While the Rangers really wanted to keep the ace who helped them get to their first World Series, they weren't willing to guarantee a seventh year on an already extended contract offer for Lee.
"There was a lot of back and forth. There was a point at which they said if you will do `X', we would agree to terms," Rangers managing partner Chuck Greenberg said Tuesday. "Those terms went beyond the parameters that we were comfortable with, specifically in years."
So after having the lefty for half a season, the American League champions will have to figure out life after Lee, and who can fill the void at the top of their rotation.
Instead of Texas or the New York Yankees, who were willing to go to seven years, the 32-year-old Lee is returning to the Philadelphia Phillies -- the team he pitched for in the 2009 World Series -- for a $120 million, five-year deal and to be part of a star-studded rotation.
"I was under the impression that it was between us and the Yankees," Rangers team president Nolan Ryan said.
So was just about everyone else until late Monday.
After finding out the Phillies were also talking to Lee, Texas refused to go beyond a $136 million, six-year deal with a vesting option for a seventh year that was among several options they had already offered the pitcher.
"We went as far as we were comfortable going, probably past what we were comfortable doing," general manager Jon Daniels said.
While retaining Lee was the priority, Daniels said that wasn't the only thing he had been working on in the six weeks since the World Series ended.
"We're ready to move on," he said. "We've talked about a number of different options internally. We've had a number of different discussions with agents and other clubs."
Daniels wouldn't get into specifics, but the Rangers could try to acquire 2009 AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke from Kansas City or Matt Garza from Tampa Bay.
Another possible option is moving AL rookie of the year Neftali Feliz, the hard-throwing righty who set a rookie record with 40 saves, into the rotation with left-hander C.J. Wilson, another former closer-turned-starter who won 15 games, and Colby Lewis.
Other internal possibilities include Alexi Ogando, Derek Holland and Michael Kirkman.
"No decision has been made now, other than we're going to look at it," Daniels said, adding that might not particularly mean for 2011. "We can't ignore that our best options might be here in house."
The Rangers could also try to get better by bolstering the offense led by AL MVP Josh Hamilton, who led the majors with a .359 batting average.
"We have all our financial resources available to us, have all our prospects available," Greenberg said. "While we're disappointed we don't have Cliff, we have a great sense of anticipation about how we're going to be able to deploy those resources to keep getting better, get back where we were and take the next step."
Lee helped the Rangers reach the first World Series in their 50-season history. He won the opening and clinching games against Tampa Bay in the AL division series for Texas' first-ever postseason series victory, then beat the Yankees on the road in the AL championship series.
But he lost both World Series starts against San Francisco, including the Game 5 clincher for the Giants.
Daniels cautioned that the Rangers don't intend to "overpay for something" moving forward just because they lost Lee.
Texas will be compensated with two draft choices next summer since Lee is signing with another team after being offered salary arbitration.
"I'm just excited that the Rangers gave everything they had to try and make it happen," Hamilton said. "I think one of the factors in his decision was knowing the staff that he would be going to and joining in, and how good and dominant they possibly could be. ... We hate to lose him, but I think we'll be all right."
Greenberg described the Rangers as aggressive but responsible in their pursuit of Lee. He said the new ownership group didn't want to risk putting the franchise "back in the kind of position it was in for a number of years" before the new owners finally acquired the team from Tom Hicks in mid-August.
Deals like the $252 million, 10-year contract Alex Rodriguez signed in December 2000, though he was gone after the 2003 season, and the $65 million given pitcher Chan Ho Park for five years contributed to a series of $100 million annual payrolls for last-place teams.
The Rangers were in bankruptcy proceedings and the ownership was still unsettled when Lee was acquired from Seattle in a six-player deal July 9. Texas already had a 5½-game lead in the AL West.
Five months later, Lee is going back to Philadelphia to join a rotation that already has Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels.
Lee beat the Yankees twice in the 2009 World Series for the Phillies before they traded him to the Mariners last December, then acquired Halladay.
"We have a lot of respect for Cliff, (wife) Kristen and the way they went about the decision," Daniels said. "They went to a place, they had three good offers, from three competitive clubs and they went to a place that they were comfortable -- and part of potentially a historic-type rotation."
And at least Lee is in the National League -- though one of the Rangers' interleague series next season is May 20-22 in Philadelphia.
"He's at a place he obviously wanted to be at," Texas second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "He sent me a text that said great playing with you, sorry, see you in the World Series. ... That rotation is going to be pretty stout."