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Dan Shaughnessy

The old guard isn’t protected

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / October 13, 2009

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They are the ’04 Boys, and they know things no one else knows. Just like the last living Beatles.

They were inside the clubhouse when Kevin Millar poured the Jack Daniels. They sprayed champagne on the floor and the ceiling in the visitors’ room at Yankee Stadium. They rode in buses through the streets of Boston in dawn’s early light after the charter touched down from St. Louis.

Only four survivors remain from the Red Sox’ greatest season: Kevin Youkilis, Tim Wakefield, David Ortiz, and Jason Varitek. By this time next year, it might just be Youk.

The Greek God of Walks was in the Sox clubhouse at noon yesterday, packing things in the wake of Sunday’s cataclysmic collapse against the Angels. I asked him about Wakefield, Ortiz, and Varitek, none of whom is guaranteed to be back next year.

“I don’t think anyone really knows what the future holds,’’ Youkilis said. “You basically just go about your business. You have cellphone conversations. You can talk to guys and see how it is. But I don’t know.

“It’s nothing different. This happens every year. Guys come and go and you just gotta stay in touch.’’

Would it be weird to be the only one left from ’04?

“I don’t think I’m going to be the only one left,’’ he said. “David is still here and Wake might come back. And Tek. You can’t run anybody out of the city yet.

“David has got another year on his contract and so does Tek, I think. We never know what the future is going to hold. That’s what the offseason is all fun and games about - hearing all the crazy rumors that come up.’’

Varitek, Wakefield, and Ortiz are all going to be subject to hot stove rumors.

The catcher captain is most likely to be the first one finished in Boston. He has a two-way option for 2010. The Sox can bring him back for $5 million (not happening) or he can sign himself up for $3 million. If Varitek triggers the option, the Sox can bring him back or cut him loose with a $3 million handshake.

Varitek did not play an inning in the postseason. He hit .209 this year. He is 37. If he comes back, he’s going to be Doug Mirabelli or Roger LaFrancois.

“I haven’t talked with Tek yet,’’ said general manager Theo Epstein. “Obviously, there are decisions that need to be made on both sides and I don’t think it’s fair to discuss those publicly before we get to sit down and talk about it.’’

Wakefield was an All-Star and won 11 games in 2009. He has been with the Red Sox for 15 seasons, winning 175 games. Cy Young and Roger Clemens (192 each) are the only pitchers to win more games with the Sox. But Wakefield is 43 and he’s having back surgery this week. He could not run in September and had difficulty merely walking. He works on a year-to-year contract, making $4 million if the Sox bring him back.

“Wake is someone that is in our plans,’’ Epstein said. “We hope he makes starts for us next year as well. We haven’t sat down and finalized anything. Obviously we want to wait and see how the surgery goes and then both sides will sit down and talk.’’

Ortiz? He is on the books for $12.5 million next year. He is allegedly 33 years old. He hit .238 this year with 28 homers and 99 RBIs - doing all of his damage after May. If Big Papi played in the NBA, you could say he scored more garbage points than Jamal Crawford. Against the Angels, he was 1 for 12 (.083) with four strikeouts. Put that with the ALCS last year and Ortiz hit .132 (5 for 38) with 13 strikeouts in his last 10 playoff games. He looks every bit the part of a slugger who can no longer hit good pitching.

What about it, Theo? What can the Sox expect from Ortiz next year?

“Predicting future performance is tough, obviously,’’ said the GM. “It’s my job. I don’t think I can sit down and say specifically what he’s going to do.

“I think the last four months of the season were certainly better than the first two months. If he can find a way to prepare himself for the season where he can build off what he did from June 1 on and go from there . . .

“If he’s going to be the DH on this team, we need him to be a force. We’re a different team when he is that force. There’ll be conversations about what he thinks he needs to do to get back there. It’s important for this club for him to be that force as the DH.’’

Sounds a little ominous, no? Ortiz was not a force this year. He has not been a force in the playoffs since 2007.

So he could be gone. Same with Wakefield. Same with Varitek. Pretty soon, Youk will stand alone as the last member of the ’04 Boys still playing for the Sox.

“I think ’04 is so long ago now that a lot of those guys are out of baseball, retired,’’ Youkilis said. “You can hold on to things for so long in life, but you can’t hold on to a lot of things. When those times happen, you try to embrace the memories as long as you can.

“Hopefully we can make memories like that again in 2010.’’

Possibly without Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek, and/or David Ortiz.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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