BOSTON (AP) – General manager Theo Epstein needs a new contract, manager Terry Francona needs a physical and both need players to take the Red Sox where they went in 2004.

The work toward winning another World Series already has started.

The “first round of internal planning” for free agency began before the season’s sudden ending Friday when Boston was swept out of the playoffs by the Chicago White Sox, Epstein said.

And he and his staff planned to “get right back after it Monday morning.”

But where to start?

Shaggy-skulled Johnny Damon is their best player eligible for free agency. So are first baseman Kevin Millar, who had a subpar season, third baseman Bill Mueller, who was solid during the regular season but 0-for-11 in the AL division series, and Tony Graffanino, an upgrade at second base but a major reason Chicago won Game 2 as a result of his damaging error.

There’s a decent possibility all four won’t return.

Mike Timlin and Mike Myers, their best relievers, also can become free agents.

There’s even an outside chance Epstein won’t be back. He’s at the end of the three-year contract that made him the youngest general manager in baseball.

“That’s an issue that’s coming up and something we’re going to have to deal with,” he said. “We’ll take care of these things quickly and move forward.”

Francona finally will pay more attention to his own welfare after focusing the last eight months – from the start of spring training to the 5-3 loss Friday – on his team’s condition.

“I think this is the toughest year I’ve ever gone through,” the 46-year-old skipper said.

Before the third game of the season, at the New York Yankees, he was hospitalized with what was identified officially as a virus but which resembled, to Francona, a pulmonary embolism he suffered in 2002.

“I need to get back and get healthy so I can do my job,” he said. “Physically, I felt like I got run over by a truck the whole year and that’s difficult because I don’t ever want to shortchange anybody in this organization or the players because of my lack of energy.”

He said he planned a physical this week.

The Red Sox were hit hard by injuries, the costliest to ace Curt Schilling and closer Keith Foulke. Epstein praised Francona, who has one year left on his contract, for leading the team to its third consecutive season of at least 95 wins.

There were other health problems – Damon’s shoulder, shortstop Edgar Renteria’s groin and back, pitcher David Wells’ knee that will require minor surgery.

The clubhouse could have a different mood if free spirit Damon, motor mouth Millar and Manny (Being Manny) Ramirez leave.

Ramirez earned that description through his strange ways – jogging to first base and putting in his annual trade request yet hitting 45 homers and leading major-league outfielders in assists. He’s due $57 million in the remaining three guaranteed years of his contract, a burden the Red Sox have tried to shed.

Major-league RBI champion David Ortiz may be the only happy-go-lucky guy left in the clubhouse, but his smiles could fade without cleanup hitter Ramirez to protect him in the order.

The starting lineup could have a younger look with Kevin Youkilis at third base and prospect Dustin Pedroia at second.

Jonathan Papelbon, 24, likely will join an old rotation after being one of Boston’s best pitchers since he was called up on Aug. 16. Craig Hansen, the 21-year-old closer drafted in June and in the majors in September, could fill that role if Foulke, who underwent two knee surgeries, doesn’t return to dominance.

“You can’t be afraid of change,” Epstein said. “You have to embrace it and you have to turn it into a positive.”


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