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With Papi, the hard decisions are still to come

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.