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With Papi, the hard decisions are still to come

May 29, 2009, 9:33 AM EDT

Jayson Stark has a column up over at ESPN
gong in depth with Terry Francona and Charlie Manuel about how they’re
dealing with struggling veterans David Ortiz and Jamie Moyer. There’s
an extended bit lauding Francona for his diplomacy and tenderness and
whatever when it came to dropping Papi in the order:

So what does a manager do when he wakes up on Memorial Day and finds
a guy like that who ranks 86th (out of 88) among AL qualifiers in
batting average (.195), has a lower slugging percentage (.299) than
Endy Chavez and has fewer homers (one) than Yovani Gallardo? Well,
Terry Francona already knew what he was going to do. He’d known for
days, he said. But he also knew there was a respectful time and place
to drop Big Papi out of the No. 3 hole, and a weekend series against
the Mets wasn’t it . . .

. . . So Francona felt it was important to do more than just send
Ortiz to “the penalty box.” In the case of a player of this stature,
the manager felt it was almost mandatory to keep him involved in the
thought process involved in such a momentous decision. “When times are
getting tough, you’ve got to make decisions,” Francona said. “And
everybody understands that. But there needs to be some loyalty there.
There needs to be communicating — how it gets back to everyone else,
how you say it. I don’t want him to think he’s going through this by
himself. Just because he’s not hitting 50 homers, that doesn’t mean we
don’t care about him.”

That’s sweet and all, but I can’t for the life of me understand why the
decision to drop Ortiz in the order has gotten as much coverage as it
has in the last week, let alone Stark and Francona’s treatment of it as
some emotionally cathartic event. The exact order of the lineup really
ain’t that important folks, and if everyone thinks that Ortiz would
have a hissy fit over where’s he hitting in it, well, they haven’t been
paying much attention to David Ortiz’s career. I can’t recall him ever
having tantrums over perceived slights, and he’s almost always been a
pro about this stuff. What’s more, he’s been way more out front about
how he stinks this year than just about anyone.

No, the tough decision — to which Stark only briefly alludes — is
how Francona would deal with actually benching Ortiz for an extended
period or, even worse, how the club as a whole will deal with him if
and when it becomes necessary to trade him or designate him for
assignment. Which could definitely happen. This is the team that cuts
bait in bad waters quicker than most, and it would not shock me in the
least to see them do something drastic with Papi if he doesn’t turn it
around in the coming weeks.

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