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Pressing issues lie ahead for champs

Pressing issues lie ahead for Sox

DENVER -- The World Series had been over for nearly two hours and there was one cheer -- make that a plea -- that just wouldn't stop among the members of Red Sox Nation who filled the stands of Coors Field.

"Re-sign Lowell! Re-sign Lowell! Re-sign Lowell!" was the deafening shout.

It was a reminder that even in the afterglow of the Red Sox winning their second World Series in four seasons, there will be some pressing issues to deal with in the near future regarding the 2008 team.

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Tops on that list is trying to retain third baseman Mike Lowell, the classy veteran who drove in 120 runs during the regular season and then proceeded to be the Most Valuable Player of the World Series.

Lowell, who came to Boston along with Josh Beckett in a November 2005 trade that had an enormous impact on this year's championship season, will soon be a free agent.

The Red Sox hold exclusive negotiating rights with him for the next 15 days.

To a man, the players want Lowell back, even with Alex Rodriguez on the free-agent market.

"Mike's been a staple in our lineup all year," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "He came up with big hit after big hit. He's come up with huge hits. He drove in 120 runs."

Not once has Lowell wavered from his desire to return to Boston, where he has thrived the past two seasons.

"Well, sure," said Lowell in the champagne-soaked clubhouse following Game 4 of the Fall Classic. "But I don't want to harp on that right now. I'm celebrating."

There was another cheer that was in vogue for an hour or so after the last out was recorded. Every time Curt Schilling was in sight of the fans, they shouted, "One more year, one more year!"

Like Lowell, Schilling will be a free agent. The other similarity is that he's made it abundantly clear that Boston is his first choice.

"We -- they -- have got a chance to be good for a long, long time," Schilling said. "And again, it starts at the top: Mr. [Tom] Werner, Mr. [Larry] Lucchino, Mr. [John] Henry, their commitment to us; not just to us, but to our families."

Schilling said in Spring Training, before coming down with a right shoulder injury that robbed him both of velocity and six weeks of his season, that he'd be looking for roughly the same base salary ($13 million per season) as when he first came to Boston.

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The right-hander reinvented himself following the injury as a guy who could rely on finesse and location. And again, Schilling came up big in October, going 3-0 with a 3.00 ERA.

In a market that is shallow on quality starters, Schilling should draw his fair share of interest.

What will the deciding factor be in where he goes?

"I don't know, it won't be money," Schilling said. "It will not be money."

Schilling represents himself, just like he did when he first came to the Red Sox in 2004.

Lowell and Schilling represent the biggest decisions on who to bring back from the championship squad, but there are some others.

Veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield is 41 and had injury problems for the second year in a row. But because of his bargain option -- $4 million -- and what he means to the organization, there seems to be a strong chance he'll be back. Wakefield has already said he wants to keep pitching, and the club is confident that rest is all that is needed for the right-hander to overcome the back and shoulder injuries that kept him off the roster for two of the three postseason series.

If Wakefield does come back, do the Red Sox also re-sign his personal catcher Doug Mirabelli? Kevin Cash proved capable of handling the knuckleball while Mirabelli was injured. Cash is also seven years younger than Mirabelli.

One pitcher who is all but certain to go elsewhere is reliever Eric Gagne. The Red Sox traded for the accomplished closer on July 31, thinking he would be a big part of their bullpen. But for whatever reason, Gagne couldn't make the adjustment to setup man. He'll be a free agent and figures to try to hook on as a closer somewhere.

And what happens to Coco Crisp? The center fielder played brilliant defense all year, but he was inconsistent with the bat. Jacoby Ellsbury proved emphatically both in September and the final six games of the postseason that he's ready to be an everyday player.

Look for Crisp to be dangled on the trade market. The switch-hitter is due to make $4.75 million in 2008 and $5.75 million in '09.

So those are just a few of the decisions that will be on general manager Theo Epstein's desk over the next several weeks. As usual, Epstein and his crew have put in plenty of preparation.

"No team is built in any two-month period," said Epstein. "It really is a process that started several offseasons ago, but we'll go right into the GM Meetings. We've used off-days to do our normal offseason preparation so we don't fall behind."

And even though the Red Sox are currently ahead of everyone in the baseball universe, they have the same pressing decisions to make this offseason as their 29 counterparts.

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

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