DENVER (AP) – While the Boston Red Sox celebrated at Coors Field after their second World Series sweep in four years, general manager Theo Epstein was serenaded with two pieces of advice.

“Re-sign Lowell!” the sizable contingent of Boston fans yelled from behind the visitor’s dugout. Then they broke into a chant of, “Don’t sign A-Rod!”

Before the champagne-style sparkling beverage had dried from the traditional post-game party on Sunday night, the Red Sox brass was reminded of the difficulty facing them if they’re going to have a chance at a third championship any time soon.

Among the potential free agents are third baseman Mike Lowell, the World Series MVP, and Curt Schilling, a star of the team’s 2004 title. Other players eligible for free agency include knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who can be brought back with a team option, and spare outfielders Eric Hinske and Bobby Kielty.

“Free agency to me is very new, so I’m going to take it step by step,” Lowell said while clutching the World Series MVP trophy. “I’ve never hid the fact that I enjoy playing here in Boston. I have great teammates, a great manager, great coaches, so we’ll see what happens. But I’m more focused on celebrating right now.”

Lowell, who made $9 million this year, is expected to be a target for the New York Yankees now that Alex Rodriguez has declared himself a free agent. Once coveted by the Red Sox, Rodriguez became the focal point of much of the locals’ Yankee-hating venom after he engineered a trade to New York.

So when word trickled into the stands that A-Rod had opted out of his contract – in the middle of Boston’s coronation – the fans let the team’s brain trust know how they felt. Team president Larry Lucchino said he heard the chant, but wanted to savor the title before turning to 2008.

“We’re staying out of that discussion right now,” Lucchino said. “It was kind of strange timing. But trying to predict what certain players and certain agents do in free agency is a fool’s exercise.”

Schilling said in spring training that he would come back for a one-year deal at his current salary, $13 million. But that was before injuries limited him to 24 starts and a 3.87 ERA as he converted himself from a power thrower to a contact pitcher with slower stuff.

The Red Sox already have control of Wakefield and young starters Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jon Lester – not to mention Clay Buchholz, who pitched a no-hitter in his second major-league start. The lineup is stocked with youth, too: rookie of the year contender Dustin Pedroia, still-a-rookie Jacoby Ellsbury and first baseman Kevin Youkilis.

“It bodes very well,” Lucchino said. “You’ve got to have a second generation of baseball players in order to have ongoing success. You’ve got to draft your own, sign your own, and grow your own.”

Boston chairman Tom Werner said the team’s brain trust had an epiphany in August of last year, after a five-game sweep by the New York Yankees essentially eliminated the injury-depleted Red Sox from the 2006 playoff chase.

“We said we’ve got to do a better job,” Werner said Sunday night.

They went after Matsuzaka, paying an unprecedented $51.11 million just for the rights to talk to him. But they also went after Japanese reliever Hideki Okajima, who cost them just $2.5 million for two years and proved to be a crucial bridge to closer Jonathan Papelbon.

A role player picked up midseason after he was waived by Oakland, Kielty hit what turned out to be the game-winning homer in Game 4 when Boston beat the Colorado Rockies 4-3 to complete the Series sweep. As much as big-money stars like David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Matsuzaka, spare parts like Kielty were the key to Boston’s victory this time.

So, while the decisions on Lowell and Schilling will be important, the Red Sox will pay as much attention to the pinch-hitters and middle relievers who might be needed in 2008.

“We had a saying in 2004 after the season: ‘Any schlemiel can win once,”‘ Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said at Coors Field on Sunday night. “This was about championships, plural.”

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