11/23/2004 3:06 PM ET
Reality hitting Red Sox
World Series champions looking ahead to 2005 season
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
|Jason Varitek's teammates would like to see the Red Sox catcher return to the club. (Charles Krupa/AP)
BOSTON -- The celebration tour is not even halfway complete for Major League Baseball's 2004 World Series champions. But at the same time the Red Sox are being doted over for their tremendous accomplishments, reality is sinking in quickly.
"It's like the wins and losses during the season, the wins don't last as long as the losses," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "Just from talking to Theo [Epstein] about what we're going to do, we're already so far into the winter because we lasted so long [in the postseason], it's time to think about next year."
Indeed. And there is so much still to be decided. Will Jason Varitek, the backbone of the Red Sox the last few years, return to the team? And what about Pedro Martinez, who went 117-37 for the Sox over the last seven seasons?
There is also the matter of shortstop, where Orlando Cabrera played so well after being acquired on July 31, but is now also a free agent. So is Derek Lowe, the sinkerballer who etched himself into Red Sox lore forever with his postseason heroics.
If the Red Sox had won this World Series a few decades ago, none of this stuff would be on anyone's mind. But in this era of free agency, the issues the Red Sox are dealing with these days are very real.
"My personal standpoint is I wish we could have them all back to defend the title," said right fielder Trot Nixon, who avoided free agency by signing a three-year deal back in February. "It makes it kind of difficult. But there has to be some restraint or you'd have a $300 million payroll or $200 million."
Instead of fruitlessly fantasizing about bringing everyone back, the Red Sox are playing the reality game of figuring out who they can bring back.
If it was done by voting instead of negotiating, Varitek would be the first one the club retained.
"'Tek is definitely the backbone of this ballclub," said Nixon. "We don't have that captain's position, because I think everyone on this team is a captain. But if we had to have one, Jason would definitely be the guy."
Setup man Mike Timlin explained why.
"For preservation of this team, yeah, I think we should have Jason Varitek back on this team," said Timlin. "What he does on the field, what he does off the field, what he does in the box and on the mound, it's a tremendous help. It would be a big priority to sign him back."
But as much of a priority as Epstein is making Varitek, he can't do the deal on his own.
"Some of it, I guess you can say it's in your control, but some of it might not be," said Francona.
"I think in the end, the Red sox will eventually get 'Tek, ink him up," said Nixon. "With what, I don't know. Will they give him what he wants? It remains to be seen."
The Martinez situation will be equally fascinating to monitor. The three-time Cy Young Award winner already had his much-chronicled meeting with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. The Red Sox made one offer to the pitcher, and according to reports, modified it an attempt to make it more to Martinez's liking. Neither side is publicly saying anything about the status of the negotiations.
Count Nixon among those who can't picture Martinez trading his red socks for pinstripes.
"I don't really see it happening," Nixon said. "I think it's obviously a possibility, but there's also a possibility Petey can be in San Francisco, he can be in Baltimore, he can be anywhere. Everyone's going to want Petey. We know we want him very badly, too.
"I think in the end, he's going to be in a Red Sox uniform. That's just my point of view. I don't see many guys who spent so much time here in Boston just up and go to New York. Maybe if it's been three or four or five years and somebody's looking for a job, but not someone like Petey, as much as he cares about the city of Boston and the fans. I'm not saying he can't do it, but I just don't see him doing it."
Francona doesn't have a complete sense yet of the team he will manage in his second year in Boston. But there is something he does know.
"I have a lot of confidence in Theo and ownership that when we head down to Fort Myers, we'll have a good team."
Francona will try and enjoy what is left of the offseason, while at the same time, gearing up for the spring. Many of his days will be filled by public speaking engagements and other peripheral things that come on the heels of managing a championship team.
"It's been busier than before. But you know what, when you get home and you do the gutters or take the laundry out, it's kind of back to normal," Francona said. "The one thing that maybe I'm realizing because I've never been through this before [is that] it was awesome and I would like to do it again, but it's over. You've already started to think about next spring."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.