- Tim MacMahon, ESPNDallas.com
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Texas Rangers offered salary arbitration to Cliff Lee, meaning the American League champions will be compensated with two high draft picks if the prized left-handed pitcher signs with another team in free agency.
Texas also offered arbitration to reliever Frankie Francisco, another Type A free agent, and anticipate that he will accept and return to the Rangers next season. The Rangers declined to offer arbitration to catcher Bengie Molina and designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero, although it is possible that both veterans could be back with Texas.
The Rangers' top offseason priority is trying to re-sign Lee, who arrived in a midseason trade and won three postseason games to help a franchise that previously hadn't won a playoff series advance to the World Series.
Several teams have expressed interest in the 32-year-old former Cy Young Award winner, and the New York Yankees are expected to be the Rangers' toughest competition for Lee's services.
General manager Jon Daniels, who traveled to Arkansas last week along with Rangers managing general partner Chuck Greenberg and club president Nolan Ryan to meet with Lee, declined to speculate on the Rangers' chances of keeping the ace.
"Couldn't tell you, honestly," Daniels said. "We're pretty clear that we'd love to have him back. He's in a great spot. He has options. I'm sure this will play out here over the next ... whatever period of time."
Daniels did express confidence that Francisco, a hard-throwing setup man who missed the final month of the regular season and the entire postseason with a strained lat muscle, would remain with the Rangers. Daniels said Francisco's representatives indicated that he is leaning toward accepting the arbitration offer by the Nov. 30 deadline.
Francisco, 31, opened last season as Texas' closer but struggled in that role and was replaced by Neftali Feliz, who was named the American League's Rookie of the Year. However, Francisco was effective in the eighth-inning role, which became an issue when he was injured. If he does not accept the Rangers' offer, finding another setup man will become a priority.
"It takes the pressure off having to go out there and find a guy," said Daniels, who expects Francisco to be completely healthy by spring training. "At the end of the day, when you get a guy on a one-year contract, he's motivated to go out and perform both for the team and himself. It's usually a good situation for the club."
The Rangers declined the $9 million mutual option on Guerrero's contract but are attempting to re-sign the 35-year-old, who hit .300 with 29 home runs and 115 RBIs while providing lineup protection for AL MVP Josh Hamilton as the cleanup hitter.
Daniels said the Rangers have had several conversations with Guerrero's representatives since the end of the season.
"We'd like to have him back," Daniels said. "We just figured that maybe the best way to continue the discussions is without external pressures of the arbitration offer and how that might affect the market and the artificial timelines."
Molina, 36, said during and immediately after the World Series that he was leaning toward retirement. However, Daniels said the Rangers have been informed that Molina would like to continue playing.
Molina, who struggled after the Rangers acquired him in a midseason trade from the San Francisco Giants, had a strong postseason and is one of several options being considered at catcher.
"I think we have a little bit of a clean slate and open book as far as our catching situation," Daniels said. "There are a lot of different ways we can go with it. We're still working through that."
The Texas Rangers have offered salary arbitration to Cliff Lee, meaning the American League champions will be compensated with draft choices if the free-agent left-hander signs with another team.