his family," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "I'm proud of the way we stepped up and did what we could to try and bring him back. But he made a decision.

"Now we have to focus on what we can do to make ourselves better. If we had brought him back, it would have made us better. We're going to miss him but life goes on. Baseball doesn't stop and the Texas Rangers don't stop."

Washington said he did not speak to Lee during the process that began right after the World Series when he became a free agent.

"I couldn't have persuaded him," Washington said.

His teammates did. Pitcher Tommy Hunter went hunting with him.

"He actually told me, 'Put yourself in my shoes, what would you do,'" Hunter said. "I told him, 'If I were in your shoes, I would buy Tommy Hunter a Bentley.' He said, 'I'm not going to buy you a Bentley.'

"He's a class act. He took care of the younger players...taking us out to dinner. He's a leader, he's an athlete, he's pretty good at what he does...and he just got paid."

Lee agreed to a five-year contract worth $120 million with an option for a sixth season with the Phillies. The Rangers' final offer was a six-year, $138 million contract with an option for a seventh season. Lee took less money to go back to the Phillies.

"I'm just excited the Rangers gave it everything they had to make it happen," outfielder Josh Hamilton said. "They were right there at the end. It was a personal decision for Cliff. We hate to lose him but we'll be all right. He helped us tremendously to get us where we are but we were having a great year when he got there."

Said pitcher Derek Holland, "I'm happy for him. He made the decision on what he wanted to do. It would be nice for him to be here but we've got to move on and get ready for the season."

The Rangers acquired Lee from the Mariners on July 9. He was 4-5 with a 3.98 ERA in 15 starts for the Rangers, then won two games against the Rays in the American League Division Series and one against the Yankees in the AL Championship Series. The Rangers advanced to the World Series for the first time in franchise history before losing to the Giants in five games.

"With him compared to without him is a big difference," Kinsler said. "But we have a lot of young players who are capable of filling that spot. A lot of those young players have to grow up quickly. The offseason is not over but right now we have some young guys who are capable of filling that spot."

The Rangers will continue to look for starting pitching as the offseason progresses.

"Starting pitching is always a top priority, especially if you want to be defending champions," Washington said. "We have some depth and we have until April to do what we can do. I'm optimistic. [General manager] Jon Daniels and his group always comes through and I expect them to come through again."

One possibility to replace Lee would be to move closer Neftali Feliz to the rotation. Alexi Ogando is another possibility. But Washington is reluctant to do that, especially with Feliz.

"I'd rather have Feliz get me three outs at the end of the game," Washington said. "I think that will be a last resort. We already have plans to stretch them out in Spring Training but I trust Jon Daniels to find something to help us out. If that's necessary, it's nice to have that depth. But if it's not a necessity, I'd rather keep them where they are."

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.