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02/20/08 3:56 PM ET

Ortiz: Sox should keep Manny after '08

Lefty slugger predicts teammate will have 'monster season'

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- When you think of David Ortiz, one of the first things that comes to mind is his partner in hitting heroics, Manny Ramirez. Together, they have walloped opposing pitchers into heaps of trouble during their five years as teammates.

All of this begs the question: Is this the last year of Big Papi and Manny together with the Boston Red Sox?

Ramirez will become eligible for free agency in November if the Red Sox choose not to pick up his $20 million option for 2009. The club holds that same option for 2010.

As Ortiz held his first formal media gathering of the spring on Wednesday, he touched on a variety of topics, including his surgically repaired right knee, the state of the Red Sox, the controversy in center field and the club's upcoming trip to Japan. But Ortiz's most powerful comments were about his good friend Ramirez, the man who has had his back in the lineup for so many years.

Will the Red Sox either pick up Ramirez's option or negotiate a new deal for the left fielder?

"At one point, this team is going to have to do something about it, because there's not a hitter like Manny out there," said Ortiz. "Manny is the kind of guy that definitely you want to have on your team, because of all the success he's had in his career and what he's done and what you expect from him. Manny is the type of guy that when he's healthy, you know what you're going to get from Manny."

And even if Ramirez had a bit of a dip from a production standpoint (20 homers, 88 RBIs) in 2007, Ortiz forecasts a strong rebound from the right-handed masher in '08.

"From Manny, we need to stay away from injuries," said Ortiz. "Manny, from what I hear, he's preparing himself to be ready to go this year. I definitely know that Manny is going to have one of those monster seasons that he used to have."

For the first time in his career, Ramirez -- who will turn 36 on May 30 -- conducted his winter workouts at the Athletes Performance Institute in Tempe, Ariz.

Perhaps another sign of Ramirez's increased commitment is that, for the first time since 2005, he arrived at Spring Training on time. The left fielder stopped by the complex during the afternoon on Wednesday and dropped his belongings off at his locker before departing.

He'll be back for a physical and conditioning drills on Thursday and then will be full speed ahead in preparation for his eighth season with the Sox.

As for Ortiz, after going through a light day on Tuesday, the left-handed slugger participated in a standard Spring Training workout Wednesday.

Ortiz can already say for sure that the right knee which pained him to varying degrees last year is markedly better.

"I'm good. I'm still working. I have a little way to go on my knee," said Ortiz. "I'm OK. I definitely feel way better. I don't have that clicking and that pain that I was having before. That's the most important thing. I don't have to go through all that again."

Even as he went through "all that," Ortiz ripped 35 homers, drove in 117 runs, batted .332 and slugged .621.

Then there was the postseason, when he hit .370 and tacked on three homers and 10 RBIs, helping the Red Sox to their second World Series championship in four years.

If it's possible, Ortiz managed to gain even more respect within the confines of his clubhouse for the way he played hurt.

"He needed to get done what he needed to get done," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "We knew that all year. He knew it, we knew it. But he needed to play also. We'll keep an eye on him at the beginning of camp, but I think it will be a relief for him to have two legs under him."

Despite the gaudy numbers, how much pain was Ortiz in last year?

"It was painful, but I was trying just to hang tight for the year and trying not to get out of the lineup," said Ortiz, who underwent surgery shortly after the World Series.

There is no pain now, just some swelling, which is normal for this point in the recovery. Ortiz came to camp at 268 pounds, the precise weight he arrived at a year ago.

"When you get knee surgery and go through the offseason, you normally gain weight or come here out of shape, but I got my work in when I was home," Ortiz said. "Now I know that I'm not going to have to go through all that pain I went through last year. I feel like I'm 25 now."

Though Ortiz publicly stated last season that he wasn't in favor of the Red Sox taking a trip to Japan, he's come to terms with the upcoming journey, where the Red Sox will officially begin their 2008 campaign on March 25.

"I think it's going to be alright," said Ortiz. "It's a little bit of a crazy situation, but we're only going to go there for six days. We'll be alright. Everything changes when you go to Japan. You have to turn the clock and do different things. When it's day here, it's night over there. If you don't bring your kids, you'll be alright."

If there is one subject you can always expect Ortiz to light up about, it is his manager. Yes, Ortiz would very much like to see Francona get an extension.

"Tito should have signed an extension like 20 years ago," Ortiz said. "He's the best. I'm pretty sure they're going to get it done, because you can't get no better than that."

Just like when it comes to gregarious sluggers, they don't get much better than Ortiz.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.